So spa, so good!

Features, Back of House

As citizens of a fast paced world, it’s becoming increasingly important to slow down and take the time to soothe our overburdened senses, which is probably why wellness has rapidly become a popular offering in
the hospitality market. From this month onwards, Hotelier India brings you a dedicated section on the business of holistic healing.

Hotels have traditionally been focused on offering their guests a warm welcome, a comfortable stay and extras such as F&B outlets, bars, health clubs and swimming pools to keep them busy during their stay.

It is only in the last decade or so that spas have become an additional attraction for discerning customers who look for relaxation and rejuvenation during their hotel stay.

For hoteliers, it made sense to offer their clients a venue where they could fulfil their relaxation needs without stepping out of the premises.

Whether it is for tourists on holiday or business travellers looking to relax after their appointments, in-hotel spas have gradually become a strong focal point in the hotel industry.

By and by, the demand for spas has grown to such an extent that we now have a mushrooming of spa offerings; from resort spas, day spas, salon spas, destination spas, club spas, medical spas, cruise ship spas, to mineral spring spas and airport spas.

With such cut throat competition in the offing, hotel spas have to go that extra mile to ensure that they can make the most of their captive audience while in some cases, also attracting non-hotel guests.

Potential for profit
Setting up spas can be an expensive proposition and much care has to be taken to pay attention to details.

Which prompts the question: are spas a profitable venture for hotels? Do they manage to garner any substantial revenue from these efforts? Spa consultant Ashwajeet Garg of Ziva Spa says, “Usually, 20-25% conversion of hotel guests into spa users is supposed to be a good number.

Considering that room revenues are at least two to three times than that of a spa treatment, I’d say anything around 10% could be good for a business hotel. However, that depends on the location and if the hotel caters to the leisure market/clientele, this could go up to 40-50%.”

Unlike spa resorts where the spa is the one and only attraction and guarantees high footfalls and higher revenues, hotel spas don’t usually generate as much business in comparison and are heavily dependent on the season as well.

For example, a spa resort like the Zuri Kumarakom Kerala, Resort and Spa contributes approximately 25-30 % of the total revenue during peak season but in low season during which the guests are mostly holiday makers, the spa contribution reduces to 15%. In The Zuri Whitefield, Bengaluru, on the other hand, the spa contributes to about a mere 5%.

Known the world over for their outstanding Heavenly Spa concept, Dr PK Shaji, Spa Manager of the Heavenly Spa at The Westin Mumbai Garden City says, “Spas in city hotels can contribute a direct revenue of nearly 3-4% and at resorts it can go up to 6%.

Since wellness has become a lifestyle choice today, more and more guests opt for hotels with good spa and wellness facilities. Studies show that a hotel with a spa performs better RevPAR than a hotel without one.”

Then there are those who don’t put profit before everything else, such as Himmat Anand, founder of the Tree of Life Resort, Jaipur, who says that while he has intentionally kept his spa pricing competitive, he chooses to stress more on the experience his spa provides, “The intention is not to spin huge profits from this activity.

Ekam – the couple spa is bookable exclusively for use by just a couple and no other guest can come in at that time. We are taking the personal ‘couple experience’ to the next level, which is not necessarily the most profitable one, but certainly the most satisfying one for our guests.”

Hotel spas score over standalone spas in that they enjoy accessibility and availability of supporting departments such as F&B outlets offering cuisines that complement the spa experience or a pool where guests can relax after a spa treatment, thus making it a complete lifestyle experience that goes beyond just a massage.

Hotels just need to be wary that these same supporting departments don’t wean guests away from the spa.

Training and education programmes
According to industry estimates, the existing 2300 odd spas in the country have created direct and indirect employment for about 400,000 people and require 20,000 more trained professionals.

This is a crucial area where spas face a formidable challenge. Quality institutes that are officially recognised are few and far between, leading to a situation where most spas have to conduct their own training sessions or bring in consultants, who are often expensive, to handle the same.

Dr Shaji explains that the lack of spa training institutes makes finding well qualified therapists, a challenge, which is remedied by bringing in certified experts to conduct training sessions.

“On the job training and constant refreshers to update knowledge is important, which is why we bring in external expertise to provide training for the spa therapists on different activities and therapies. We usually look for therapists certified by Cidesco or Cibtac, which are international beauty therapy associations.”

Neelam Khanna, a consultant with IHHR for Ananda in the Himalayas spa (which has won several awards and is among the world’s top destination spas) and Ista group of hotels, and founder-chairperson of Ananda Spa Institute, says that there is very little formal training in this area, “The spa industry is now burgeoning and there’s a huge demand for trained spa personnel, that’s why we opened the Ananda Spa institute two years ago and we have trained more than 150 people since then.

Because we want to offer quality therapists, we have only four courses a year with about 40-60 students per batch and are affiliated with Cibtac and Itec.”

The basic criteria required to apply for these training courses are simple, one needs to be a high school graduate, have a pleasing personality and be well groomed, which in some cases means no tattoos and piercings. All courses, apart from the therapies and treatments, also train students in language skills, personal grooming and most importantly, hygiene.

Davina Hassell, Spa Manager and Group Trainer at the ITC Mughal, Agra shares that the Kaya Kalp spa academy based in ITC Mughal, Agra was launched in May 2010, where they held a two week long therapist certification course, which covered both theory and practicals of all the spa treatments featured in their menu.

This was followed by a new training program where ‘fresher’ therapists, basically young adults who have no prior experience in a spa, were trained from scratch to become spa therapists through a six month course that included theory and practical knowledge of all the spa treatments, reception duties, first aid and soft skills. Kaya Kalp offers this program to provide trained therapists to their spas throughout India.

This year also saw the launch of their first spa executive training program, which is a nine month course for students who already have a few years of spa experience and wish to become an assistant manager level of a spa.

On the other hand, Anand claims that aside from previous experience playing a major part, he never looks for qualifications when hiring staff, choosing instead to focus on ‘their attitude, their desire to please without going over the top and that magical smile.’ Of course, he makes sure that the rest is taken care of by outsourcing their training to specialised consultants.

Challenges: awareness, setting up, design and products
Aside from the challenge of training and retaining spa therapists, some of the major challenges spas face is awareness.

“In virgin territories and tier-2 cities, awareness needs to be created on what spas are and what they are not. Also, a transition needs to take place where spas are looked at as less of a luxury and more of a necessity,” says Garg.

Khanna explains, “When we opened Ananda in the Himalayas spa ten years ago, there was no general awareness about spas so we had to go about educating the public about what we were offering.

As compared to then, people now are quite discerning about what they want from a spa, whether it is to detoxify, or ease work-related stress or weight loss, and they come with very clear goals.”

Space, which in metro cities is prohibitively expensive, is also another challenge. To achieve a sense of relaxation and to soothe the senses, spas need to have certain elements such as separate therapy rooms and saunas to name a few, this is hard to achieve in a limited space.

Dr Shaji elaborates that a spa is all about mind, body and spirit, which is why design elements must enhance the experience.

“A spacious spa adds to the overall experience. Plenty of natural light and greenery adds a lot of positive energy to the spa and allows it to evolve into a meditative sanctuary that lets you connect with yourself.”

Besides the actual treatment rooms, spas also need quiet spaces for the therapists to balance their energies after treatments and to relax after the treatments in order to sustain the quality of treatments they render.

Here’s where Khanna allows herself the luxury of boasting, “At the risk of sounding pompous, there is truly no destination spa such as ours in India.
We are globally recognised and at par with international destination spas. The main focus in our design is on simplicity, where guests could feel calm as soon as they enter the premises.

Hygiene is a very important factor and clutter doesn’t allow for high standards of hygiene so our spa design is very pristine. The spas in our Ista hotels are also very simple in their designs, but they don’t have the views or enjoy as much natural light as does Ananda.”

Another important requirement is much needed storage areas, which are of paramount importance for accommodating special blends of oils or preparing products to personalise the guest experience. When it comes to products, most spas either import branded lotions and potions from abroad or through a vendor based in India, or source them indigenously.

While Khanna adds that it was a challenge to source certain natural oils for use in house, Dr Shaji adds that the selection of spa products should take into consideration the target audience, the price points, and the concept and positioning of the spa.

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