Lessons from a Spa Manager Meeting


Last week I had the opportunity to join in a few hours of a Spa Manager meeting that our Director of Operations had arranged with his team in Malaysia. You know the type of meeting I’m talking about. Get them all together for a couple of days to update them on company happenings, review the spa performance, budgets, etc. I was asked to come in and ‘share some wisdom’. Uh oh! Instead of just sharing the wisdom, I used the opportunity to challenge them. To question what they’re doing. To ask three of the most powerful questions ever asked…WHY?…HOW?…WHAT?

And here’s what we learned…

Lesson 1 – Time

The first was a WHY… Why do we ask our guests to come to the spa 15 minutes early for their treatment?

As you’d expect, the immediate responses were the same ones we give to the guest. So they can enjoy the wet facilities. So they have time to enjoy their welcome tea and the lounge area before the treatment. To allow for a proper consultation. To select their preferred massage oil. Eventually we got to the more practical answer. To make sure they’re not late. Of course, all of these reasons can be valid ones but more often than not, in most hotel spas, we do it to keep our guests honest. To make sure their tardiness doesn’t affect our operations. Just like scheduling at a medical clinic. When’s the last time you arrived on time for your doctor’s appointment and walked right in? It’s really not about our guests at all. It’s about us.

Now, if we understand that, is there any way we can tweak our operations to make it more guest friendly? How about if we let the guest select their oil at the same time they come in to make the appointment. Maybe they could even do the consultation then too? Or if they’re a return guest, maybe they know what oil they want already. Instead of serving them a tea on arrival, maybe the tea could just be set up in the lounge for them to enjoy if they choose. And choose is the operative word here. We need to find ways to modify our systems to offer more choice and personalisation to our guests, whilst not impacting our operational efficiencies.


Lesson 2 – Time x Time x Time

The second was a HOW…How much time does our guest need to set aside for a 1 hr spa treatment?

From our perspective, we only think about the time the guest is with us. Assuming we’re still stuck in Lesson 1 mode, we’ll be demanding they show up 15 minutes before the treatment. Add another 15 minutes after the treatment to have shower, get changed, etc. We’re now at 1.5 hours. But then there’s travel time. If the guest is in the hotel, that might only be a few minutes. If they’re outside for a meeting or shopping, then it could be much more. And what about the Wind Down / Wind Up time? Chances are, even if the guest is just sitting in their room answering emails, they’ll lose a bit of productive time before and after the treatment.

Those of you used to taking cigarette breaks throughout the day will know exactly what I’m talking about. Even though you might not want to admit it!

Finally, there’s what I like to call the Buffer Time. The time you need to block out before and after your spa visit to avoid being late for your treatment or your meetings. If you have a treatment scheduled at 3pm, you’ll avoid setting another meeting from around 2pm onwards. If your meeting runs over time, you’ll be late for your treatment. The same logic applies on the back end of your treatment.

All in all, it’s not inconceivable that your hotel guest might lose as much as four hours out of their day, for the pleasure of a 1 hour massage. And we’re supposed to be helping them relax! Ask any busy corporate traveler how they’d feel if they lost 4 hours of productivity out of their day, they’ll probably tell you ‘stressed!’.

So, what can you do in terms of modifying your operations to help solve this problem? Not much really. But I think it’s important to understand the kind of time commitment we’re asking our guests. If nothing else, it should serve as motivation to make sure we deliver on our promise to them of a great treatment and a great experience. It needs to be not only worth their money, but also their time.


Lesson 3 – Benefits vs Features

The third was a WHAT, infact a DOUBLE WHAT…What are our guests buying? What are we selling?

When I asked our managers what it was that we were selling, they were a bit wary to answer. This was, afterall, our third question and so far each time their initial answers had only touched the surface. They knew there was something more to this question than met the eye. As a result, I got silence. Eventually, they started to throw out a range of answers. None of them incorrect but all of them focused on their perspective, not necessarily the guest’s. We’re selling massages, facials, relaxation, experiences, escapes, etc., etc.

Great. Now, what are the guests buying? And why? Yes, back to that old question again. Why? Infact, let’s start with the Why. The reason our guests are buying something from us is the same reason any of us buy anything. We buy because it brings us some type of benefit. It’s as simple and as complex as that. If they’re buying a massage it’s probably for a bit of muscle relief. That’s the benefit they’ve come looking for. What about the welcome tea, the relaxation lounge, the steam and sauna? Well, they’re probably not buying that. All those things are the added features that we include and convince ourselves we’re adding value. But is it really of value to the guest? If we understand that guests buy benefits, not features, then if these extras don’t give them a significant enough benefit, they won’t pay for them.

But those soft touches are important in a spa! Right? Maybe. Here’s a way to find out. Try the Low Cost Carrier approach. Remove all the little extras. Strip it back down to the core service that your customers are actually paying for. Then try to sell those soft touches as optional extras. Just like a luggage allowance or an inflight meal or extra legroom. How many of your guests do you think would actually pay an extra $7.50 for a Welcome Tea and a Refresher Towel?

Then how can you adjust your business to leverage this little insight into the psychology of the consumer? I’ll assume for now that you are not going to try the Low Cost Airline approach – though it would be a fun experiment, wouldn’t it? Well, if you do nothing else other than change the way you communicate your spa to your guests, you would’ve already made an improvement. And when I say communicate, I’m talking about everything from your advertising and promotion right through to the actual sale at the spa reception. Talk to them about the benefits they’re getting. Not the features you’re selling…

‘A 10 minute herbal steam will help your muscles relax so you can get the full benefit of the massage. Would you like to add that on for an extra $15?’. ‘We have an amazing Energising Detox Drink for after your treatment to maximize the purifying effects of your treatment. It’s only an additional $5.’.  I’m not saying you have to back up every communication with a hard sell, but you get the idea.

Oh, and while you’re working on the communication, let’s see if we can do something about those boring posters around the hotel promoting your spa. Not only are they almost always about your features rather than the benefits, they’re all the same! Does that lift poster of yours really encourage me to give up 4 hours of my time?