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No crisis for spas

To have or not to have: is there still any doubt? Can any self-respecting upscale hotel disregard a spa offer? Today the response is almost always negative.

The phenomenon has attained a global dimension in record time. Who in the general public had heard about spas before the year 2000? Nonetheless, unlike many short-lived stars, the fashion effect has not yet dissipated. In the United States the number has grown by 20% each year since 2000 to 19,000 spas today, both in and outside hotels. Nonetheless, regarding spas, the question in all hoteliers’ minds is about profitability. At the beginning of this upheaval, hoteliers have often frown upon the results. Initial investment is high, its management costly and the revenues struggle to reach 5% of the turnover at a resort and far less in a city hotel. The payroll, which becomes very expensive in order to attract the services of the best practitioners, adds a great deal to operating costs, particularly when social contributions are as high as they are in France.Most Asian luxury groups have decided to fully integrate their spa offer in their brand image. Time Rituals at Mandarin Oriental, Chi for Shangri-La, Talise at Jumeirah, and of course Six Senses, Anantara and Banyan Tree and their eponymous spa brands: all these groups have given their well-being concepts a veritable identity. But for hotels where this is not the core business, the solution that is increasingly adopted is to appoint the services of well-known spa or cosmetics brands: La Prairie, Cinq Mondes, Clé des Champs or even Dior at the Plaza Athénée. Such an association can be win-win for both brands. Very closely related to W by Starwood, Bliss was made to discover two new continents recently. The Middle East in Doha, the Far East in Hong Kong and soon Europe in Barcelona. Present in the 16 residences owned by CGH in the French Alps and soon Asia, Bulgaria or St James & Albany in Paris where the spa is under renovation, After the Rain also offers several management contract formulas, full externalization and increasingly franchise. "We will now direct our development on this axis. We create signature treatments with special ingredients for each place," details Isabelle Nordmann. What is the ideal formula for a hotelier: internal management, appointing a well-known brand of products, or fully externalize this service? "There is no one right answer," stresses Galya Ortega. "It is truly a personal issue. For a successful spa, no matter which formula is chosen, the hotelier must be impassioned and invest himself personally. If not, then the spa will be like a ‘wart’that doesn’t fit in."A profitable spa: is that a squaring of the circle that may be possible in the Republic of Mauritius or Bali, but not in our latitudes? Half the properties surveyed by ISPA recently are pleased with the growth of their profit, but maximum profitability is not always the case. "And yet it is possible! Take the Ritz Health Club, for example," remarks Galya Ortega. "But the question is not just in terms of turnover," outlines this spa expert and creator of rituals for leading cosmetics, spa and hotel brands. "The hotel’s overall profitability must be examined. A property like the Domaine de Rochevilaine which once had a low occupancy rate in the winter, now posts no vacancy thanks to its spa."In their relative ignorance of the return on investment, hoteliers decided to keep heart and offer their guests these havens of wellbeing, that are now almost as necessary as a restaurant or bar. Vis-à­vis a zapping clientele the spa presents a fairly significant line of defense. Even if the guest does not use the service, its presence in a hotel can make a difference in the choice. The spa confers additional appeal upon a hotel and makes it possible to stand out from among the competition. Like the Domaine de Rochevilaine, many hotels de­veloped their positioning around this offer. This is true at leisure destinations – in the countryside, in the mountains or by the sea but also in cities. Real urban resorts conti­nue to blossom around the globe in Geneva, New York, Shanghai, and even se­condary cites such as Rennes where the Lecoq-Gadby hotel-spa is doubly fashio­nable because its body care has a certified ecological dimension.This age-old concept of health through water is more popular than ever. It offers a healthful break in a universe that is increasingly frantic. Stressed managers and clients wanting to resource rapidly became "spa maniacs". And each day their numbers grow. A survey carried out in October 2008 by the International Spa Association (ISPA) shows growth in visits by 40% over the previous year. The confusion of some is the happiness of others, the crisis could encourage the use of this new art of living, made of wellbeing and sweetness. "We are seeing a new upsurge in visits from regulars, employees from the bank UBS, located just across the street from our property," admits Isabelle Nordmann, founder of the Swiss brand After the Rain.At Geneva’s urban spa After the Rain in Geneva, the best seller is indisputably the “stress relief” treatment, a massage with essential oils, preceded by a hot poultice to eliminate toxins all down the backbone. This treatment ends with the application of a heating balm to increase energy. "All while lying on a bed of water, like floating in the mother’s stomach," explains Isabelle Nordmann. The beneficial aspect of the spa lies in this return to oneself. Which does not exclude .attering the guest’s ego. Personalization is another major trend at present. This requires faultless organization by professionals. "The goal is to give the im­pression of anticipating the client’s desires, either by asking questions, or by guessing. Many spa rituals were designed to be prac­tically made to measure for each client," ex-plains Galya Ortega. This professional explains, nonetheless that 100% personalized service is virtually impossible: "it would be complicated and costly in terms of treat­ments, but it is possible to adapt."Of course the spa is not THE miracle recipe for these dismal times. These spaces for well-being are also subject to the budgeting priorities of clientele. Nonetheless the crisis is here and offers opportunities for hoteliers who know how to promote these comfor­ting moments. "Clients are particularly sen­sitive to word of mouth but also attracted to promotions. Spas require true marketing," explains Isabelle Nordmann. Thus, in order to bring in men, clients who are loyal and regular once they’ve gotten past the first vi­sit, there is nothing like a couple’s treat­ment. "Treatments such as "Je t’aime moi non plus" or "La vie en rose" generate 30% of our turnover", continues this specialist. For the hotelier, offering a massage or a credit to use in the spa can encourage travelers who are more hesitant in these times of crisis. This sales pitch is less damaging for the property’s RevPAR than starting a price war. As for local clientele– strategic for increasing the number of visits- gift certificates are another efficient way to gua­rantee traffic since, according to a 2008 ISPA survey, 50% of customers used this pay­ment method.But encouraging customer passage does not exclude optimizing internal manage­ment to grow the property’s profitability. Making a good evaluation of the spa size and treatment cabins with respect to the size of the property, its occupancy and its market, perfectly managing appointment schedules: these are key. But the golden rule is to recruit and train personnel care­fully. "This is a very strategic element," ex-plains Galya Ortega. "A good trainer pre­vents problems," admits Isabelle Nordmann, "bad habits are learned quickly". With in­creasingly informed clientele, a bad expe­rience can wreak catastrophe. Just as the spa can be synonymous with the hotel’s strong fidelity, the slightest discontentment can also be definitively turned against it. One more reason to trust professionals.Trends for 2009 according to ISPA-* Personalized treatments: spas must be ever more attentive to customer needs.-* The body, the mind, the soul: resourcing is not just about the body. ISPA encourages spas to offer discoveries that stimulate the mind the way art classes do to make this pause more beneficial.-* "Family friendly" spas: the family doesn’t have to wait outside the spa. The spa can offer an opportunity to spend pleasant time together as a family such as a family yoga class.-* Organic spas: eco-friendly products, local plants, spas are making their offer "greener"-* Spas, a short stay destination: rather than take a weekend far away, why not go to the spa? Half-day spa packages: A whole new clientele may be receptive as they watch their expenses more carefully.-* Members cards: like gym clubs, spas may offer yearly membership for unlimited use of services including one treatment per month and discounts on other services.Spa: external or internal management?Most Asian luxury groups have decided to fully integrate their spa offer in their brand image. Time Rituals at Mandarin Oriental, Chi for Shangri-La, Talise at Jumeirah, and of course Six Senses, Anantara and Banyan Tree and their eponymous spa brands: all these groups have given their well-being concepts a veritable identity. But for hotels where this is not the core business, the solution that is increasingly adopted is to appoint the services of well-known spa or cosmetics brands: La Prairie, Cinq Mondes, Clé des Champs or even Dior at the Plaza Athénée. Such an association can be win-win for both brands. Very closely related to W by Starwood, Bliss was made to discover two new continents recently. The Middle East in Doha, the Far East in Hong Kong and soon Europe in Barcelona. Present in the 16 residences owned by CGH in the French Alps and soon Asia, Bulgaria or St James & Albany in Paris where the spa is under renovation, After the Rain also offers several management contract formulas, full externalization and increasingly franchise. "We will now direct our development on this axis. We create signature treatments with special ingredients for each place," details Isabelle Nordmann. What is the ideal formula for a hotelier: internal management, appointing a well-known brand of products, or fully externalize this service? "There is no one right answer," stresses Galya Ortega. "It is truly a personal issue. For a successful spa, no matter which formula is chosen, the hotelier must be impassioned and invest himself personally. If not, then the spa will be like a ‘wart’that doesn’t fit in."

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