For hotels that have branched out into running their own spa, taking bookings is often a lot more complicated than it used to be. Ross Bentley explains the problem.
The past five to 10 years have witnessed a huge increase in the number of UK hotels offering spa facilities. Many properties regard the development of an on-site spa as a means of maximising guests' spend during their stay or as a way of attracting new clientele, often in the form of day guests.
"It used to be the case that UK hotels would maybe offer an in-house hairdresser and perhaps a nail technician but now everyone is looking to get into the spa market," says David Braine, director at spa management software provider DWB solutions.
"More and more guests - mainly women but also some men - are visiting hotels to pamper themselves and we've also seen more properties become resort-style hotels where guests can also find a gym and golf course."
But as a growing number of spas have appeared on the market, so an increasing number of spa management software products have become available to help hotels improve the efficiency of their spa business and give a professional and competitive service to their clients.
What becomes apparent as you delve into the world of spa management software is that there needs to be a high level of sophistication in these systems to accommodate the huge number of variables offered by a standard spa service.
"Spa bookings are without doubt the most complicated bookings a hotel has to make," says Adam Chatterley, director of software systems at Spavision, a UK-based distributor of a spa management system called Gumnut.
While a hotel room booking may be limited to two or three elements - say the day of the guest's arrival, the size and location of the room and whether they want a smoking or non-smoking room - a spa booking can involve juggling several options.
Certain treatments - such as body wraps or facials - can take place only in particular rooms, while there will be an issue about which therapist is either available or qualified to give a specific treatment. Throw into the mix the need to check guests don't have certain medical conditions (which may limit the type of treatments they can take), health and safety regulations around how many hours a day therapists such as masseurs can work and how much rest guests must have between treatments, and the booking takes on an extra layer of complexity. If your guest wants to enjoy lunch in the hotel restaurant with her partner, who is also playing several rounds of golf on the hotel course that day, then the booking becomes even more intricate.
SO MANY OPTIONS
"With so many potential options, a hotelier or spa manager must give a lot of thought to what functionality they want in the spa system - this will affect how the tool is configured," Chatterley advises.
The level of integration a spa system has with the hotel reservations or PMS system is another consideration for hoteliers. Typically, bookings are made by the hotel receptionist. Chatterley says a standard level of integration will enable users of a spa system to charge treatments back to the hotel system or room, but for more details users have to flit between the screens of the separate systems.
Talk to Chris Swift, managing director at hospitality software supplier Alacer, and his remedy for this issue is to install an IT infrastructure with one central database, where all information from the hotel front-of-house and PMS systems, as well as the golf and spa reservation tools, is kept under one client record.
"Updates are completed in real time, ensuring all teams around the hotel have a consistent view of the business and one record for each guest, with no need for interfaces, data transfer or consolidation," he said.
Swift says this methodology enables a hotel to track a guest's preferences from their initial room or spa booking through to any orders they may make in the restaurant or other on-site facilities with no potential for duplication or lost dockets.
Another important element of a spa system is its customer relationship management or loyalty functionality, as this is seen as a vital in the spa sector to encourage repeat business. If you have detailed records of the specific treatments your guests prefer, as well as other personal information, you are better placed to send them a promotion customised to their predilections. Marketing can, perhaps, be done around birthdays or postcode areas if you are trying to encourage people from the locality to visit at short notice. Maybe you sold a range of products to a guest and want to remind them, say three months later, that you have some new creams and potions available.
Most suppliers on the market push this aspect of their product. At spa software specialists Premier Software, sales and marketing manager Sally Miles say the system has a "client card" database used to collect data.
With the business climate tight, Micros Fidelio's sales director for hotels, Paul Finch, says he has seen an increase in demand for additional reporting capabilities from his client base over the past six months. In response the company has launched a reporting tool called Vision, which hotels can make use of to run to reports from its Concept spa system among others.
He adds: "We offer a range of standard reports but also the flexibility to design your own. If needs be there are more than a hundred different versions of an arrival report alone."
With 10 treatment rooms plus a number of other areas for hydrotherapy and rasul mud treatments, resort hotel Celtic Manor in South Wales has a comprehensive wellbeing proposition.
The spa team use Micros Fidelio's Concept system to manage its bookings. Originally installed in 2001 to manage bookings from guests playing one of the hotel's three championship golf courses, around five years ago the software was configured to take in spa bookings as well, according to application support administrator Phil Williams.
Currently the Concept database and the hotel's main Opera PMS system share guests profiles, but for more detailed information users have to flit between screens. Williams is preparing to launch into an integration project at the end of the year that will allow all guest details to be seen from the one Opera screen.
Williams says the system "has some good CRM capabilities" where customer information and preferences are collated and then integrated into the hotel's marketing application.
The IT team are also planning to put make golf bookings available online by September but have decided to hold off allowing guests to make spa bookings over the internet.
Williams said: "We think spa treatments are harder to sell online. It's more complex in terms of explaining to people what certain treatments are. There is also the issue that legally we must ask people questions about their health if they request certain treatments. At the moment we've decided this is better done over the phone."