The spa market has stood up well to the recession, and many hotels are tapping into extra revenue streams by converting unused space or offering in-room treatments. Angela Frewin reports
The UK spa sector has been static since the recession began, thanks to several counterbalancing factors, according to UK Spa Association chairman Charlie Thompson.
"During the past two years we have seen an upturn in spa bookings with many people making spa treatments part of their regular monthly schedule rather than
an occasional treat," she says.
John Stuart is chief operating officer at Redefine/BDL Hotels, which has successfully converted unused space at some of its managed hotels to tap into this
market. "From three- to five-star hotels and across branded and independent venues, the demand for quality, comprehensive spa facilities has grown strongly over the last few years," he says.
A Hilton global survey in 2012 found spas were an important factor for 45% of hotel guests (and for 52% and 84% of more spa-savvy Australian and Chinese
guests), and this is borne out at the BDL-managed Grand Jersey hotel and spa, where spa usage has grown for the past five years.
"We have found that spa facilities are becoming an essential service for many customers, with guests only booking a hotel that has both a pool and a spa
with dedicated beauty therapists," says spa manager Laura Gallagher.
According to general manager Andrew Drysdale, the 40,000 sq ft spa facility at the Radisson Blu Resort Farnham Estate in Cavan, Ireland, is responsible for 75% of bedroom bookings because the hotel - unusually - includes unlimited use of its thermal spa and indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy pool in the room rate.
Equally indicative of customers' continuing search for a good value deal is the spike in bookings that usually follows the launch of the hotel's newest mid-week deal.
In-room treatments offer a way in for spa-less hotels, but it's not simple to capitalise on. "A lot of hassle for not much money," says Thompson, who estimates
the service represents less than 1% of the total market. The transport, setup and dismantling of equipment can, he says, add half an hour to either side of the treatment and almost double the cost to the consumer.
Lewtrenchard Manor in Devon, has been offering in-room treatments for 10 years and uses several local service providers.
General manager Duncan Murray says the biggest headaches are last-minute requests, when therapists are off-site, and rooms that are too small for treatments.
The hotel averages a couple of treatments a week - mostly at the weekends and late afternoons. While the service contributes little in monetary terms, Murray says it helps attract guests of a slightly younger demographic that might not otherwise have chosen the hotel.
In-room treatments are not on the menu at the Crowne Plazas in Marlow and Docklands because the hotel feels they cannot recreate the full benefits of the Quad Club and Beauty experience. "The zen atmosphere we create using aromatherapy, lighting and music in the spa is difficult to replicate in a hotel room," says Sardo.
Joanne Taylor-Stagg, general manager at the Docklands hotel, adds: "The ESPA treatments we use are very holistic and, to get the full benefits, the environment needs to be just right. That includes height and elevation of the specialist treatment chair, a quiet and calm space, controlled room temperature and lighting, and calming aromas."
The Grand Jersey shares these concerns, although it does offer massage, reflexology and Reiki treatments in-room.
"The main challenges include sacrificing additional therapist time, as well as increased cost," says Gallagher. "Making sure the room is equipped with the correct electricity sockets and enough space can also be tricky."
Many hotels use professional spa brands to reassure customers and sell to them for use at home. However, a survey by the Crowne Plaza Marlow found that
less than 5% of customers booked because of the brand - most were influenced by the treatments.
The Radisson Blu Resort Farnham Estate offers the paraben- free Yonka brand and local heritage with Ogra, an organic Irish peatbased line it has customised
into a signature treatment ending with a Celtic blessing and a keepsake piece of turf. It also offers specials such as a mulled wine pedicure at Christmas.
Online bookings are changing the spa business, observes Taylor- Stagg: "In the past, clients may have been loyal to a particular salon or therapist; however, we are now seeing clients flipping between online offers and vouchers at different locations."
Surprisingly, online bookings account for less than 10% of spa treatments, but Thompson predicts this will change over the next 12-18 months. Growth in online accessibility will prove a boon to urban hotels seeking nonresidents to use their spas during weekdays when they are packed with corporate guests too busy for pampering. "The Holy Grail is your Monday to Thursday clients," says Thompson.
Relaxation and stress reduction are the key drivers of spa usage, according to Hilton's 2012 survey. Pools, jacuzzis, hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms and drench showers keep the ancient tradition of hydrotherapy alive, but modern spas offer a spectrum of body and skin routines. Massage remains the top choice, specially for men, who regard it as an extension to their fitness regime.
•Sysco Guest Supply brings luxury Chinese brand Shanghai Tang to five-star bathrooms via a moisturising body and haircare line with oriental scents of mandarin, grapefruit, tea and musk.
•BC Softwear answers top-end spa demand for deeper, plumper towels with its new 770gsm white Monaco range, as well as adding a grey Pebble colour option to its Serenity waffle spa towelling.
•Myddfai Trading Company's new paraben- and SLS/SLES-free body and haircare lines include the zingy Sinsir Twym (Warm Ginger) and Awel y Mor (Sea
Breeze), which has extracts of sea moss and sea kelp.
At Hotelympia earlier this year the highly commended spa products were:
•Supplier Beeguest Anglia's Charme d'Orient Bio range of Algerian Hamman beauty products uses organic ingredients, such as nigella, argan oil and barbary fig.
•Liberty & Green's Joy natural range of refillable amenities, with oils of lavender, mandarin and sage, claims to cut costs by 60%.
•Green Organic Clothing has an eco-friendly I Am Greeny range of bathrobes, towels, bath mats and hair wraps.
Spa facts and figures
•There are approximately 8,000 spas in the UK (10,000 including rival high street beauty treatment salons)
•Hotel spas account for 25-30% of the total (down from 30-33% 10 years ago)
•Massage (60%) and facials (20%) are the most popular treatments. The remaining 20% is led by manicures/ pedicures, body wraps and waxing.
•In Western Europe, female/male spa usage has shifted to 81%/19% from 91%/9% 10 years ago. In the Middle East, the gender split is 50/50 - but sexes are strictly segregated.
•Rural destination spas typically attract an older demographic aged 30 to 50: under-30s account for less than 10% of business. Under-30s, however, make up 20-25% of urban spas' customer bases.
The figures are from the UK Spa Association, which in June launched the UK's first monthly benchmarking service comparing hotel members' performance with competitor sites by region or size. Membership costs £250 per year, per spa.
Bathroom amenities can also offer guests a taste of in-room TLC and Andrew Keating, managing director of Sysco Guest Supply Europe, finds demand has diversified in the quest to make customers feel valued and special. "Global hotel chains tend to want an amenity brand that has a global retail awareness, so their guests have continuity whether they are in Paris, New York or Hong Kong.
"Where once the market was heavily biased towards fashion or lifestyle brands, there is now a much greater demand for skincare, spa and haircare brands.
"Independently owned boutique hotels will tend to find a brand that may have a local link and, if they have a spa, they may use the same line throughout."
Contacts •BC Softwear www.bcsoftwear.co.uk
•Beeguest Anglia www.beeguestanglia.co.uk
•Green Organic Clothing www.iamgreeny.com
•Liberty & Green www.libertyandgreen.com
•Myddfai Trading Company www.myddfai.com
•Ogra Skincare www.ograskincare.com
•Sysco Guest Supply www.guestsupply.co.uk
•UK Spa Association www.spa-uk.org