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By Babs Harrison

Face a stark reality: many resort and hotel spas disappoint management and owners alike when it comes to guest usage and the resulting profits. Word of advice: it will only get worse for those pursuing a rigid spa menu of services and activities. Spa just isn't a universally powerful guest magnet anymore, in part because of the sheer number of spas, in part because a "been there, done that" indifference has spread across many potential guests when they think about a spa vacation.

Wellness is a powerful magnet - it's new, there's major buzz, and many swear by its benefits. That's why for those who master Wellness 2.0, the new-style wellness of now, there are guests to wow and profits to be earned.

There's accordingly a rush to rebrand many spas as wellness emporia, which is smart - when it's done right.

A lot of this is found in the recent Wellness Travel Survey released by the Wellness Tourism Association at its meeting in Quebec.

But, first, there are chilling numbers to absorb in a Cornell report on "What Do Hotel Guests Really Want? Anticipated Versus Actual Use of Amenities." A message in the Cornell data is that hoteliers often dramatically overestimate guest appetite for amenities - and spa is not exempt.

According to Cornell, hoteliers believed .19% of guests would use spa services - and the actual number is less than half, .09.

Hoteliers believed .14% of guests would use in-room fitness amenities. The actual usage is a microscopic .01, essentially non-existent. That's just about the lowest usage of any amenity in the Cornell survey.

And yet everything we see tells us that many, many guests are excited by both fitness and the kind of rejuvenation spa affords. Why the anemic usage?

Lots of money is in play. The Global Wellness Institute estimated the market size at a staggering $3.7 trillion.

The right answers matter.

Dig into the Wellness Tourism Association for numbers that provide a roadmap to creating amenities that guests desire, will use and will spend money on.

Start with what wellness vacationers want from their vacation. 45% say they want a general, overall reboot from their stay. Meaning they want to leave feeling refreshed, re-energized, ready for action.

As for perfect length of stay, 45% said three to five nights. Just 34% said a week.

Here's actionable information: "A vast majority (84.57%) cited 'a variety of healthy food options' as a 'must have' for their personal Wellness Vacation, followed closely by 'accessible nature' (72.9%), 'access to spa treatments' (69.91%) and 'a wide range of scheduled fitness activities' (68.86%)."

View that as a checklist of must haves. And do note that fitness ranks as about as popular as spa.

The info gets more specific: "As for the type of Wellness Vacation they 'do' or 'would' prefer, nearly 8 in 10 (76.73%) selected 'a self-guided program' with opportunity to pick and choose from a menu of options, versus just over 2 in 10 (23.27%) who desired 'a structured program' guided by hosts and experts."

And these guests are willing to spend money. 45% said they are willing to spend between $2500 and $5000 for a wellness holiday.

Parse the survey results and a takeaway is that today wellness 2.0 consumers are savvier and want to be more in charge of the elements of their wellness vacation. Twenty years ago, when high-end spa holidays began to flourish, many were largely prescriptive. Not so much anymore and that makes sense because many guests come to a facility with deep background knowledge about wellness if only because they have already been several or many times. Call this a smart consumer.

They are also pushing the boundaries. The Washington Post, for instance, said that shamans are emerging as a wellness staple. Other experts say that many consumers are now drawn to wellness "extremes" - retreats with lots of running, for instance, or perhaps a weeklong silent retreat. The pampering and comfort that marketed spa a decade ago just aren't right for today's times. Consumers want more.

A real key to success today: hiring well-informed, highly trained staff to create a property's wellness offerings. And to make those offerings very local. And to keep them fresh, updated.

Go deep or forget about it.

But for those ready to go deep - to offer genuinely enriching programs that leave guests recharged - the good times will roll.

This is a wave to ride because it is going places.

About Babs Harrison

Babs Harrison is managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners, a boutique public relations/marketing consultancy for select luxury resorts, hotels, and spas. Harrison has 25 years of experience in hospitality and has worked with leading brands in the US and internationally.

Contact: Babs Harrison

babs.s.harrison@gmail.com / 602.384.3211

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