Beyond the spa walls
Providing a seamless wellness experience in hotels and resorts can be hard to achieve when temptation abounds—the sound of bartenders shaking up cocktails in the lobby bar or the smell of baked goods wafting from the coffee shop. “If you’re in a luxury hotel with all the food and beverage, you have to be a very disciplined person if you’re going to do a three-day program and not go to the bar or ask room service for a drink,” Harmsworth says. If guests are participating in a spa wellness program, Harmsworth recommends that hotels take simple steps to remove temptation, such as restocking the minibar with healthy items or training staff to refrain from offering bread or alcohol with room service orders. “There are a lot of changes you have to make within the structure of the hotel itself if you’re going to go the wellness route,” she says.
In the hotel industry, wellness is not confined within the walls of the spa or gym anymore. Last year, a wave of hotel brands jumped on the wellness bandwagon, rolling out healthier menus, rejuvenating sleep programs, in-room fitness options, and fitness gear kits. “I think we will see much more activity when it come to spaces of wellness in hotels,” Bjurstam says. “I think hotels should profile themselves as not only having the guest experience in mind but also the guest’s well-being.”
In September, MGM Grand in Las Vegas quadrupled its number of Stay Well rooms, which offer special features like Vitamin C showers, aromatherapy diffusers, air purification systems, energizing light, and dawn simulator alarm clocks. The program debuted in October 2012 with 42 wellness guestrooms and has since increased to 171 rooms to meet increased demand. But industry experts are most curious to see what InterContinental Hotels Group delivers when the first two locations for its new lifestyle wellness brand, EVEN Hotels, open in Norwalk, Conn., and Rockville, Md., this June. The brand is aimed at business and leisure travelers who want to eat better, work out more, sleep tighter, and work more efficiently while on the road.
When it comes to the four- and five-star market, defining wellness needs is difficult, says Harmsworth, who started her distinguished spa career running destination health farms and seawater therapy centers in the early 1980s. “The challenge for hotels and wellness is everyone is talking about it, nobody knows what it is, nobody really knows how to deliver it, and there isn’t a model out there that’s really even started,” she says.
Harmsworth believes her company has come closest to the mark with ESPA Life, its new approach to health and well-being that debuted at the Corinthia Hotel London and the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland in 2011. The spa teams comprise of alternative health and fitness specialists: naturopathic practitioners (who rely on natural remedies to cure ailments), osteopaths, traditional Chinese medicine acupuncturists and herbalists, and personal trainers. The enhanced wellness concept provides additional marketing opportunities during the shoulder season, Harmsworth says, and has helped the Corinthia and Gleneagles extend guest stays. “The wellness side is definitely helping,” she says, “but you have to be sure with wellness that you’re doing it well and delivering guest expectations.”
Rebranding around wellness is a costly endeavor, she adds. “Wellness is much more expensive to deliver because the cost of the practitioners is much higher than a normal facial or massage therapist,” Harmsworth says. Spas also need to ensure their well-being providers are aligned in their philosophies. Delivering consistency in wellness is difficult because every country has different licensing and qualifying issues, she says.
“All of those things are on target with what the market wants,” says Chris Manning, co-founder and president of Travaasa Experiential Resorts. “People are living that way more and more in their daily lives and they expect to live that way when they travel.” Travaasa opened its first two spa resorts in 2011, one in Austin, Texas, and the other in Hana, Hawaii. Formerly known as Hotel Hana Maui, the Hawaii property originally opened in 1946 and became a popular retreat where travelers stayed for two weeks at a time. With the average traveler’s vacation shrinking, it’s more common for guests to spend only three nights, Manning says. “The sooner you can unwind and get in the mindset, the better.”
Building up the business
Historically, hotel spas have lagged behind the recovery of other operating departments as spa visits have been considered a luxury amenity, writes Andrea Foster, vice president and national director of spa and wellness consulting for PKF Consulting USA. However, as the hotel industry continues to recover, PKF Hospitality Research’s data suggest that guests are returning to hotel spas. According to the company’s Trends in the Hotel Spa Industry 2013 survey, spa revenue is now growing at a pace equal to or greater than most other non-guestroom amenities and services. From 2011 to 2012, spa department revenue increased by 5 percent at the properties in the survey sample, while food and beverage revenue only grew 2.5 percent.