The spa market is the fastest-growing hospitality sector. To make the most of its opportunities, however, you need to understand it. The challenge for many owners and hoteliers is in recognising and admitting their lack of knowledge.
While increasingly hotel owners and operators are allocating sufficient financial resources to the design and build of spa facilities, I'm still astonished by the lack of consideration given to establishing the objectives of the spa. These should include identifying specific target markets, determining what the spa needs to achieve, and who the target client is.
It's also critical to determine the financial equation. Have you considered, for example, whether it's worth boosting revenue from membership by compromising treatment availability or creating overcrowded facilities?
Considering the huge investment required, many spas are created either without taking professional spa consultancy advice, or without checking the credentials of the specialists brought on board. Architects often have strong opinions, but in many cases, no operational spa knowledge and no experience of facilities, treatment rooms, heat experiences and relaxation which changes from project to project according to the marketing, location and financial objectives.
Moreover, an architect's plans may be visionary in design but bear no relation to facts. As a result, the client experience suffers, the operation malfunctions and the spa will inevitably suffer.
A fully detailed spatial and operational architect's brief produced by an experienced spa consultant can save money, time and irritation, and result in a facility which is not only breathtaking but which works.
The most important consideration, and the one most often undervalued, is the need for qualified and experienced spa staff able to deliver advanced treatment standards and a consistent five-star customer experience. This is a one-to-one business and staff cuts are not possible if you're going to stay ahead. Training fully qualified and experienced therapists to a five-star spa level can take eight to 10 weeks.
Arrogance and ignorance are expensive luxuries when entering the spa world. Never underestimate its complexities.
Over to you
What problems did you have launching your spa?
David Broadhead, general manager, Penny Hill Park, Bagshot "When we first opened, we had teething problems - one was keeping eight pools at different temperatures, all with ozone-free water. We also had a hi-tech music and lighting system which took some getting used to. We knew that well-trained staff were hard to come by, so we worked closely with colleges in advance of the opening."
Levene Jackson, spa therapist, Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire "Our biggest challenge has been overcrowding as the spa was extremely popular straight away. We've put in an application for planning permission to extend the spa, and if that's successful then we'll add another four treatment rooms to the current four."
David Hunter, director and general manager, Maften Hall, Newcastle "We struggled to keep staff who had been more used to a high-street environment. If a chef doesn't turn up I'll take my jacket off and fry some bacon, but if a therapist isn't there I can hardly do a hot stone back massage. We've since got involved with students through Newcastle College."
Jocelyn Maxfield, owner of Serenity Spa, Seaham Hall, Co Durham "We did a lot of research before opening, but we hadn't anticipated the need for a hair salon. Clients would leave the spa looking really fabulous, apart from their hair, so we opened the hair spa. If I could do it all again I'd make the gym bigger and have fewer water features - they're a nightmare."
Susan Harmsworth is CEO and founder of spa consultancy Espa International (UK).