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The Caterer

No spa? Don't panic

11 December 2006
No spa? Don't panic

Will the current surge in hotel spas condemn those without such facilities to sink without trace? Not necessarily, argues Peter Hancock, chief executive of the Pride of Britain consortium.

Some of Caterer and Hotelkeeper's older readers will remember the time when only the more expensive hotels had en-suite bathrooms. Now they are considered a basic essential along with a colour television, edible food and a website.

You may have noticed how, in recent years, hotels at the higher end of the market have drifted away from calling themselves "Faultless Towers Country House Hotel & Restaurant", preferring the more modern-sounding "Faultless Hotel & Spa". The restaurant is, of course, taken for granted and in time, I suspect, the "spa" will be too.

This is because everything from a single treatment room or Jacuzzi right up to the lavish and comprehensive facilities of a Chewton Glen or Calcot Manor can be so described. When I managed a hotel and country club in the 1980s, we had a "leisure complex" with pool, squash, tennis, solarium and sauna. Today we would undoubtedly have marketed it as a spa.

But what about the others? Should hoteliers worry about being left behind if the only leisure activities they offer are walking around the garden and reading?

Not necessarily. According to a survey conducted in 2004 by the American consultants Health Fitness Dynamics, about 3-5% of corporate guests actually used the spa facilities at the hotels where they stayed, and only 7-10% of leisure guests did so.

Of course, the better the spa the more likely guests are to use it. And a state-of-the-art set-up will make the whole experience more attractive, as well as adding value to a business.

I have heard of purpose-built spas at small to medium hotels costing anything from £250,000 to £8m. It is possible that, on the day of opening, they will have added more than their cost to the market value of the property - but it doesn't end there.

To operate a spa successfully means employing trained staff at unsocial hours and trying to balance the need for revenue with consideration for your hotel guests. In the past I have witnessed several examples of greed (or necessity) whereby hotel pools were so full of local members that guests staying for the weekend couldn't get a look in. I hasten to add these hotels were not Pride of Britain members!

So, with the proliferation of new and up-rated leisure facilities all over the country, the time may come when all but a handful of Britain's best hotels have at least something that allows them to add the word "spa" to their trading name.

Such wide use will make the term redundant, as is the case with "restaurant" today, and then we'll be looking for some other way to distinguish ourselves as cutting edge.

Perhaps, given the Chancellor's interest in raising still further the cost of moving around the country, hotels in the future will score marks for not being too far away from their customers' homes.

Robbed of our freedom to drive any distance, we could see hoteliers attempting to replicate Scottish castles in Surrey or harbourside inns beside the UK's principle reservoirs.

Speaking personally, I very much enjoy wallowing in the scented haven of a well-run spa. It's almost as pleasant as downing the first glass of wine on hearing those magic words, "your table is ready, Sir".

E-mail your comments to Peter Hancock here.

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