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Emlyn Brown, Kent Richards and Sara Codner outline top priorities for spa and wellness leaders in 2023

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Spa and wellness industry thought leaders gathered yesterday (26 January) at the Grow Well webinar – hosted by We Work Well – to share their plans, vision and strategies for 2023.

Hosted by Grow Well educator and industry figure Lisa Starr, the W3Spa panel included:

Emlyn Brown – global vice president of wellbeing at Accor.• Kent Richards – corporate operations director at Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas.

• Sara Codner – senior director of spa and wellness at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

Spa Business has wrapped up the key highlights from the digital panel.

Rebound vs revenge travelAll three spa and wellness execs started by saying that 2022 had been an exceptionally strong year for business.

Accor, for example, experienced a 15-18 per cent increase in business compared to 2019 and Six Senses got itself squared up to open seven extra properties in 2023.

Brown noted that this general uptick in business is due to level out though, as the hospitality industry witnesses the end of revenge travel (a consequence of the pandemic which saw pent-up demand and finances – due to lockdowns and travel restrictions – fuel a surge in leisure spend and tourism).

He also mentioned that pricing will now need to be more thoughtful as spa, wellness and hospitality consumers focus on value for money and become more selective, rather than splurge.

Connecting with the guest

A major topic of discussion was the renewed importance of creating an experience that not only entices guests to spas, but also makes sure they return.

“Since Covid, it’s been all about emotion,” said Codner, “people want to come and create memories and this is what will keep them coming back. You may have a great facility but you need to emotionally engage guests.”

At Mandarin Oriental, spa menus only offer treatments with a minimum 90+ minute duration (even for 60-minute massages) to ensure therapists have enough time to fully engage with guests and understand their needs during consultations.

“Therapists have the potential to build a real connection with guests,” said Codner, “We’re in the business of creating emotional engagement and experiences.”

This level of care needs to be continued from that very first interaction when guests book through reception, all the way to the end of their experience. Therapists must remain on their feet and listen intently to guests.

“Picking up on guests’ cues is essential – whether that’s taking note of the fact it’s their anniversary or perhaps suffering from jetlag. This then opens up opportunities for the spa team to work with F&B to go the extra mile and improve their whole day, perhaps by sending a treat to their room for example.

“In doing so, you create that memorable experience with a wow factor. And that’s how you get repeat customers.”

Richards agreed and said Six Senses is teaching its staff to go “one step further” with every guest.

“We want to make sure all of our hosts introduce guests to one extra layer of the wellness journey. So in the spa, they won't only recommend a treatment but they’ll also suggest something new like visiting the alchemy bar or trying out a wellness screening.

“Or, perhaps if the guest is having dietary issues we send them to speak with the chef or maybe front-of-house might learn they have a back problem and send them to the spa.

“It’s about always going one step further for the guest.”

Empathetic and intuitive leadershipCodner urged that the same attention must be paid to emotionally connecting with spa staff.

Like most companies, Mandarin Oriental let staff go during the pandemic but Codner said this gave the brand time to rethink how to manage its employees and create a nurturing family-like community.

“People were dealing with a lot – whether that was losing a family member due to COVID or feeling isolated due to lockdowns – so when they returned to work we were mindful about how we treated one another.

“What we wanted to do is become empathetic leaders,” Codner explained. She attributed this commitment to conscious leadership and a healthy working atmosphere to Mandarin Oriental’s high rates of retention in its Middle East spa division (her local sector).

New spa guest profiles

Richards shared that Six Senses has been dealing with a new type of wellness guest since COVID.

Following the pandemic, the brand saw an influx of consumers who were playing it safe and sticking to what they knew, avoiding new offerings or group settings. He jokingly named them “Leave me alone” consumers (LMA).

Skip to the present day and the proportion of LMA guests has dropped. Instead, a new audience is coming into its spas who are curious and intrigued to learn more about wellness and much more open to taking up hosts’ suggestions and solutions.

Richards doesn’t think this necessarily means these LMA guests have stopped coming, but perhaps have shifted to a more open mindset.

Moreover, Six Senses has defined itself as a distinct wellness hospitality brand so it may also have begun attracting people who share its values more closely.

Communal wellness and localisationIn part, Richards attributes this changing guest profile to the surge in the need for emotional connection, support and a sense of community following the pandemic.

This is something that Six Senses is looking to capitalise on with the launch of its Six Senses Place urban wellness club concept (the first will launch at Six Senses’ debut London property later this year).

“We feel that to get the local community to come in frequently and feel like they belong, we want them to come into something that isn’t built solely around the hotel guest.

“Over and above that, one of our core values is locally sensitive but globally sensible, so we’re finding in all our locations that by employing locals and connecting with local organisations, we’re discovering their rituals and traditions which enrich our wellness facilities and appeal to local customers.”

Labour shortages

To wrap up, panellists touched on the biggest issue facing the spa industry – staffing.

One tactic Six Senses is using is to create new positions in the spa to stimulate staff and encourage career development and creativity.

“We’re providing more levels in spa and wellness to attract people, as well as keep them motivated and create something for the guest that is extra special,” said Richards.

For example, Six Senses has created a head of alchemy bar development role which can lead the region in creating alchemy bar ceremonies and rituals.

Meanwhile, Mandarin Oriental is trying to nurture and diversify its existing spa employees' skills and experience to mitigate labour shortages and make the most of the talent it has.

Codner explained that the brand works with a cultural exchange ambassador scheme (CEA) where staff from properties with an off-season, such as Lake Como in Italy, are shipped out to other global properties to help fill labour shortages and enhance their professional experience.

“We also market these therapists and their different skills to guests as a unique offering to guests. In doing so, we’re trying to highlight our colleagues’ strengths which in turn also helps to motivate other colleagues to upskill too.”

Getting creativeAnother layer of this discussion involved how the three spa leaders have been getting creative to drive revenue, despite labour shortages

Brown was very much pro biohacking, explaining that Accor is placing a huge emphasis on recovery as part of its wellness philosophy.

“Requiring low amounts of labour, biohacking offerings provide a major opportunity to increase yield, elevate the customer experience and create better packages for guests,” he said.

Richards agreed, saying “biohacking is becoming a big component of our business”.

Interestingly, he noted that some guests find the phrase biohacking intimidating, so Six Senses groups its offerings into one area under the term the ‘Recovery Lounge’.

“Again, if a guest is coming into the hotel and they’ve got an issue, a biohacking treatment is a great way to introduce them to a new layer of wellness and take their journey one step further.”

Like Brown, Richards was also a strong supporter of the idea of third-party partnerships to optimise space and get creative with spa labour shortages.

Codner agreed and shared that Mandarin Oriental is using the same strategy.

Starr asked the panellists whether these collaborations could dilute a brand or the customer journey for a guest.

“It’s all about doing your research and partnering with the right brand,” said Codner.

“It’s great for utilising space because these companies will come in, provide all the equipment and treatments only takes a relatively short amount of time. It makes for a fantastic guest experience and I would certainly recommend it.”

Richards concurred saying that as long as the brand is clear with guests that it’s a third-party company then it can be a highly beneficial business strategy for spas.

“A well-vetted collaboration is the future of brands,” stated Brown, “you can strengthen your brand through collaboration – don’t fear it, embrace it. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

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Spa and wellness industry thought leaders gathered yesterday (26 January) at the Grow Well webinar – hosted by We Work Well – to share their plans, vision and strategies for 2023.

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