Lyn Middlehurst is Editor and Publisher of the monthly Gallivanter’s Guide.
Talk to most General Managers about their restaurants and they will wax lyrical. Talk to them about spas and their eyes will glaze over. This is hardly surprising, as I have never met a GM who has risen to his or her position via spa management.
Consequently, when their hotel plans to build or renovate a spa, they normally delegate the entire task to a ‘professional’. However, if you think about it, spas are exactly like restaurants. It is just that nobody thinks of them in that way. Read the average press release and it will talk about a 10,000 sq ft spa, as though size was the most important factor. When did you last read about a 2,000 sq ft restaurant? Normally, the buzz there will be all about the chef, the type of cuisine, the ambiance. If we start thinking about spas that way, then maybe GMs will finally understand.
No GM would ever consider bringing in KFC or McDonalds to run their restaurant, yet even the high end hotel management groups have no problem in using the same, populist spa products.
What GMs should be asking themselves is do they want the equivalent of a 3-star Michelin spa; an all-day-dining spa, an Asian fusion spa, or even a fast-food spa? Just like restaurants, the concept should come first, marrying itself to the hotel’s guest profile. Substitute the cuisine for spa treatments and the chefs for therapists and the analogy begins to make sense of hotel spas.
My other big gripe is the spa location. Few GMs or owners would forget to factor in a restaurant or two in their plans, yet it is amazing the number of hotels that either open without a spa or consider its inclusion at the last minute, which explains why so many spas end up in a windowless basement!
Recently, over dinner with a hotel’s Number Two, he told me that he was about to leave for his first post as GM, opening a brand new resort hotel. He went on to tell me all about the room configuration, the restaurants, the menu concepts, until I interrupted to ask about the spa.
‘No, don’t tell me’, I said, ‘ I will tell you what you are doing’.
He raised his eyebrows in a challenge; the look soon turning into amazement as I told him that his new spa would be located in the basement and would be designed by an omnipresent spa consultancy brand, which I named. I was right on both counts.
In every other aspect of hotel design and management, we are constantly being told that the high-end guest is looking for more and more wow factors; ideas and concepts that they have never seen anywhere else. Why then do hoteliers throw in the towel and accept cloned spas?
Talk to most well traveled guests and they will know far more about spas and spa treatments than any General Manager or Chairman of a hotel management company; many of whom, shockingly, have no personal experience of a good massage, let alone the more esoteric energy treatments.
I have yet to find a single spa, anywhere in the world, that is 100% right, whereas I could name dozens of great hotel restaurants. Given how lucrative spas can be, maybe hotel management companies should put spas on their management training menu.