Hydromassage in Today's "No-Touch" Normal

Opportunities & Benefits of High-Tech, Automated Massage Post-COVID-19

By Kerstin Bremser Professor, Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences | October 11, 2020

Automated massage can help spas overcome social distancing rules, decrease personnel costs and deliver the evidence-based wellness that today's consumers demand.

Covid-19 shutdowns have hit the spa industry hard and "normal" domestic and international travel isn't likely to bounce back quickly. Prior to the pandemic, spa operators around the globe were already finding it difficult to recruit and retain qualified staff, and, now, when spas are reopening, pressing issues center around ensuring good hygiene and social distancing. There's no doubt that the work environment for massage therapists and estheticians will change dramatically – and much of their time will also be consumed with new hygiene protocols before and after treatments.

Previous pandemics, such as SARS in China in 2002/2003, show that travel ultimately returns to pre-pandemic volumes, but certain behaviors change. In addition to demanding increased hygiene, individuals typically take personal responsibility by pro-actively lifestyle changes to help them live longer and healthier lives. After the SARS epidemic, for example, people began exercising more, adopted healthier eating habits, and, in general, demanded more hygiene in public spaces. Much of what we're seeing today.

In a post-COVID landscape, customers will not only value high hygiene standards but also high-quality, effective, evidence-based services. Treatments involving touch (i.e. massage and facials) will certainly need to evolve.

Touchless Gains Traction

Treatments requiring minimal hands-on touch are being sought-after by both spa operators and guests. In Europe, dry hydromassage systems are already popular in the medical sector for treating muscle pain and common ailments and they comply to very strict legal requirements in order to be registered as "medical grade." Importantly, their efficacy has been proven via clinical studies, making this and ideal piece of equipment for our "new normal."

These devices should not be confused with air-compression massage chairs offered in airports and shopping malls. They are, instead, high-grade machines that have been used in the medical environment to treat issues like sciatica, chronic low back pain, pinched nerves, etc. for more than 25 years in Europe.

Dry hydromassage systems not only deliver high-quality hygienic treatments that are touchless and require minimal staff time, but they can also be customized for personalized wellness experiences. For example, guests can choose which body zones need more attention and can alter the pressure, speed and duration of the treatment. And these values can be combined and saved to form a specific individualized treatment that can be recalled from the library of programs. This way, spas can create their own massage journeys and/or personalized programs can be saved for frequent guests.

Dry Hydromassage

Originally designed for medical use and follow the principles of classical hydro- and balneotherapy. Within the last two decades these units have become a standard means of treatment in rehabilitation and physiotherapy. In addition, during recent years they have become increasingly common in the wellness and spa sector.

How it Works

Customers are positioned on a comfortable cover made from natural rubber that is fitted on top of a tub filled with pleasantly heated water. Water nozzles placed below the cover along the customer's body are used for the application of a relaxing massage.

Operation

Modern units offer a large variety of treatment options, enabling a personalized massage experience for each customer. Treatment focuses can individually be set on a touchscreen as can the intensity of the massage. Crucially, cleaning and hygiene measures can be easily carried out.

"The use of dry hydromassage units is paramount when treating muscle tension. Studies have proven that they are effective for pain relief." - Detlef Kaleth, MD, specialist in orthopedics, Berlin in Igel Plus.

Post-COVID Expectations

Given that spa consumers tend to skew female and are often over 55 years old, they are considered a high-risk group for COVID-19 and, therefore, will be likely to want to take special precautions.

According to the well-established Health Belief Model (HBM), people engage in risk reduction (i.e. social distancing) as long as they perceive a threat to be severe and as long as they believe that the benefits outweigh the risks. Therefore, spa operators will be compelled to offer clients risk-free treatments that are unique yet safe.

For this article, five spa and wellness industry experts were interviewed to answer key concerns in the industry.

Question: What issues will spas need to overcome with new social distancing norms in order to deliver profitable, high-quality massage treatments?

All the experts agree that one of the most pressing issues for spa operators is the availability of well-trained staff. Industry experts anticipate this problem to become more acute due to the pandemic and that there will be increased pressure on staff with all the new, incoming protocols that are designed to protect their own well-being and that of their guests.

Since treatment rooms are the responsibility of therapists, they will have less time to dedicate to clients to allow for sanitizing and disinfecting in between each treatment. And, of course, the new protocols and social distancing rules, means that more cleaners will be needed and visible in spa areas. In many cases, this means therapists may not be able to perform as many treatments in a shift, and, in addition, spas will likely incur additional costs for cleaners and cleaning supplies.

"I believe our starting situation, i.e. lack of qualified staff, will be amplified by the pandemic. We will end up with two distinct employee groups: trained therapists with high qualifications making a high hourly wage; and a larger number of less qualified staff that are making closer to minimum wage." (Spa Consultant)

"All the experiences that have to do with touch and closeness will need to be enjoyed with caution. This can have a negative influence on staff as well as guests." (Spa Operator)

"High-grade devices that can be personalized, with a massage pressure that actually has a measurable effect on the central nervous system and comes very close to a manual massage would solve a lot of the 'hands-off' issues that our industry is grappling with." (International Spa & Expert)

Forbes Travel Guide agrees and suggests that one solution obvious solution will be an increased adoption of "high-tech touchless wellness experiences. "

Question: How can spa operators improve the appeal of their spa post-Covid-19?

All the experts agreed that people would most likely want to have back their old lives without any changes in behavior. However, due to new norms and regulations imposed to inhibit virus spread, this simply will not be possible in the near term. Spas will have to update and refine their existing spa menu, reducing treatments that demand touch (facials, massages) and turning to alternatives, such as automated massages, relaxation pods, inhalation therapy and hydrothermal bathing.

But, for now: "People are a bit more cautious with regard to physical contact," said a regular spa goer; and a spa operator worried: "Then, of course…people are afraid of touching…and yet it will make a difference whether you can touch them with your bare hand or with gloves."

Question: How can spa operators adapt spa menus for massage treatments with high treatment quality and the anticipated staff shortages?

Staff availability remains a pressing issue explained a spa consultant: "Bottlenecks due to staffing issues have dramatic consequences simply because they lead to loss of sales."

In addition, loss of staff affects treatment quality. As our spa expert explained: "It would be wonderful if we had relatively similar massage techniques, but that hasn't caught on. Because every single therapist has his/her own style, has learned his/her own way of massaging and does not want to change."

Thus, each time staff are lost, treatment style and quality can change. The majority of experts agreed, that automated massage therapies could be a solution for consistent, high-quality treatments with less touch that deliver the identical quality over and over again, using minimal staff and conforming to the strict Covid-19 rules on hygiene.

Essential Experiences

During the acute crisis phase of the pandemic where governments forced spas to close, operators have to prepare the reopening with offers that will bring clients back. This is often being done via deep discounts that will almost certainly eat into profits. Social distancing will also limit the number of guests that can be in a spa at any one time, while hygiene protocols will increase operating costs. To minimize the financial impact, operators need to be creative in their offerings and takes steps to reassure clients of a safe, hygienic and unique spa experience.

A spa menu can be segmented into "essential" and "unique" experiences. Where "essential experiences" are typically classified as pools, massages and facials. However, some of these mainstays of the spa will not be easily available or will be completely altered. An investment in medical-grade automated massage treatments will create new revenue opportunities for any spa.

Spa operators would be smart to embrace automated devices, especially as many have been medically proven to help patients suffering with muscle tension, fibromyalgia, neuralgia, disorders of the musculoskeletal system and joint-related disorders…as well as circulatory disorders and symptoms of fatigue10.

"We need to market it to make it clear to the potential customers that this is a truly good substitution for a manual massage: 'You don't have to take your clothes off, you won't be touched, the whole thing is hygienic and still effective.'"

One thing is certain: Covid-19 is not the last pandemic spa operators will likely experience. The question is not if the next pandemic will come, it is when will it come? Since the occurrence of HIV, zoonotic diseases have caused severe disturbances worldwide. Those who are prepared the best, will suffer least.

Dr. Bremser Kerstin Bremser is a full time professor at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences since 2008 where she focuses her teaching on international business in Spanish speaking countries and her research on topics in crisis management in the tourism industry as well as international strategy. Ms. Bremser has published several articles in well-renown international scientific journals (International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management / International Journal of Hospitality Management / Service Business). Her 2013 contribution on crisis management in the hospitality industry has been included in the Annals of Tourism Research curated collection on tourism risk, crisis and disaster management. Kerstin Bremser can be contacted at +1 818-397-4630 or kerstin.bremser@hs-pforzheim.de Please visit http://www.hs-pforzheim.de/ for more information. Extended Biography

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In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Jeff Catlin
Steve Kiesner
Pedro Colaco
Daniel B. Lundy
Hillary Bressler
John Hogan
Jacqueline Clarke
S. Lakshmi Narasimhan
Paul van Meerendonk
Michael Hess
Coming up in November 2020...

Hotel Design: Home Away From Home

With the rise of the sharing economy and the peer-to-peer marketplace for lodging options, hoteliers are re-thinking the look, feel and appeal of their locations. There is an emphasis on re-creating a feeling of homeyness - a comfortable, cozy and inviting space that feels like home. 'This is accomplished through the careful selection of furniture design, paint colors, lighting design, artwork, bathroom fixtures and textile accessories. In addition, some hotels are providing their guests with upscale amenities, such as a book and movie library, home-style kitchenettes, a coffee machine with locally-sourced beans and tea, or even a batch of fresh-baked cookies. Similarly, there is a growing design trend based on the concept of place-making. Travelers are searching for experiences that are unique and authentic to the locale in which they find themselves, and so hotel designers are integrating a sense of place into their work. This is partially achieved by incorporating traditional artisanal crafts and other local artwork into hotel rooms and communal spaces. Another design trend includes the creation of full-service, co-working environments within the hotel. Guests don't like to stay alone in their room when they need to work, so now they can go downstairs to the lobby-or up to the roof-to work among others. These areas encourage guests - and non-guests alike - to stay as long as they like and to partake of hotel amenities. Finally, recognizing the importance of the Wellness Movement, some designers are exploring how room design can increase the likelihood of deep and restorative sleep. Creating dark and quiet spaces, blocking excessive light, providing guests with a selection of different kinds of pillows, and the ability to control room temperature, are a few of the best practices in this area. These are some of the architecture and design topics that will be covered in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.