Hotels have long relied on the spa to provide them a USP. Something that the hotel can hold up as a shining example of the creativity, innovation and unique identity of the property. Certainly in the early days of spa and indeed for many years after, this was true. But those days are gone. Rather than being an anomaly, spas have become the norm in just about any 4 or 5 star hotel these days.
In a recent conversation with Tom Gottlieb, the founder of Mandara Spa, he told me how when he first arrived in Bali in the mid 1990’s, there was just one spa Nusa Dua and that was basically it – for the entire island. Today, it seems there is a spa on every corner and many spas in every street – and that’s just the ones you can see. Imagine how many spas there inside the hotels and resorts. Currently there are around 250 official star rated hotels in Bali today, plus another 30 projects the pipeline and at least as many non-star rated hotels in Bali. The vast majority of these properties all have spas. So you can see that to rely on a spa as your USP these days in Bali is probably not a really smart strategy. And whilst spa numbers may not be quite as dramatic elsewhere around the world, the thesis still holds true.
In my constant conversations with hotel owners and general managers I find an interesting dichotomy. On one hand they believe they must have a spa, either because they feel their guests expect it or because their competitor hotels have one or because they need a spa to maintain their star rating. Whatever the reason, the underlying causation factor is that spas are commonplace. But on the other hand, many of these hotel folks still expect the spa to be a USP. The challenge with this expectation is that if everyone else has a spa, how can you make your spa different enough from them to have it give you a competitive edge? Ultimately, it comes down to the physical space and structure of the spa or the treatment menu.
It’s hard to imagine any design feature that has not already been done in a spa. So on the physical side, you’re left with having to build something bigger and grander than the other guy. Invariably, this strategy results in the spa being overbuilt, either in terms of size or investment. Creating uniqueness via the types of services and products provided by the spa, is usually a much more efficient option. Unfortunately, again, there’s not much that hasn’t already been done here. So spas are forced into coming up with all sorts of weird and wonderful treatements, services and products. Often times these new services are just variations of something that’s already been done before. Essentially, it’s just repackaging. It’s a phenomenon I call Attention Led Innovation. The end result is we end up trying to sell features rather than benefits. This might work for a while, but it’s not really sustainable in the long run.
It’s a long road from USP to commodity. Nonetheless, it’s a road we’ve already travelled. The challenge for the industry now is find peace with our lot and adjust our business models accordingly. Alternatively, if the commodity label doesn’t sit well, we need to reinvent ourselves and find a new position of relevance in this rapidly changing world in which we exist.