The Future of Hotel Spas


I’ve just published an article for Hotel Business Review on The Future of Hotel Spas. Here it is…

Hotel spas have come a long way, yet they haven’t really gone anywhere. Whilst the world around us has changed significantly in the last twenty years or so, the hotel spa has not. Spas have become a standard feature in most 4 Star and 5 Star hotels. Guests have come to expect a spa in these hotels. But does that mean they will use it? The numbers seem to suggest the answer is no – at least not like they used to. So, what is the Future of the Hotel Spa Business? Here’s some thoughts for you to consider…

The hotel spas of today are not that different from the spas that first started appearing in hotels back in the mid to late 1990’s. Initially, these facilities were intended to cater to the higher end guest in search of some pampering and a little extra luxury when visiting a hotel for leisure purposes. 5 Star hotels at the time were really all about luxury and pampering, so spas were a good fit. But it wasn’t too long before spas started to find their way into city hotels and then eventually on into the 4 Star market. The problem is, the concept of spa wasn’t altered or adapted to cater to this new type of guest they were now supposed to be servicing. Thus, today we have a concept designed for the grand old days of luxury hotels that is trying to exist in a very different environment to the one it was intended for. Little wonder that many hotel spas are struggling.

Just look at the spa menu in a 4 Star city hotel. Chances are it’s filled with colorful language, espousing the often intangible benefits of some exotic treatments, that can all be yours, if you’ll just surrender yourself to the spa for an hour or two. In our efforts to differentiate ourselves from every other spa, we’ve gotten a little carried away. Rather than clarifying the definitive benefits that we will deliver, what we’ve actually done instead is confuse our potential customers with what amounts to a mystical myriad of features. So much so that it’s almost impossible for them to make any decision about whether or not to visit the spa. Maybe if they come down to the spa we’ll be able to walk them through the offering and maybe we can find something that will resonate. Maybe not. Many times I’ve quizzed a spa receptionist on the ingredients in the products they use and the benefits of them, only to be given a standard, rote answer, that even they don’t really understand.

Today, the push in hotel spas is towards offering Wellness – whatever that means. To date, I have never had a guest come to the spa and say, “I’d like 1 hour of Wellness please.”, yet we the industry keep telling the consumers that this is what they want. The challenge for hotel spas is going to be delivering on a concept as broad as Wellness. Many have struggled with delivering on the basic spa product, due in large part to the ambiguity of the concept and the subjective nature of the results. I wrote here before about how hotel spas could dip their toes in the metaphoric Waters of Wellness in an article titled – Hotel Spas and the Wellness Journey. This could be a nice place to start, but in today’s hyper informed world, your guests will soon be asking for more. Your hotel spa guest today wants a return on their investment of time and money. A little pampering is nice, but it’s not enough. I believe the hotel spa of tomorrow has two ways to go. Option one would be to continue as we do now, but make sure whatever treatments and services we offer can be measured, tracked and quantified. The second option would be to redefine entirely what a spa is. This second option will require a significant shift. The first option is much more attainable.

Results – The Metrics that Matter

If what our guests want are measureable and quantifiable treatments, the most obvious way to deliver that would be to veer towards including more medical treatments on the menu. Medi-spas certainly have emerged in recent years as a popular version of spa. Though it is worth noting that often this is more about a beauty or medical centre adding some spa elements, rather than a spa adding more medical elements. Still, adding more clinical treatments and products to your spa menu will give your guests more measurable results and provide metrics they can use to track their progress and improvement. However, the big question is, are hotel guests ready to accept and embrace medical-type treatments when they are in a hotel environment? Whilst you may be happy to try a new face cream based on the recommendation of your hotel spa, would you have the same level of faith if that spa wanted to inject you with something or prescribe some type of medicine for you? Given the current concept of spa, the answer is probably no but if your hotel spa was to have a qualified medical doctor on staff, then the answer may well be yes. Afterall, when it comes to doctors, we still tend to put our faith in the field of medicine itself, rather than a specific brand of clinic or hospital. Another concern is that the idea of a medical spa in a hotel makes the legal folks shudder with fear of massive law suits due to poor or negligent service delivery.

An alternative to going the more clinical, medi-spa route, would be to stay with the non-medical treatments but focus more on evidence based wellness. I have previously written about spas being the Organizational Face of Wellness. A place where guests will come to experience alternative treatments and therapies to those offered by the current healthcare system. The idea that our existing medical system is more about treating sickness than facilitating wellness is not a new one. Many of these so called alternative treatments, though they may be lacking in medical research to prove their effectiveness, are infact backed by generations of proven results. Is acupuncture an effective way to alleviate osteoarthritis pain? Can massage boost the immune system? Does meditation have the power to alter our gene expression? According the to the Global Wellness Institute’s Wellness Evidence portal, the answer to all these questions is yes.

Hotel Spas – A New Paradigm

What if the whole idea of spa didn’t exist today and you had an empty space in your hotel? How would you use the space? The usual answer would be to convert it into another F&B outlet or maybe a lounge or a meeting space. But what if you could create an entirely new service experience? A place that maybe combines elements of services and facilities we already have in hotels, but reimagines them for this new space. What are the areas of your current guest experience that aren’t quite delivering on their promise? What services and facilities are being under-utilized? Could this new concept help address some of those failures? What do your guests really want and need when they’re in your hotel? What could you give them that would make their lives better? This could be the foundation for the hotel spa of tomorrow. Maybe spas could take a lesson from the Starbuck’s playbook and become the Third Place – somewhere to go between home and work. But what does that look like?

Let’s start with the location. Most hotel spas today are located close to the gym, locker and pool areas. There is some logic to this, as both gym and spa guests can access the locker rooms and wet areas. Also, we’ve been told gym guests are likely to be spa guests (though in my experience, this is often not the case). However, what we forget is that the spa guest and the gym guest are really at cross purposes. The gym guest is active, the spa guest is passive. Having these two spaces co-located may in fact be having a negative impact on the spa experience, rather than bringing you more business. So, instead of putting it up on the 7th Floor, beside the gym, why not locate your spa in a prime location like…the main lobby. Madness? Maybe. But think about your existing lobby space. How much revenue is it generating for you now? Maybe this new active spa concept could create real buzz in your lobby and give your revenues a boost.

Now that we have a great location, we can get creative about the services and facilities we offer. The Tomorrow Spa is going to be more of a communal space, a place where you pop in for 10-20 minutes, do your thing and then go on about your day. Sure, you can still get a full body massage if you have time but if you don’t we’ll also have a number of express services available for you. Think of the spas you see in an airport with their upright chairs or one of those reflexology centres in a shopping mall, offering treatments as short as 10 minutes. During your treatment, your phone will be charged by a wireless charging system – special shout out to all those spas who are forcing us into digital detox when we come to the spa ;-). We’ll also print and scan the attachments from that urgent email you didn’t get to before you got on the plane (RIP – Hotel Business Centre?). Of course, while your therapist does her thing, our Spa Mixologist will be preparing your favorite cocktail, be it healthy or otherwise, so it’s ready when you’re done and yes, there will be lots of yummy snacks and nibbles to take the edge off those hunger pains for the time when you have just been running from meeting to meeting all day.

What else does tomorrow’s busy hotel guest need? Imagine you’ve been told to keep an eye on your blood pressure while you’re travelling? No problem. Tomorrow Spa will also have the latest, non-invasive diagnostic tools to help the busy hotel guest manage their health. Struggling to eat well on this trip? We’ll also be able to offer you some health supplements to make up for what you’re missing. If you’re a member of the Tomorrow Spa Club, you would have already given us your health profile data so we’ll know what you need before you get here. If you’re really organized you can even order in advance when you make your room booking. Did you spill some pasta sauce on your shirt at lunch? Tomorrow Spa also includes those a new concept in laundry services – Emergency Laundry (for those occasions where express laundry simply doesn’t cut it). Ladies, how about a quick touch up of your nail polish? Or, an express mini-facial for a fresh glow before that all important business meeting? The Tomorrow Spa can even touch your makeup before you head out for the day. And at the end of a long day pounding the pavement, what better way to relax than with a foot massage and a glass of champagne, while we polish your shoes, so they’re ready for you to do it all again tomorrow.

Now, all of this doesn’t really sound much like a hotel spa as we know it today. Then again, that’s the whole point. And true, there’s not necessarily anything new in many of these ideas mentioned above. The combination of these services and facilities, however, would be new. More important than creating something new, you’d be providing useful and necessary services to your guests, as and when and where they need them. Of course, I’m not saying the hotel spa of tomorrow must have all these services, or even any of them. What I am saying is if you want your hotel spa to be relevant to your guests of tomorrow, you need to do away with all your pre-conceived notions of what a spa should be and then come up with some new ones. Hopefully, some of the ideas here might be the catalyst to your own version of the Tomorrow Spa.