Treading Lightly into New Territory

The Challenges Related to Bringing Spa to New Destinations

By Kimberly Setzermann Co-Founder, Pure Strategic Solutions | June 30, 2013

As a consultant in the hospitality industry, I've seen that it's risky to assume that something that works well in one culture or place is going to work the same way somewhere else. In March 2011, my partner and I became General Management of a very special 14-room, 10-acre property in Tanzania with the instruction from the owners to construct additional rooms, renovate the existing facilities, add a spa, and upgrade all reservation, accounts, and store systems. Despite our Africa-less experience, we trusted that our problem-solving skills and cultural sensitivity would carry us through any unforeseen challenges.

My first discovery was that this is a community that has seen many of its youth coerced into the sex trade. So how to convince them that a young woman alone in a closed room touching a mostly naked, horizontal man could be considered therapeutic medically oriented massage?

This was my starting point for introducing spa therapy to a village in Tanzania. The first solution that came to mind was simply to bring in trained massage therapists from somewhere else. But that wasn't going to resolve the fundamental issue, which remained how the public perceived the masseuse, and the label the outside therapist would be given.

What appealed most strongly to me was the fact that a local spa therapist could make significant money. The average Tanzanian earns less than $2 per day (1), and a successful body worker could become highly sought-after. Tourism in Tanzania continues to steadily grow at approximately 7% per annum (2), making it the second-highest (48.7%) contributor to GDP after agriculture (51.2%)(3). Depending on pay scale, a spa therapist could earn as much as three times the salary of a basic housekeeper in a respected hotel during high season, while working fewer hours per week.

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Little did I imagine, however, how humbling and how rewarding it was going to be to attempt to introduce spa services to a very small group of Tanzanians.

However, accreditation has not kept pace with the rapid increase in tourism. Often no accreditation is required to simply declare oneself a spa therapist. While this will probably change in the near future, as educational training institutes realize the financial value of having a necessary certification imposed by the government, persons presenting themselves as spa therapists show a vast range of ability and experience.

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