Can Hotel Spas Replace Starbucks As The New Third Place?


Hotel spas are not places you go to hang out. You book in for your treatment. You arrive 15 minutes before (because the spa tells you to). Then you have your treatment and you leave. If the spa has the facilities and you have the time, you might chill out in the relaxation lounge for 10 minutes after your treatment. But probably not. Spas have not been designed as hang-out spaces but as service centres. Get in, have your service, leave.

Last Impressions Multiply

Spas often do not pay much attention to the departure experience. Again, we seem to be obsessed with getting you in and out as quickly as possible. We are big on first impressions but forget about last impressions. First impressions count, but last impressions multiply. If you can leave your guest with a great feeling when they leave, they will remember and they will come back. They will also tell others about the great experience they just had at your spa.

A great departure experience is not only good for future business, it is good for today’s business too. Offering retail products to a guest after a treatment often comes across as a hard sell. The poor guest is just coming back to Earth after you took them away to whole new state of relaxation, and then you hit them up to buy some retail. How much more receptive would the guest be to a retail purchase if they were given the chance to discover the products in a relaxed, low-pressure environment? This is why Apple focus on empty spaces rather than shelves crammed with products. Despite the apparent lack of inventory in an Apple Store, they actually have the highest revenue per share foot ratios of any retail store. Higher even than Tiffany & Co. Apple retail spaces also encourage interaction and community amongst all who enter.

Communal Experiences

What is interesting, when you look at the more traditional water-based spa experiences, hanging out has always been a big part of what they are. Whether it is thermal hot springs in Germany, Black Banya experiences in Russia or Onsens in Japan – all have a communal aspect to them. And while it is not feasible to properly replicate some of these facilities in a hotel environment, the concept of spas as communal spaces can still be applied.

Starbuck’s founder Charles Schultz has famously said that Starbucks is not a coffee shop or a cafe or a restaurant, it is the Third Place, somewhere you go between work and home. It is a place to hang out. Comfy lounge chairs encourage you to sit and stay. Multiple power sockets and free wifi (which they were amongst the first to offer) make it easier for you to have informal business meetings. Casual beverage and food offerings mean you can stay all day, without ever having to leave. This Third Place idea is something that has resonated, and at scale.

A World Without Spas

One question I love to ask hotel developers is, ‘Imagine if the concept of spa did not exist. If you had 500 square meters of space available, what would you put there? Would it be what we know today as a spa?’ It is not easy to imagine something that does not exist when it has become so much a part of a hotel offering today. It is like a teenager today trying to imagine a world without mobile phones. But for those developers who are able to clear their minds of preconceptions, most agree that today’s hotel spa space is not optimal. Invite them to reimagine the space, and they tend to default back to a standard food & beverage offering. Another cafe or lounge or bar.

The crazy thing is, most hotels that I stay in – and I stay in a lot – are sadly lacking in quality hang-out space. If you are lucky enough to have access to the Executive Lounge, then you are fine. If not, your options are usually limited to a seat in a noisy lobby or a table in an All-Day Dining restaurant – if they let you sit there outside of meal times.

Paying to Lounge

While we are here, can we talk for a minute about paid lounge access? For the longest time, airport lounges were the domain of the privileged few, reserved for those flying first class, plus those with enough Frequent Flyer points. Anyone else was stuck with a cold, hard bucket seat bolted on to a row of nineteen other seats. Then a few years, ago there was a proliferation of paid lounges, open to anyone willing to pay the fee for a few hours.

I have never seen this paid lounge concept in a hotel. Surely somewhere in the world there is a hotel that does it, but I have not seen it. It seems to like a no-brainer. Whenever I have asked a hotel GM why they do not offer paid access to their Executive Lounge, they say it is because they want to create a sense of exclusivity for lounge guests. Sometimes they say the lounge is already at capacity during peak periods and so they cannot accommodate any more guests. Not once have I been told they do not think there is a demand for it. So then build a bigger lounge for the masses and keep your top-tier guests separate. Or only offer paid lounge access at non-peak times. But whatever you do, do not leave a demand unsatisfied. Especially not if you can make some money out of it.

So how can we apply all this to the spa of tomorrow?

Tomorrow Spa – The New Third Place

Let us make the spa the hotel’s Third Place, the place you go between your room and the outside world. If you are not sleeping or showering or outside shopping, sightseeing or attending meetings, you are in the spa. Just hanging out. It is actually the Third Place within the Third Place, because hotels are already a Third Place themselves – a place between work and home.

Come and hang out in the spa. Lounge around in our super comfortable posture-enhancing chairs. Enjoy some healthy snacks, juices and teas. Select something more substantial from our Spa Cuisine menu. You can listen to a poetry reading between 10am to 11am. Before lunch, our nutrition expert will tell you why our food menu has what it has and what things you should look for when you next go grocery shopping. Make a booking for one of the Meeting Pods if you need some private space for a business meeting. Want a different perspective on the news of the day? Then join in the Open Table discussion where we facilitate a dialogue and exchange of ideas. Of course we also have regular yoga, meditation, breathing and sleeping classes to help you get more out of your mind and your body. And last but not least, we will have all the things you already expect at your hotel spa to cater to your relaxation and beauty needs.

Spas – The New Normal

You will notice I left the normal spa stuff until the end. For sure, the spa of today still has a place in the spa of tomorrow, but it is not the only component. In fact, in a model like this, it is not even the main component, and that is okay. Instead of a one-dimensional space with services and facilities appealing to a relatively small number of guests, you now would have a multi-dimensional, multi-functional space that offers a wide array of services and facilities, offers interaction and community and above all a nice place just to hang out.

A true Third Place.

PS: If you want to read a bit more about the Tomorrow Spa, you can get a FREE copy of my little eBook. Just click the image below…

tomorrow spa