The Spa Brand: No Longer a Trend but a Strategic Decision

By Elaine Fenard Partner & Chief Operating Officer, Europe and U.S., Spatality | October 28, 2008

The hotel industry has taken spas to a level of sophistication that would have taken years to attain in the main stream. According to the International SPA Association (ISPA), hotel spas are the largest growing spa segment. Yet, with the spa industry still in its infancy we continue to hear many of the same questions we did two decades ago. Is spa a trend? Will we end up with an albatross? To answer these questions we need to further understand how spas have evolved.

By looking at the spas of yesterday and today while thoroughly considering what research tells us, we can better understand where spas sit in our future. With this knowledge we can leverage and build our spa portfolios to effectively serve our guests while also meeting financial goals and expectations.

Two decades ago spas were primarily hair salons with a few treatment rooms. Most luxury hotels felt they had to have some element of spa but didn't want them to occupy prime space. Sometimes they appeared in retail areas and were often relegated to subterranean areas considered non-revenue spaces. They were always outsourced, poised to become someone else's "problem." Contracts were established that highly favored the concessionaire and the guest's needs were met with as little fuss as possible. The look and feel of the salon was rarely seamless with the hotel operation.

During the last decade, the tide of change began, albeit slowly. Hotel salons began to add beauty treatment spaces, and the occasional massage room was added to the gym. It was at this time the cruise ship industry really stepped forward. The first purpose-built spa at sea was constructed on the SS Norway in 1990. As the auxiliary revenues from the spas began to grow and it became a viable profit center, more prime space was given to the spa, introducing spa treatments to a captivated, broad market. Day spas were becoming evident in most major cities and the benefits of alternative treatments were becoming more widely understood and accepted.

Toward the end of the 1990's we began to see a significant swing toward building hotel spas, often due more to hotels wanting a point of differentiation than to a strategic plan. In looking for the next "trend," spa came to the forefront. Destination spas such as the United States' Canyon Ranch and Golden Door, Thailand's Chiva Som, and England's Champneys began to garner reputations. The spa industry was becoming more sophisticated and the effect on the bottom line was also becoming apparent.

By 2000, spa was almost as strong as restaurants when development plans were on the table. The larger hotel groups established spa divisions and strategy came into play.

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