Riding the Hotel Spa Rollercoaster – Part 2


In Part 1 of Riding the Hotel Spa Rollercoaster we looked at when the ride first started and where we are now in terms of the business cycle. We discussed the consequence of doubling down on the spa versus downsizing. And we also drew some similarities between the evolution of gyms in hotels.

In this article, we’ll take a look the options for those that choose to hang on for the ride. I’ll also give some suggestions for those that would prefer to get off here. And most exciting of all, I’ll reveal an AMAZING Market Research technique!

Read on…

Embrace the Ride

So which way will your hotel spa go?

If you decide to hang on for the ride, the good news is it might not be as complicated or expensive as you think. The key – don’t try to become the biggest and best spa in town with all the latest and greatest gadgets, gizmos, treatments and products. Instead, why not try to re-invent what a hotel spa is? Stay with me here…

Why is it that the capture rates (ie: the % of hotel guests coming to the spa) in most city hotel spas can be as low as 1% – 3%? Maybe it’s price? Maybe it’s location? Yes, Maybe. Or maybe it’s simply because the spas are offering something that the guests just don’t want. Ever think about that?

Here’s a crazy idea…


Talk to your guests. Find out what they want. Ask them!


Don’t just ask what sort of massage or facial or manicure they want. Ask them about what sort of services and facilities they want in general while they’re in your hotel. It always amazes me that hotels have at their fingertips, the best market analysis tool there is. Every night in the rooms upstairs. The customer. Yet how many hotels really use it? I’m not talking about a generic Guest Questionnaire. I mean real discussions with actual guests about what they really want. Find out what your guests want and then ask yourself, ‘How can incorporate that service/offering into my spa?’


Spa 2.0

Here’s an example. Say a guest tells you he’d really love to get his shoes shined every night, ready for the next day. But the first thing he wants to do when he walks back into the hotel after a day of meetings is stop in the bar for a couple of drinks. By the time he gets back to his room to take his shoes off, housekeeping has already gone for the day so he can’t get his shoe-shine. How can you give him what he wants? The simplest answer might be for the hotel to just keep one shoe-shine guy on for a few extra hours in the evening. But what if you could create a space where the busy corporate traveler could come back in after a tough day pounding the pavement, slip his shoes off and sit back with an ice-cold beer, while getting a relaxing foot & leg massage. Then when it’s over, he gets his shoes back looking brand new, having just had a thorough polish? You’ve now solved the one problem the guest told you about – the inability to get a shoe shine after 6pm – but you’ve also helped solve another problem he didn’t tell you about – relaxing after a tough day. And in solving these problems you’ve created another service that this guest will gladly pay for.

Apply the same thought process to the morning ritual of your corporate travelers. Think about the female executive who has to spend time with the blow dryer in the morning, styling her hair, then put on some make up, then maybe touch up the nail polish. How much would she love your hotel spa if there was a place she could go in the morning to get that all done for her? We’re not talking about your typical spa pampering experience. This is more a combination nail salon/hair salon/make up stand. And all this in a place where she can also grab a cup of coffee and some muesli and yoghurt to kick off her day. Who really needs that full buffet breakfast anyway?

Instead of your hotel spa being a place for pampering, think about it more in terms of a functional service centre. You can drop your car off for a wash and vacuum and have a coffee and donut while you wait, right? So why not allow your guests to drop their body off for a bit of servicing and have some fruit, yoghurt and coffee at the same time.

Downsize – The Prudent Alternative

Now, if you decide the more prudent option is to downsize and reduce your exposure to the high utility costs and payroll expenses of having a full-blown spa in your hotel, what can you do?

Remember those early days of hotel spas we spoke about above? Back then, existing hotels wanting to get on board the hotel spa gravy train didn’t have the time, money or space to build a dedicated spa facility. What did they do? They converted an existing hotel room into a treatment room, mainly by swapping out some furniture.

Maybe, for the hotel spa that is just not working, for whatever reason, the best option is to close it down and take the space for something else. An F&B outlet, a mid-level executive lounge (think premium economy class vs business class), etc. could be better profit spinners than a struggling spa. Simply re-invent the old spa space with a concept that will work better for your market and create more value. ‘But we still need a spa!’. No worries. Just take over a few hotel rooms and convert them into spa rooms. Just like we did in the good old days. This way you can still offer spa treatments. No risk of upset guests demanding a spa. No threat from those often-pedantic ratings bodies who say without a spa, you’ll lose a star.

And maybe you don’t even technically need to lose room inventory to do it. If you’re smart in the way you do the conversion, it would be simple enough to re-convert that room back into a guest room again as, when and if needed. Take out the massage table and bring back the bed, desk and chair. Voila! Sure, in this case you run the risk of potentially upsetting a few guests that may want a massage during this period. Your spa rooms are now effectively out of order. However, if the hotel is running at 100%, that room will probably generate more profit for the 24hrs as a guest room. Maybe you can say the spa can just be closed for maintenance for a few days. 😉

This downsizing model can be even more efficient if the hotel can find an on-call massage service to provide the labour. Sure, there are still a lot of negative connotations around on-call massage services. But remember, in most of those scenarios, the ‘treatments’ are happening in the guest room. If the therapists have a dedicated spa treatment room, properly set up, there should be less of an expectation of ‘hanky panky’.

App focused companies in like Zeel and Soothe in the US provide a perfect solution for the hotel who wants to adopt this type of Spa-Lite model. And it’s only a matter of time before we see other companies cloning these businesses in other countries around the world.

Here endeth the lesson…

In his play The Tempest, Shakespeare wrote, ‘what’s past is prologue’. That phrase has been commonly interpreted as meaning the past determines the future. But what he really meant, in context, was it’s only what we do in the future that matters. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. So, instead of worrying about how hotel spas have been done in the past, think about what is needed today. Talk to your customers today and find out what they want.

Henry Ford somewhat scoffed at the idea of market research back in the late 1800’s. He supposedly said if he’d asked people what they wanted , they’d have said they wanted a faster horse. They didn’t know what they wanted was a car. Steve Jobs apparently seemed to think the same way. So, if you think you’re as smart and innovative as these guys, then fine, don’t bother asking your guests. Alas, for most of us, it’s probably fair to say the guest has a better idea of what they want than we do. So, let’s ask.

Spas have been an important addition to the hotel offering over the past few decades. They can continue to be so in the future. However, we need to remember that the spa industry itself is still relatively early on in its evolutionary path. As with all businesses, hotel spas will need to evolve and adapt to stay relevant.

Don’t get too caught up on the past. Focus on the now. The future will come soon enough.