Spa Design For Dummies – What We’re Doing Wrong With Location


The phrase “Location. Location. Location.” has been attributed to an English real estate magnate by the name of Harold Samuels, but as its first known mention appeared when Samuels was only fourteen years old, it might be a stretch to give him the credit. Regardless of who said it first, it is an expression that rings true to this day when it comes to hotel spa design.

If you want a successful business, a good location is critical. For some businesses, this means being inside a shopping mall so they have access to a greater footfall. For others, it may be about being within a 20-minute drive of a certain customer demographic. Even for an online business, location matters. That business needs to be seen in the right places on the web. Whether that is a banner ad on a major portal site or securing a prime Geo-filter on Snapchat, location matters.

Conventional Wisdom

Close to the fitness centre and swimming pool has always been considered a good location for the hotel spa. The reasoning goes that swimming and gymming are leisure activities and so is spa, thus it makes sense to co-locate them. A gym guest can go and have a swim after his workout and then head to the hotel spa for a relaxing massage. This location should also provide some passer-by traffic to the spa that they otherwise would not have.

Another reason for putting the spa, gym and pool together are the practicalities of construction. All three activities require lots of additional M&E (Mechanical and Engineering) works, particularly the plumbing works to cover additional water requirements. But there are also sometimes issues around the additional weight load that these areas carry on the slab. Having these areas close to each other allows the builders to maximise efficiencies of design and with that, construction costs.

Operational Efficiencies

Finally, having these three facilities close together also offers some operational efficiencies. It varies from country to country, but many hotel fitness centres are not required by law to have permanent gym instructors during operating hours. The same applies to the pool. ‘No Lifeguard on Duty’ is pretty much the standard approach. But both these areas do require regular monitoring throughout the day, to either offer assistance to guests or to maintain cleanliness. This is where the spa staff can help. Guests in these areas can be instructed to go to spa reception for any assistance. Many hotels also have a registration process that is handled at the spa for guests using these facilities. Public liability and safety concerns often require this to make sure the guests sign the disclaimer form to protect the hotel from potential law suits. Again, this can be done at the spa reception, if it is nearby.

So, at first glance, it looks like this co-location of spa, pool and gym makes sense. But does it? I am not convinced the prevailing wisdom is always correct.

Active vs Passive

Firstly, I take issue with the assumption that spa and swimming and gymming are like-minded activities. In fact, they could not be further from each other in terms of the guest’s motivation and mind set. The gym and the pool are places for activity, while the spa is a place for relaxation. Gym and pool guests are usually huffing and puffing, straining for that extra push. Spa guests are usually taking deep, slow breaths to relax. The state of mind of the spa guest is completely different from that of the gym and pool guest. This disconnect is never more obvious than when the three zones share the same locker rooms. If you have ever been in a locker room when the sweaty, smelly gym guest comes in at the same time as the sweet-smelling spa guest, you will know exactly what I mean.

Gyms and pools are noisy zones, spas are quiet zones. The thumping base of the upbeat workout tunes is a sure-fire way to shatter the peaceful ambience of the spa next door. So, too, is the crashing thud of a barbell that has been dumped to the ground after a successful lift. To be fair, many hotel gyms do not have much in the way of free weights, certainly not heavy ones. Still, the same applies to the weights on the exercise stations too. Of course, with the right sound proofing techniques, much of this noise pollution can be minimised, but often that level of sound proofing does not happen.

Walk on by

The popular view is that being located close to the pool and gym brings the spa more incidental or walk-in business. More than what? More than if it was located on a random floor of the building with no other facilities or amenities there? Sure. But how many guests actually use the gym and the pool? Especially in a city hotel. In all my years staying in hotels, I recall few occasions when I found the gym or swimming pool too crowded. At a resort hotel, you will probably have a higher percentage of guests using the pool. Then again, they may not be using the gym too much.

Prime Location

What if the spa was located in the lobby instead? Or close to the buffet restaurant? Surely that would generate more footfall for the spa, would it not? Yes, it would.

You should see the strange looks I get when I suggest to an architect that we place the spa in the hotel lobby. Let alone on Level 1, beside the restaurant. But why not? If we truly consider the spa to be a revenue-generating space, it makes more sense to place it where it has the best chance to attract more customers. Why would we not consider these prime locations?

To take full advantage of a prime traffic location in a hotel, the spa of tomorrow will need to adapt its facilities and services to cater more for the casual drop-in guest. Maybe more space is needed in the waiting lounge of the spa, perhaps more express service offerings for those guests looking to fill an empty half-hour slot in their day. These and similar concepts need be developed for this radical shift in location to make sense.

But just imagine how much revenue could be made from the right spa concept located right in the main lobby.