Riding the Hotel Spa Roller Coaster
By Trent Munday Vice President, Steiner Spa Consulting | July 17, 2016
As I mentioned here once before, in an earlier article titled Demystifying the Hotel Spa , the hotel spa business has been a bit of a roller coaster ride over the past 20 years or so. Like all good roller coaster rides, the most exciting bit is when you start rolling down from the peak, zigging and zagging, twisting and turning, screaming with a mixture of delight, adrenalin and sheer terror - but that part of the ride is also what puts many people off. It's not for everyone.
In many ways, the hotel spa business today is on that same exciting part of the business cycle. Just like that crazy roller coaster ride, this part maybe isn't for everyone. Some may prefer to get off here. But for those who hang on and ride it through to the end, they'll probably be so glad they did.
The Great Hotel Spa Race
The hotel spa business as we know it today, really began in the early to mid-1990's, but the seeds were sown well before. Prior to 1990, if you wanted a massage in a hotel, it usually meant going down to the gym where they would have one or two small rooms off to the side with a massage table inside. The facilities were pretty basic, as were the treatments. No frills, no soft touches, no nice aromas. Instead, you got a hard table, with a thin sheet and the pervasive aroma of menthol sports oil in the air. Want some mood lighting? Sure. We have two settings - lights on or lights off. These were the days when hotel management knew little about spas and hotel guests knew even less. Yes, things were much simpler back then.
Then came the boom! Somewhere around 1995 hotel spas started springing up all over the place. The Great Hotel Spa Race had begun. In Asia, this coincided with the Asian Financial Crisis. This was a time when hotels all over Asia were being hit hard by unsustainably low occupancies and revenues. At a time when hotels were desperate for any additional revenue they could get, someone realized that if they took the bed, desk and chair out of a few guest rooms and replaced them with a massage table, then hire a couple of masseuses, they all of a sudden had a new service and facility to offer their guests - a spa.
A hotel that could offer a spa now had a true USP. Something that helped it stand out from the crowd. A genuine marketing advantage - and of course an additional revenue stream too. However, as the idea took hold, more and more hotels started to do the same. This is where the boom really began. Hotels were soon locked in a battle of one-upmanship in an effort to win the hearts and wallets of the new spa tourist (be it for business or leisure). And this is where things started to go wrong for hotels. Many of them drank the Kool-Aid. They bought into the belief that, to paraphrase Kevin Costner, 'if we build it, they will come.'