Trends: The spa's the star

14 July 2005
Trends: The spa's the star

The hotel spa industry has boomed in recent years. Guests increasingly expect some sort of spa facility in a hotel, and people have become more sophisticated about the multitude of treatments and products on offer.

Tim Harding, a director at the Spa Business Association, founded last year to represent the growing industry, agrees. "Nowadays, people are cash-rich but time-poor and they want to feel good in a short space of time. Spas can offer that."

Certainly, more and more operators are tapping into that demand. There is now a huge variety of spas, from "boutique" spas with just one or two treatment rooms, to destination spa resorts, and brands such as Hilton's LivingWell, the UK's biggest spa brand, with 81 clubs around the country.

But as the market has diversified, it has also become much more competitive.

"You really need to offer something noticeably different now to stand out," says Charles Scudamore, a managing consultant at TRI Hospitality Consulting. "Competition is tough. It's not just hotels, there are also lots of stand-alone specialists such as Holmes Place and David Lloyd."

For some, however, the lack of industry definition is an issue. "At the moment, anyone with a hot tub can set themselves up and call themselves a spa," Harding says. "There's a lot of scope for consumers to get confused and it's a potential threat to the market. Long-term, our aim is to create a set of industry standards that people can recognise."

At Pennyhill Park & Spa in Bagshot, Surrey, where they opened a new £14m spa last year, general manager David Broadhead also feels regulation would help the industry.

"The country house hotel isn't quite enough anymore. People want added value and entertainment nowadays," he says. "But it does depend on what you are offering. If the only facilities are a Jacuzzi and steam room, you have to ask whether that's really enough. As the market gets tougher, and customers become more discerning, good planning and effective design will become even more important."

Design A common misconception is that you need deep pockets and a lot of space to create a "proper" spa. But getting the mix of facilities right and the correct service standards is more important than size or budget.

  • Find a good spa consultant. They will look at your designs objectively, make sure the facilities are balanced and will advise on the spa's feasibility.
  • Work out your objectives. Do you want just to boost rate and occupancy or do you have grand visions of a destination spa?
  • Decide on the mix of facilities and size. Treatment rooms are a prime revenue-generator, so make sure you have the right number to be able to meet demand. The average guest now has up to three treatments per stay. One formula is to base the number of treatment rooms on the anticipated pick-up during maximum bedroom occupancy.

Don't forget…

  • Changing rooms are essential, especially if you want to attract day guests. Even in a hotel-guest-only spa, people like to change and shower after a treatment or a spell in the pool. Make them calming and comfortable rather than functional.
  • Treatment room design requires a balance between space and intimacy. Too much space can be isolating for the guest lying on the couch, too little space and neither therapist nor guest will feel comfortable.
  • Don't rely solely on treatments as your spa offering. There other spa facilities that can be promoted as a treatment in their own right and are very cost-effective in staff terms. For example, use ceramic thermal cabins to create hot and cold experiences, from a hot steam caldarium to an ice cave. Hydro-pools and vitality pools also have special features such as airbeds and neck-massage jets.
  • Having extra facilities allows you to handle greater volume as guests are spread around the spa. You can also use them to create packages for day visitors.
  • Relaxation areas tend to be poor in the UK. It's important for guests to relax in a designated area - and that doesn't mean a noisy poolside. People unwind in different ways, so if space permits, create a variety of relaxation zones for guests to choose.
  • Reception needs to be welcoming. If well located, it can cut down on unnecessary staff. It should also allow for a good retail display, an important revenue source.
  • Never underestimate the importance of back of house. Spas generate a lot of laundry. Allow lots of space for storage. You may also need to link into the hotel's F&B operation, for day guests and hotel guests who want to spend the day in their robe.


  • Spa costs vary hugely, depending on size, facilities and quality of finish. As a guide, the total cost for a new-build spa ranges from £1,200 to £2,000 per sq m.
  • Swimming pools start at about £1,400 per sq m. Add-on features such as an ozone pool plant will cost about £60,000 for an 8m x 5m pool or £100,000 for a 20m x 8m pool.
  • For special hydrotherapy equipment, allow anything from £40,000 to £170,000 depending on size and sophistication.
  • Thermal cabins range from £25,000 each to £50,000, depending on size and finish.
  • Treatment rooms cost from £2,000 to £5,000 per room, including a couch and other equipment such as trolleys, heated towel cabinets, etc.

Recruitment Most hoteliers don't dedicate enough time to thinking about spa staff, according to spa guru Susan Harmsworth, founder and chief executive officer of leading international spa brand ESPA. "The hotel might spend millions on the design and feel of a spa, but then take on casual or outside staff to manage it," she says. "But if the service isn't right in the spa, it can put guests off the whole hotel."

Harmsworth believes hotels need to invest more heavily in training, especially before opening. "It's often just seen as an additional cost, but getting things right before you open the spa is important and will cut costs down the line," she says. ESPA staff receive training up to 12 weeks beforehand, covering areas such as technical ability and reception skills.

Training feeds into that other crucial factor, staff retention. "The shortage of therapists nowadays means they're in big demand and if you're not careful, they can get poached. You need to offer real career growth," Harmsworth advises. One option is to cross-train therapists, with a multi-skilled team helping to boost revpar by cutting down on waiting times.

Getting the reception right is vital. "In some ways the receptionist, or whoever schedules appointments, needs to be better informed than the therapists themselves," Harmsworth says.

"The amount of information people ask for nowadays is huge. Research shows the average phone enquiry lasts about 15 minutes and reception might get a call from somebody with a rare allergy, or a pregnant client needing to know if a treatment is safe. Equally, they have to know how to upsell packages, too."

For general managers used to employing staff from hospitality backgrounds, it can be challenge recruiting from the health-and-beauty sector. "Spas are all about being one-on-one with clients and therapists can be very sensitive," Harmsworth says. "If a waiter in a restaurant makes a mistake, they can get away with it with a smile but it's not like that in a spa because clients can feel vulnerable."

One problem is that many employers don't have the technical spa knowledge needed to interview spa staff properly. With hundreds of health and beauty qualifications available, knowing what to look for on a CV can also prove tricky. Using a specialist recruitment agency is one solution, but Harmsworth thinks hoteliers with spas should get more involved.

"Male general managers in particular feel a bit uncomfortable in spas as they don't see it as their domain. But in order to identify with what guests want, they need to know what the treatments are all about. Especially as men are becoming much bigger users of spas, and there are growing number of male therapists coming into the industry," she adds.

Guide prices and additional information supplied by Mike Goodman, lead consultant at Spascape, a spa design and operations consultancy. For further information contact 020 8943 3975;

What is a spa?

There is no one "official" definition of a spa. But the US-based International Spa Association (ISPA) identifies seven categories:

  • Day spa
  • Destination spa
  • Medical spa
  • Mineral springs spa
  • Resort/hotel spa
  • Cruise shop spa
  • Club spa

Some spa turn-offs

  • Having to appear naked for treatments or being bathed by strangers
  • Receiving hard-sell tactics to spend more on spa or beauty products
  • Any evidence of lack of cleanliness or poor hygiene
  • Having to make small talk with over-familiar staff
  • On arrival, finding the hotel spa is fully booked with locals
  • Treatments derived from chocolate or other dessert ingredients
  • Being ushered out speedily once the treatment is over
  • Pretentious spas that appear to prefer clients with perfect bodies

Source: Small Luxury Hotels of the World

Spa glossary

  • Caladarium: an aromatic steam room
  • Hamman: Turkish or Middle Eastern communal bath-house
  • Hydro-pool: a pool with high-pressure jets, air beds and neck fountains
  • Ozone bath: a tub of thermal water with a system of jets that provide streams of ozonized bubbles for relaxation and stimulation of circulation.
  • Rasul therapy: use of fine and coarse mud for cleansing
  • Thalassotherapy: use of seawater and marine products to restore balance in the body
  • Tepidarium: a warm resting room

Case study: Brandshatch Place Hotel, Kent

If you find yourself in Kent and fancy a hot stone therapy or full body wrap, make for the Brandshatch Place Hotel near Fawkham.
These are just two of the treatments offered at its new £750,000 spa, which is connected to the 38-bedroom property. The hotel's owner, the Hand Picked Hotels Group, decided the old leisure facilities needed a face-lift.

"We were starting to lose members and needed to improve our offer," says the hotel's general manager, Rupert Spurgeon.

Alongside an improved swimming pool and wet area (steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi) and a range of health and beauty services such as massages, facials and manicures previously offered, four new treatment rooms have been added, as well as a relaxation area and lounge serving food and drinks.

Being part of the Hand Picked Hotels Group benefited Spurgeon when he was deciding on the design of the spa. Another hotel in the group, Nutfield Priory, just down the road in Redhill, Surrey, opened its spa last autumn and Spurgeon was able to draw from their groundwork and experiences.

He says in order to differentiate yourself you should talk to suppliers, scan the leisure press and visit other hotels for a sneaky look at their spa facilities.

According to Spurgeon, Brandshatch Place is targeting three distinct markets with its new spa. First, the property's leisure centre and gym already boasts 1,500 local members and the hope is many of these will pay extra to take a treatment. Second, the spa hopes to attract more day visitors. And then there are the hotel guests. The hotel now offers a number of overnight break packages capitalising on the spa. Ranging from £175 to £234, they combine different treatments with a night's stay and breakfast.

Spurgeon advised hoteliers to choose their spa partners carefully. Brandshatch offers ESPA treatments (a leading spa company renowned for its products) and the spa's plan is eventually to generate 25% of its income through the sale of ESPA items.

While refusing to be drawn on when he expects the spa to pay for itself, Spurgeon says the high level of repeat business has already got him thinking about expanding the number of treatment rooms. But he warns that the costs of on-going staff training, along with spa equipment maintenance costs and utility fees, are big considerations when budgeting for a spa.

By Ross Bentley

Case Study: St David's Hotel & Spa, Cardiff

One of the UK's leading destination spas, the St David's Hotel & Spa in Cardiff has just been given a makeover. But rather than spending millions on a redesign, the spa has retrained its staff and introduced new treatments and products.

To complement the existing facilities, which include 14 treatment rooms, two saltwater hydropools, a 15m exercise pool, sauna and gym, the spa has introduced two new spa brands, Thalgo and Chantecaille. Therapists have been trained in new treatments and a nutritionist has been added to the 35-strong team. Further down the line, the spa plans to offer medical advice.

"You can move with design but it's better to be known for giving great treatments," explains general manager Jason Harding. "It's about attracting the educated spa-goer."

Some subtle alterations have been inspired by changes in the spa's clientele over the past six years. For example, weekends now see many more couples using the spa together, so the previously separate male and female relaxation zones have been merged into one communal area.

Day membership costs £85 and numbers are capped at 420. A new spa menu, catering to a range of special diets, is aimed predominantly at day spa users.

A number of three-, five-and seven-day packages are encouraging guests to stay longer at the hotel.

There has been a rise in male customers, now making up 20% of clientele. A selection of facials, massages and nail services geared to the male market has been added, though Harding points out that women still outspend men in the spa.

Another emerging group is the under-12s and the spa now offers a junior range, including facials, waxing and make-up lessons (a parent has to be in attendance during a treatment).

But Harding points out that children in spas can be problematic. "Hotels can trip themselves up," he says. "It's about being family friendly but you need to get the right balance. Not everyone wants kids around if they're trying to relax." Harding's solution has been to set times for children to use the main pool and forbid under-16s to use the hydro-pools.

According to Harding, the spa is a major draw for the hotel, which has a broad split of 49% business, made up mainly of the residential conference sector, and a 51% leisure segment. Just under half of all the guests use the spa, with the main pool the most popular facility.
Initial investment was £3.5m and the spa currently contributes between 13% to the hotel's total revenue.

Harding sees the spa as part of the hotel. "You can't look at it on its own. The spa doesn't return the cash that it should, but it contributes significantly to occupancy and it brings people into the hotel."

Top spas and what they offer

Chewton Glen
Cost: £5m with a recent investment of £3.5m.
Users: at weekends, 80% of hotel residents use the spa, with 20% of guests using the facilities during the week.
Facilities: 10 treatment suites with exclusive use of Molton Brown products, spa grooming lounge, relaxation suite, gym, 17m ozone-treated indoor pool, outdoor pool and hydrotherapy spa pool with six hi-tech therapy options.
Treatments: massages start at £80; a 40-minute manicure is £40.
Staff: a team of 40
Membership: Currently 600 members. Annual fee is £1,640 plus an initial £350 joining fee.
New Milton, Hampshire
01425 275341

Macdonald Brandon Hall Hotel & Spa What: The Vital Spa Ä a Macdonald brand Ä opened in January 2005 at a cost of £1.7m. Following a £10m development, the hotel hopes to upgrade from a three-star to a four-star rating. Occupancy has increased to nearly 70% since the spa opened.
Facilities: 18m pool, Technogym, eight treatment rooms using Decleor products, sauna, aroma sensation showers, relaxation room and high-power sunbeds.
Staff: 15
Clientele: male/female mix is 50:50. Plans to introduce pamper days and treatments for teenage girls.
Membership: currently 600 with plans to recruit a maximum of 1,200 members. Membership costs £55 per month.
Treatments: One-hour hot stone therapy massage costs £49 and 30-minute manicure is £18.
Main Street, Brandon, Warwickshire
0870 4008105

Langs Hotel
What: 100-bedroom, four-star Langs Hotel opened Oshi Spa five years ago.
Cost: £1.2m
Facilities: Four treatment rooms with a steam room and small gym. The Oshi restaurant offers a light menu and smoothies.
Staff: 10
Clientele: Current male/female mix is 20:80. Men-only nights are planned. About 30% of guests who stay at Langs choose the hotel because of the spa, but only about 15-20% get to use it because of its popularity. There is a six-week waiting list for weekend appointments.
Treatments: Includes the Eve Lom massage. An Oshi Senaka massage costs £35 for 45 minutes and a Jessica manicure starts at £25 for 45 minutes.
2 Port Dundas Place, Glasgow
0141-333 1500

by Janet Harmer


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