Hotel Spas and the Wellness Journey – Part 1


I wrote recently about the potential for spas to be the ‘Organisational Face of Wellness’. The theory here being that spas provide a safe and understandable entry point into the diverse and often confusing world of Wellness. Much like a hospital is the organisational face of illness. Patients rarely know which medical specialist is the most appropriate for their specific condition. They trust that the hospital will direct them to right doctor.

As the hotel spa industry matures and as wellness in general becomes more front of mind, it makes sense that many hotel spas are now trying to incorporate Wellness elements into their menu offering. Unfortunately, for the most part, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Before I joined Mandara Spa and Steiner Leisure over twelve years ago, I was a hotel guy. My last two roles, in particular, were with companies that were very focused on Wellness – although back then it was really just called spa. At Six Senses and COMO Hotels I witnessed first-hand what it takes to do Wellness well. What I learned was that to make Wellness work, you need to be clear on exactly what elements you want to offer in your hotel and then you need to be all-in in terms of delivering them. It’s been my experience so far that most hotels fail to do both these things.

Let me share a couple of examples of how these hotels managed to  do it right…

COMO Hotels decided that yoga should be key part of their Wellness offering. This was not simply a corporate directive. The owner herself was a big believer in the benefits of yoga and practiced yoga on a daily basis. So, when it came to offering yoga in her hotels, the owner insisted that we had to do it right. COMO had a four-pronged approach to doing yoga right.

Four Prongs of the Yoga fork

Firstly, COMO hired experienced and highly professional yoga teachers as full time employees of the spa. In most cases, at least in Asia, that means another expat position, with all the expenses that go along with it.

The second prong to COMO’s yoga strategy was to make sure the yoga studios were purpose built as yoga spaces. Often times in hotels, yoga classes will be conducted on a deck by the pool or in a gym or aerobics room. Quality flooring, natural airflow, soft lighting, etc are all important elements that should be considered if you want to do yoga right.

Partnering with famous yoga gurus and teachers from around the world and host week-long yoga retreats at the hotels was the third prong to COMO’s yoga strategy. The great thing about this approach is that the established yoga teachers usually have a large and devoted following. These followers will gladly take time out of their busy lives to spend a week in your hotel or resort with other like-minded people eager to get more dedicated tuition and guidance from their guru.
There are many ways to structure a partnership like this. You could hire the yogi for a week long appointment and then sell tickets to the event. Another option would be to give the yogi a wholesale rate for your rooms and food and beverage and allow them to package this with their yoga classes and mark up accordingly. To minimize the financial risk you could even have a simple revenue share arrangement between your hotel and the yogi.

Finally, an important consideration when hosting yoga retreat is offering healthy food and beverage options. Thus, the fourth prong of COMO’s yoga strategy was to hire the most talented spa cuisine chefs available. This not only gave them a USP in terms of their standard food and beverage offerings but also ensured that they could cater to the specific healthy eating needs of the yoga retreat guests.

COMO went all-in on yoga – from the owner’s office, all the way down the tofu on the table in the restaurant.

All-in on Ayurveda

Six Senses also took an all-in approach to Wellness during my years with the company. At that time, it was decided that Ayurveda should be an integral part of our Wellness offering. Again, as was the case with COMO, this decision was led by the owner’s personal interest in Ayurvedic medicine. The first thing Six Senses did was hire respected Ayurvedic doctors for each of their spas. Next, they designed and built the spa facility with a specific focus on the requirements of an Ayurveda treatment menu. Similarly, authentic Ayurvedic equipment was installed to use in the treatments.

Again, as with the yoga retreats at COMO, a crucial element of doing Ayurveda right is the food and beverage component. In Ayurveda, you are categorized by your doshas, or your biological energies. Each person’s constitution is made up of one or a combination of the three doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Which of these or which combination you are, determines what types of foods are best for you and what time of day you should be eating them. Six Senses approach was to also hire great spa cuisine chefs who then would create specific menus in consultation with the Ayurvedic doctors on site.

In Part 2 of Hotel Spas and the Wellness Journey we’ll look at what hotels can do to get on board the Wellness Train, without necessarily going all-in.