Trends in the Hotel Spa Industry

By Peter Anderson Founder, Anderson & Associates | October 28, 2008

Today in most resorts the inclusion of a spa is no longer a luxury, but rather a standard amenity, expected and ubiquitous. Significant cross pollinating among the day, medical, amenity, and destination spas has created a competitive and comprehensive spa environment that here-to-fore that has never been experienced. This dynamic has created the phenomenon of Spa Wars, where product differentiation is subtle and the competitive edge can be paper thin.

It is ironic that as the spa industry matures, distinctions between spa types are becoming blurred, resulting in subtle levels of segmentation and product differentiation that provide "options" to the savvy spa goer and "confusion" to the rest of us. Historically, hotel and resort spas have been classified as either "destination" or "amenity", meaning they were either the specific reason to travel to a remote location or they were and an added amenity (sometimes created as an after thought) for the an indulgent resort clientele.

In many cases consumers were forced to make a choice between the comprehensive programs of a destination resort and the multi-star, multi-diamond experience of an amenity resort. The decision process is becoming less and less "either/or". While destination spas are expanding upon their services and facilities, amenity spas are beefing up their programming and treatments, both in an attempt to address market expectations.

For both amenity and destination spas this is big business with significant, up-front cap-ex, often north of $500 per square foot. The result is a situation where amenity spas have become one of the main financial drivers of the resort environment, helping build occupancy, drive rate and enhance yield. And in response to the shift in prominence of the amenity spa, destination spas have enhanced the guest experience relying on personalized guest services, careful attention to thread counts and expanded wine lists. The dance continues as market expectations steadily ratchet up the ante. In resort environments where residential, fractional, and condo and timeshare inventories are part of the development luxury spas offer residential guests healthy-living opportunities. There is much common ground; however, within the context of both Destination and Amenity spas there are a number of issues that are germane to both segments. Our top five issues and trends for the spa industry in 2006 are summarized below.

1. Person-Power Shortage

The spa industry needs a few (more) good managers! Good therapists do not always make good managers conversely classically-trained managers focusing on the bottom line can sometimes miss the unique cultural nuances of a smoothly-run spa. Managers who concentrate only on the bottom and the spa's short-term successes often make decisions that tend to increase the level of cannibalization of personnel in the management ranks of spas. It is relatively common to see seasoned managers in a particular market with resumes that include the majority of the competition. Longer-term focus on operations is starting to become the norm. Increased emphasis on management's training and service delivery is what is keeping spas competitive.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.