Spas in independent hotels can be significant sources for profit, but only if all of their components complement each other and guest service is top priority.
LONDON—A top-notch spa is one of the must-have profit centers for independent hotels, according to sources.
During the Independent Hotel Show in London, hoteliers and consultants stressed the importance of operating a spa that has the right offerings to make both hotel and spa indispensable to the growing numbers of guests who cherish the importance of wellness.
Panelists at a session titled “Spa business masterclass” gave the following tips to position independent hotels as the go-to spots for spa aficionados. Prioritizing staff and guest relationships was the discussion’s central theme.
1. Understand your guests
Victoria Rickett, spa manager at Rockcliffe Hall, said guests do not always know what they want, which is where trained therapists make all the difference.
“Create unique treatments, which often are as enjoyable for the therapists as they are for the guest, and offer discounts for those staying at the hotel,” Rickett said.
Helen Merchant, director of International Spa Consultants, said it’s difficult to come up with one universal definition of wellness.
“Wellness means something different to every single guest and every hotel,” she said. “It can mean mental wellness, physical, emotional, fitness or relaxation, young and old.”
Nuno César de Sá, hotel manager of Rudding Park Spa, Hotel & Golf, agreed.
“People in the United Kingdom increasingly want to feel pampered, and they feel they deserve to be,” he said.
Rickett said spa days provide the best value to guests, and she added treatment times continue to increase in length and client feedback is essential.
2. Understand your therapists
Panelists said retention of therapists increases revenue.
“Training therapists is costly, but it’s your business,” César De Sá said. “Create a culture and a team energy and spirit. Guests are immediately cognizant of whether a spa has a good atmosphere.”
But having too many treatments is a mistake, he added.
“Therapists are not robots,” César De Sá said. “Like restaurants that have a few good dishes as opposed to those that have hundreds, adapt your spa to what works.”
Merchant said finding a niche and crafting your spa’s identity is more important. She added that research suggests a focused spa structure that is well-positioned in its market will have a better chance at success.
“Have two or three elements of wellness and do them well,” she said. “It does not hurt to have a quirky uniqueness, but be a market leader, not a follower.”
3. Understand all staff
Non-spa staff must be cognizant of the spa’s business, too, panelists said.
“We have a system that allows therapists only to do four treatments per day,” Rickett said. “They do not know that, so we can shift things around, but it requires a trained reservations team.”
Hiring the right employees is equally important, Rickett said.
“And recruit slowly,” she said. “I’d rather be behind on budget and get the right person. If we recruit to our charter, we’ve never gone wrong.”
4. Know your property
Merchant said spas can only deliver what is possible within the confines of the property, which is a restriction many operators don’t always think through.
“Look at occupancies and footfall, and have the right people in the right places,” Merchant said. “Gardens are an important element, and we are so lucky in this country that we do have four seasons. And look at your lighting. LED lighting is so cheap, and it can transform your space.”
Panelists varied on the lifespan of spa. Some said they needed tidying after five years, with a complete refurbishment between 10 and 12 years, depending on the quality of materials. Others said spas should be turned around after six or seven years with new features that can bring in new guests.
“Investors have invested £9 million ($11.1 million), with an eight-year payback plan, and just the stone around the spa was £1 million ($1.2 million),” César De Sá said. “I could return their capital faster, but that would not be a plan for longevity. Revenue management can help close those lines, and I am aware that is definitely getting away from the flowery nature of spas.”
Merchant said she expects a 20% increase in construction costs is coming “very soon as a result of Brexit.”
5. Know your stock
Panelists emphasized the importance of keeping an eye on the amount of product in the spa, and knowing what brands work, and which ones do not.
“One spa had 263 treatments and £48,000 ($59,288) of stock, and stock on the shelf does not earn you money,” Merchant said.
“People do not come to your hotel for brands,” Rickett said. “Yes, have a few pop up, when an established brand comes to your spa.”
César De Sá said choosing an unknown brand might help with positioning a spa but recommended smaller independent hotel spas chose an established brand.
Merchant added spas should not be scared to add technology.
“High touch or high tech, that question has gone in circles, but (don’t) be frightened at having machines in your spas,” she said.
6. Know your costs
Merchant said costs cannot be curtailed in all aspects of spa management, especially in regard to wet facilities, which increase laundry costs and comprise the biggest dent to profit-and-loss accounts.
“A day guest will use nine towels, so limit those,” Merchant said. “Have a fabulous bag with branding, but do not have towels on display. Reduce your thread count, as washing and drying time will be less. Look to see where cost centers are.”
Rickett said the type of towel was important, too, and one solution is to have towels with fluff on one side only.
“We also have to consider the environment,” Rickett said.