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Think Tanks Focusing on the Spa Industry Show Students that Spas Have
Become a Necessity Rather than an Option for the Lodging Industry

by Bernard Burt

October 27, 2008 - The University of Houston recently hosted “The World of Spas” focused on the emerging power and popularity of hotel spas, and the branding and marketing of hotel spas. Orchestrated by Carl A. Boger Jr., associate dean of Academics at the UH Hilton College, and Aurore Tellier, student director of Education for the 13th Annual Hospitality Hall of Honor, these spa sessions were designed to show students that spas have become a necessity rather than an option for the lodging industry. 

“These think tanks launched our academic focus on spa management,” Boger said. “At the Conrad N. Hilton College, we are conducting spa research and are offering an academic concentration in spa management. We’re very excited.” 

The panelists who led the discussion included 

  • Karen Korpi, vice president of Spas for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company; 
  • Richard Dusseau, president and founder of Spatality, a consulting and branding company based in Denver; 
  • Gordon Tareta, vice president of Spa Operations for Hyatt Hotels Corporation; 
  • Ed Carette, general manager of the Hilton University of Houston Hotel; and 
  • Gary Milner, vice president of Legal and Development for Canyon Ranch. 
The discussion was heavy on data and trends in the industry and how they can impact a hotel’s bottom line. But Korpi, of Ritz-Carlton spas, said a truly great spa director or any great spa employee focuses not only on the numbers, but also on the people at the heart of the business: customers. 

“You have to use your head but also your heart,” Korpi said. “It’s a combination of both the left brain and the right brain. Whether it’s a massage or a treatment or the waiting room, it always has to be about that personal treatment of the guest. You may report to a manager, but that customer is your boss.”

A question from a student prompted a discussion on the role of spas in preventive medicine and a more holistic, systematic approach to health and wellbeing. Commented Dr. Boger: “To varying degrees, spas are able to offer their guests treatments and services that improve their health. And no one on the panel, or indeed few in the country, can speak with the authority of Milner, a vice president with Canyon Ranch, the premier health resort in the country with locations in Tucson, Ariz., Lenox, Mass., and Miami Beach. 

“We have a full complement of medical and healthcare professionals on staff,” Milner said. “Because our spas are the key attraction – our rooms support access to our spas – our guests expect the full experience. We are unique in the industry, and we take our responsibility very seriously.”

Dusseau, whose firm Spatality manages three different brands of international spa services, said spas are no longer simply an add-on feature for hotels.  “They are an essential component of a luxury hotel,” Dusseau said. “You can’t build a four-star or five-star hotel without a spa. The industry has exploded. It’s still very fragmented, but it’s starting to sort itself out. But whatever the economy is doing, spas are here to stay.” 

Tareta, who oversees HyattPure, Hyatt’s brand of luxury spas that each offer a unique character, broke down the industry on a technical level for students. He identified six categories of hotel guests who could be potential spa users, based on time of stay, disposable income and the amount of pure leisure time during their stay. He said that in addition to the extra revenue created within the spa itself, a spa user may provide a “lift” of between 15 and 20 percent in terms of Revenue Per Occupied Room (REVPOR). 

“That’s why the entire hotel needs to be involved in promoting and supporting the spa,” Tareta said. “Everyone from the front desk to the rooms division needs to be aware of what’s new in the spa and what treatments and programs are available. It’s so important to integrate the spa into the greater hotel, because it can pay big dividends— not just for the spa, but for the whole property.” 

Peter Anderson of Anderson & Associates consultancy, moderator for the first panel discussion, said he was impressed with not only the large turnout, but also with the incredible enthusiasm shown by the students. He said because the spa industry is such a dynamic, constantly evolving creature, it is important to stay tuned in to the latest trends and developments. 

“You could see that there was not only quantity but quality of the students who attended the spa sessions,” Anderson said. “Unlike certain components of the hospitality industry, which change in two-year or three-year increments, the spa industry changes every six months or even every quarter. That’s why it’s so important to have industry professionals speaking with students, because the textbooks are being rewritten every month.”

Inducted into this year’s Hospitality Hall of Honor were S. Truett Cathy, founder and chairman of Chick-fil-A Inc.; Sir Rocco Forte, chairman of The Rocco Forte Collection; and Steve Rushmore, chairman and founder of HVS.  The ceremony was the culmination of a week of events, including receptions for inductees, an industry lunch and two days of think tank sessions that offered students an opportunity to learn first-hand about the changing hospitality industry.
For more information on the UH Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, visit
About the University of Houston    
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. 


Bernard Burt

Also See: Hotel Operators Massage More Profits from their Spa Operations / Robert Mandelbaum and Gabrielle Lerner / February 2008
Examining the Findings of PKF's Inaugural Edition of Trends in the Hotel Spa Industry / John R. Korpi / May 2008

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