The hotel spa industry in the UK is worth at least £80m in annual turnover, yet many properties are failing to capitalise on this business. Spa consultant Catherine Whittle, who was instrumental in winning the Catey for Best Independent Marketing Campaign in 2008, explains how you can market your spa effectively and boost business throughout the year
Was your hotel spa bristling with customers in January? If not, why not? It should have been one of your busiest times of the year and you could be missing out on a lucrative market.
With so many new hotels opening with a super, shiny spa as an integral part of the business, and existing properties adding treatment rooms, there has never before been so much choice for the consumer in search of a spot of pampering. The once-traditional spa locations such as Champneys and Ragdale Hall now find themselves in competition with more than 400 hotel spas across the UK.
While once spas were found only in country house hotels, city centre hotels are also increasingly getting in on the act. The four-storey, 3,300sq m ESPA Life spa with 17 treatment rooms at the Corinthia London hotel, for instance, was one of the most lavish hotel spa openings in 2011.
Hotel spas in London, however, are finding it hard to establish themselves within the spa breaks market as their high room rates restrict their ability to sell a package that is competitive with provincial hotels.
Alongside the expansion in the hotel spa market has come the growth of spa booking websites and, more recently, the emergence of the online voucher sites that promise to drive business your way.
Hotel spas, however, could do much more to market themselves directly to customers. With the leisure market having held up reasonably well during the economic downturn, it makes sound business sense to invest in spa marketing as a means of boosting hotel revenues and help survive during the potentially difficult times ahead.
In what is an extremely competitive marketplace, there are a lot of beautiful but empty spas out there. However, by taking marketing seriously and putting together a well-thought out treatment menu, with special day and break programmes and attractive membership packages, a 100-bedroom hotel with five treatment rooms could add at least £1m to its total annual revenue.
With such financial benefits to be had, it is hard to believe that some hotels are investing nothing in the marketing of their spas and are missing out.
So who is responsible for the marketing of hotel spas?
Surprisingly, there is often a question mark as to who is responsible for the marketing of a hotel spa. With few general managers having a spa background, and most sales and marketing directors too busy focusing on the corporate and conference market, the marketing is generally left to the spa manager, who is typically an ex-beauty therapist, who does not necessarily have the right skills. Some of the hotel groups have appointed spa directors, but many do not understand the spa market and often make it harder, not easier, for their properties to promote themselves.
Many hotels lack proactive sales and marketing, an understanding of revenue management or how the third-party websites work. Particularly shocking is the number of hotel spas offering packages which are either overpriced or - worse still - not even profitable.
So why isn't spa marketing higher on the agenda?
Marketing in-house is the most logical option for promoting hotel spas, provided you have the resources and capability. A specialist spa marketing consultant such as Spa Partners can provide help and support, or an outside operator can take over the management - including the marketing - of a hotel spa.
For instance, Imagine Spas manages and operates the spa at the 350-bedroom Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 and the 116-bedroom Lingfield Park Marriott. The company has developed Boost, its own CRM system, which can also be purchased for use in independent hotel spas. Boost helps spas understand their customers by building a profile of every guest who visits or contacts the spa and includes details of every treatment they have taken or inquired about. The system keeps in touch with customers by sending targeted messages and marketing information. It is a useful means of providing help with a spa's CRM, website and eâ'marketing and has been proven to increase a spa's profitability by up to 75%.
The Vale Resort, near Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan
The spa at the Vale Resort is a good example of a hotel spa that is targeting a specific type of customer with the marketing of spa days and breaks for couples to celebrate Valentine's Day. Relaunched last year following a £225,000 refurbishment, the spa has 19 treatment rooms, three relaxation rooms and a 20m swimming pool.
The Valentine Spa Experience is a full-day package with a male or female-focused massage, use of the gym, pool, steam room and sauna, Champagne and strawberries. Meanwhile the Romantic Valentine's Break offers one-night's accommodation at the four-star, 143-bedroom hotel, dinner, full day use of the spa, massage in a double treatment suite, Champagne and chocolates. Price is £265 per couple. By 27 January, the hotel had sold 51 of the one-night Valentine's packages, to be taken over a one-week period around 14 February.
"The key aspect of marketing hotel spas is to consider the current trends in the marketplace and to facilitate those requirements by putting together suitable packages," says Vale's sales and marketing director Paul Beddoe. "Hence, the Valentine's package is all inclusive as there is such a strong trend for all-inclusive holidays. Likewise, we are currently creating packages aimed towards wellbeing and healthy eating because of the demand to feel fitter and lose weight. One of our latest packages is called Spa Trek, which combines spa treatments with walking activities."
Revenue from the Vale's spa currently accounts for 10% of the hotel's £11m annual turnover - a figure which Beddoe is aiming to double by 2013 by working closely with the third-party spa websites and creative direct eâ'marketing campaigns.
The focused marketing activity is already reaping benefits. In the last week of January Beddoe and his team sold 90 bed-nights through spa packages - all taken by the end of that month.
"My advice is to plan well in advance and constantly refresh your spa offers as most bookings are now made six weeks to 48 hours in advance of the stay - whereas in the past it would have been up to six months in advance."
Rockliffe Hall, Darlington, County Durham
Since opening in 2009, the spa at the five-star, 61-bedroom Rockliffe Hall hotel has gone on to achieve great success, with its spa director, Liz Holmes, winning the Hotel Catey for Spa Professional of the Year in 2011. Holmes works closely with the hotel's sales and marketing co-ordinator, Katie Scott, in marketing the spa, with day users often travelling around one-and-half hours to reach the spa and those on a spa break travelling up to three hours. Around five to 10% of leisure guests come from overseas.
Holmes devises a selection of spa packages, which Scott markets to the audience via the hotel's website, regular contact with the spa's 700-strong membership and third-party websites www.bookaspa.com and www.spabreaks.com.
Particularly key is the hotel's website. The spa section, with its simple, easy-to-read treatment menu and well thought-out and displayed spa day and spa break packages, receives 35,000 hits per month, with 16,000 hits targeted on latest offers. These offers change seasonally and currently include a Divine Detox day for a full day session with one 60-minute treatment (£95 Sunday to Thursday and £120 Friday and Saturday). At the other end of the scale, a Luxury Ultimate Spa Day is being marketed at £245, to include a Champagne breakfast, two-course lunch and three hours of treatments, which would be perfect for the Valentines market.
With a PR company raising its profile in the regional and national press, almost more publicity was achieved for the spa at Rockliffe Hall than any other hotel spa in 2012. This year already, articles have appeared in The Times, the Sunday Times, the Independent and Zest.
Spa treatments and spa breaks at Rockliffe Hall account for 28% of all turnover at the hotel.
Tips for marketing hotel spas
Create a cohesive marketing strategy As a team (including your head office if you have one), decide which markets you are going to target. Consider what you are going to offer - spa treatments (local customers and residents), spa retail, spa days, spa breaks, spa memberships and gift vouchers. Decide how you are going to target direct business and create a strategy for working with the third parties and voucher sites.
Seasonal marketing Create a marketing plan with a calendar of promotions and events for the whole year. Look at your peaks and troughs historically and plan promotions to help fill the gaps. While the peaks tend to occur in January, around Mothers' Day, and the pre-summer holiday period, quiet days are often from Tuesdays to Thursdays (the hotel's equivalent to a Sunday night). Special promotions should be put together one to three months in advance.
Third-party websites Get to know the people behind the websites such as http://www.bookaspa.com" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.bookaspa.com and www.spabreaks.com and build relationships. Their reach and power is highlighted by the growth of www.spabreaks.com, which has grown from an annual turnover of £250,000 and 2,200 customers in 2009 to a £10m turnover and 100,000 customers forecast for this year. Find out more about the website's database of customers and take advice from them as to what packages sell and what promotions work. They will, more often than not, understand the market better than you do. Select the websites that you think reflect your brand and can provide you with the customers you want.
There are many websites out there, but only a few who can give you business seven days a week - assuming that your packages are priced correctly and that you work proactively with them. And remember, most third-party websites will take an average commission of 20%.
Voucher sites Only use sites such as GroupOn and Living Social to fill gaps, and make sure you structure the deal in such a way that you are making a profit and that you can turn the tap off if necessary. Remember these sites are pushing out special offers to customers who are not necessarily users of spas and it is doubtful that they will spend over and above the value of their voucher - nor are they likely to return or become a loyal customer.
Packages Keep it simple! Put yourself in the customer's shoes. At the end of the day, most customers want a massage, facial, manicure or pedicure. A half-hour treatment is an "excuse for a treatment" and the customer is rarely satisfied with what ends up as a 20-minute rub. Include hourly treatments in your packages and price them competitively. It is important that your packages are in sync across different channels - you don't want them to appear cheaper on a third-party site.
Training As well as your spa teams being trained in customer care and delivering spa treatments, they should have good product knowledge of the various facilities, treatments and packages on offer, so that they can sell a treatment and upsell. The hotel reservations teams should also be trained on how to sell the spa experience and individual treatments. Create a "one stop shop" for your customers so that they can book the bedroom and spa treatment at the same time. This is where you can score over the third-party websites as they will often keep the customer on hold while they check availability.
Database and drivetimes Build a quality database of spa customers. Capture eâ'mail addresses from all your customers, including those who are enquiring, just having an eyebrow shape or part of a hen party. Generally you can expect customers to dive for half an hour for a spa treatment, one hour for a spa day and two hours for a spa break.
Website Make sure the spa section of your website is easy to find and well optimised. Your packages and prices should be clear to understand and book (ideally on line), although there should always be a telephone number clearly displayed to allow specific enquiries to be made.
Photography Ensure photography shows off your spa at its best and invest in the quality, lifestyle imagery. You want customers to imagine they are in your pool and enjoying one of your treatments.
PR Aim to raise the profile of you spa through local, regional newspapers and magazines. Encourage reviews, run competitions, hold fund-raising and other events which will attract attention from the press.
Catherine Whittle won the Catey for Best independent Marketing Campaign in 2008, one year after successfully launching the spa at the Donnington Valley hotel, near Newbury, Berkshire. She has 27 years' experience of working in the hotel industry, helped set up www.bookaspa.com in 2010 and now runs Spa Partners, a specialist spa marketing consultancy.
Whittle can help with marketing strategies and plans; sales and marketing of treatments, days and breaks; membership drives; revenue management, managing third-party sites; PR & photography; and mystery calls and visits.
Tel 07776 162001