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Spas See Greener Days Ahead

By Kate Mearns
November 2010

With the economy slowly pulling itself out of the doldrums, businesses are still cautious as are consumers. Every dollar is being scrutinized to maximize purchase. Over the past two years consumers have demonstrated that their discretionary spending is limited to high value/price goods and services. The spa industry has been similarly affected. The “ it and they will come” approach is outdated because simply offering pampering and self indulgent services doesn’t seem to resonate with most consumers. Savvy spa goers expect more, and spas need to adopt, promote and deliver on value propositions that address customers’ needs and concerns within the framework of the current economic conditions.

The spa industry has seen strong, continued growth and profitability during the last decade. According to the International Spa Association, the number of spa locations in the US has grown at a robust annual average of 20% in the last eight years. But the current economic slowdown has caused new construction and expansion projects of spas to slow down. Spa Managers are now being forced to focus attention on more effectively and profitably managing what they already have. Closer examination of operational processes, labor and other expenses, consumer trends, and effective marketing programs are necessarily becoming high priorities. Spas must review their marketing strategies and brand messages to ensure that they are in alignment with consumer demands.

One of the challenges the spa industry faces is to change consumers’ perceptions that spas are simply providing expensive “pampering” treatments. Today, guests want more than pampering, and hotel owners and spa operators are listening. Most spa professionals have long been aware that the spa experience goes much further than just providing indulgent services for affluent customers. However, even with growing evidence that links health and wellness benefits to spa services, many facilities have neglected to promulgate that important message. Spas not only provide services such as massages, facials and salon services, but more importantly, they have evolved as places of healing, education, wellness, and lifestyle enrichment. However, the spa industry often fails to publicize those conditions, and continues to publicly depict only luxurious surroundings and pampering treatments. Today’s consumer is hungry for more and greater value than ever before.

Fortunately, the industry pendulum is beginning to swing in a new direction. Consumers are now expecting that spas not only provide healthy services and excellent service standards, but also offer overall wellness education and lifestyle programs in an “eco-friendly” environment. Customers will insist that their expectations be met in supporting their commitment to the environment directly through their spending decisions. The National Marketing Institute has collected data which reveals that consumers do value “green.” In fact, this is especially true when looking at Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) consumers, 68% of whom state that knowing that a company is mindful of its impact on the environment makes them more likely to buy their products and services. In addition to monitoring traditional variables such as price, quality and convenience, spa goers are now looking for more affordability but also for spas that are environmentally conscious. Consumers are now factoring into their selection process whether a spa has a commitment to this area. They are looking for spas that do more than just recycle or pay lip service to that commitment. Spa guests want to be educated on how to better lead a green lifestyle and they are viewing spas as a reliable source of information and education. Thus, spas must lead by example.

In fact, spas are well suited to be at the forefront of a green industry. As an industry which consumes water, energy and natural resources in its daily operations, spas that adopt green practices not only reduce environmental impact, but also offer an opportunity to raise awareness among spa clientele. Ultimately, everyone benefits. Spas are now perceived as a source of education and lifestyle enrichment which has pushed these facilities to be more proactive in the green arena.

Spa guests enjoy organic spa meals and are provided ideas and tips on how to support the environment and reduce waste. Many spas are now offering seminars related to organic products and even organic gardening. Consumers truly enjoy this learning atmosphere that spas are now providing.

Some of the green initiatives are not as visible to guests. As an example, spas have partnered with vendors to review shipping trends and have better managed purchasing systems to reduce additional and unnecessary freight. Not only has this one initiative assisted in reducing carbon footprints, it has also saved these spas money. Strong vendor partnerships have also allowed ongoing consumer feedback to the vendor’s production and packaging teams. Eco-friendly packaging is a consumer demand, and spas are able to facilitate the communication pipeline. Treatment protocols are established to reduce water and linen usage. New construction and expansion projects have supported LEED standards and other building energy efficient initiatives.

In summary, the message to effectively reach spa consumers has changed. Today’s challenging economic times have caused consumers to become more cautious with regard to spending. Emphasis is as much on value as it is on pricing. Spas have enjoyed success over the last decade providing “pampering services in a luxurious environment” yet the spa industry has really never effectively promoted some of its strongest attributes — health, overall wellness and lifestyle enrichment. Spas have a unique opportunity to provide this value to the consumer. Typically, consumers value and are drawn to eco-friendly businesses. Spas are able to demonstrate these practices in their day to day operations, and consumers will almost always support facilities that truly lead by example.

Kate Mearns
Kate Mearns is Spa Director for The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg, a facility developed and managed by WTS International, one of the world's leading leisure consulting and management firms providing conceptual planning, feasibility studies, design consultation, pre-opening preparation and daily operations / management services for spas, fitness centers, athletic facilities and leisure complexes around the world. Kate began her career in the industry more than a decade ago, when it was in its relative infancy, at the Coolfont Resort & Spa in West Virginia. She later moved to Williamsburg to open The Spa at the Kingsmill Resort. In her early years she worked closely with one of the founding members of the International Spa Association (ISPA) and became involved with this distinguished organization, serving on the Board of Directors from 2001 to 2006, the last two years as Chairman. From her involvement with ISPA, Kate has had various opportunities to represent the spa industry. She’s been featured on the Travel Channel, spoken on spa trends and research in international locales such as Bangkok and Singapore, and has written numerous articles for spa and fitness industry publications.

Reprinted with permission from Cayuga Hospitality Review.  All rights reserved.


Cayuga Hospitality Advisors

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