ACROSS THE SPA INDUSTRY, reports of a sharp rise in demand for spa services and treatments and weeks long waits for new appointments have many celebrating the industry’s recovery from the darkest days of 2020 and the pandemic-related restrictions that lingered well into last year. The industry’s relatively quick comeback has been amazing, and after the array of challenges and setbacks spa leaders worldwide have so brilliantly overcome, they have earned the right to feel optimistic. Appreciative spa-goers have returned to many spas in droves, ready to incorporate (or re-introduce) a higher level of wellness into their newfound routines. An outside observer would be forgiven for surveying the landscape described above and wondering, “So, what’s the issue here?”
WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON?
In addition to scouring data sources and anticipating opportunities to over deliver on the guest experience, I also specialize in looking continuously for clues and symptoms of change and talking with my clients about how they can get ready for what’s coming next. The goal: getting ahead of the curve and actively creating opportunities by reimagining how they engage with the guest.
Recently, these evaluations have drawn my attention to one possible negative effect of the demand spike the spa industry has experienced for much of the last year. The issue is this: These spikes in demand and revenues are not necessarily the result of our therapists or frontline staff doing something different. In fact, the opposite is true. Guests and spa-goers are the ones doing something different. They have recognized a greater need for self-care and, at the moment, are visiting the spa as a means of addressing their well-being.
As an industry, we’re thrilled that demand and revenues have been high, but that boom shouldn’t be faced passively. We cannot simply assume that guests’ newfound enthusiasm for spa and their strong desire for touch is a trend with no end in sight, ignoring the potential vulnerabilities that spas face from forces beyond their control, such as inflation (which reached a 41-year high of 8.5 percent in March of this year) or even recession. I’ve likened the level of demand the industry is seeing as feeling like a firehose—what happens when that constant, powerful flow of guests diminishes and we haven’t trained, readied or empowered ourselves and our teams to maintain it?
THE NUMBERS TELL THE STORY
Guests have shown a clear preference for bringing the kinds of wellness-
boosting services spas frequently offer (or at least approximations of them) into their homes. Recent ISPA consumer research indicates that more than 70 percent of active spa-goers (those who have visited a spa in the past year) utilize spa services in their own homes and in a traditional spa environment. As research from business consulting firm McKinsey recently concluded, “These days, consumers view wellness through a much broader and
more sophisticated lens, encompassing not just fitness and nutrition but also overall physical and mental health and appearance. They also have more choice in the types of products and services they buy and the way they buy them.”1 Spa leaders seem to be seeing evidence of those attitudes on a consistent basis. Two-thirds of spas reported that retail revenue per treatment was up at least 2.5 percent year-over-year in ISPA’s April 2022 Snapshot Survey, with more than one-fifth (21 percent) seeing an increase greater than 10 percent. In addition, the Big Five statistics from the 2022 ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study indicated an increase in revenue per spa visit of more than seven percent, up to $104.5 per visit—an all-time high—from $97.5 from the year before (that figure’s previous peak was $99.5 in 2019). All of these figures add up to a strong indication that guests are looking for more of the kinds of benefits spa treatments bring them, whether through a basic service, add-ons and enhancements, retail items purchased at the spa or third-party items and products they can use on their own. The question for the spa industry is how to do more than simply take advantage of shifting consumer attitudes and behaviors. Rather than merely reacting to new circumstances, spas must be more proactive, taking this opportunity to broaden their understanding of what their guests want from a wellness perspective and owning the process of educating guests, making sound recommendations and leveraging the unparalleled power of the spa experience to make it more likely for guests to see the spa as their best option for maintaining and improving their wellness
across a range of categories.
THE FIGHT FOR THE WELLNESS SPACE
Additional research from McKinsey shows that consumers are most interested in six particular wellness-related categories: health, fitness, nutrition, sleep, appearance and mindfulness.2 Spa operators and directors should look at those categories—all of which are
deeply connected to the services and products spas already offer—and see the growth in the wellness sector as theirs for the taking. And why shouldn’t it be? The truth is that so much of the wellness market revolves around products and services that essentially act
as substitutes for some part of the spa experience.
The challenge is that many of these substitutes—which I define as any product or experience that might be used in place of a product or experience offered in a spa—are flooding the market, giving spa-goers and non-spa-goers alike an almost limitless number of choices for ways to attend to their own well-being. Do these substitutes (be they celebrity makeup brands, wellness apps, online beauty tutorials or percussive massage tools) offer the level of care and efficacy of spa treatments? Likely not, but the spa industry cannot assume that consumers will automatically continue to flock to spas as more and more easily accessible spa substitutes become available.
As the lines between spa services and at-home wellness become increasingly blurred, spas must not be content to occupy the space they have always occupied, assuming that their elevated status will protect them from losing revenue as spa substitutes become even more popular.
Instead, spa leaders must work to remove any mental barriers that stop them from investigating the incorporation of new technologies and other wellness solutions into the guest experience. They should train their teams on how to make more expansive recommendations to guests and develop menus that allow guests to improve their service experience through addons and enhancements. Doing so will keep the spa more in the center of guests’ approach to their own wellness and establish the spa as a go-to starting point for guests seeking to adopt more and better habits for their health and well-being.
“…the spa industry cannot assume that consumers will automatically continue to
flock to spas as more and more
easily accessible spa substitutes become available.”
THE OPPORTUNITY IS THERE
Simply put, the spa industry must not let its role in the wellness space diminish. It may seem an exceptionally negative perspective to even contemplate that possibility, given the demand levels and revenues so many spas have enjoyed recently. But the reality is that guest expectations are changing rapidly. It has never been more important for spas to have a comprehensive understanding of any forces that might pull guests away from the spa and be prepared to serve those guests better by connecting as deeply as possible to their needs.
For example, as percussive massage tools grow more popular, spas should embrace that technology, teaching therapists how to use them so that they can be incorporated into services and guests can be taught how to supplement their in-spa massage with techniques they
can employ at home. A spa taking that approach would also likely be able to stock and sell their preferred, high-quality device, adding to their revenues and keeping their spa at the center of the guests’ pursuit of wellness.
Shifts like these start with leadership. Leaders’ behaviors are central to creating a culture of innovation within the spa, so as you prepare your business for the moment when the current
flood of demand slows, remember that your enthusiasm and support for deepening and expanding the guest experience sends a crucial signal. In addition, supporting your team’s growth by creating learning and development opportunities is necessary to build the sense
of ownership and confidence they need to elevate the guest experience to new levels through their understanding of guests’ needs and their expertise in
The best way to navigate this opportunity to create an indispensable guest experience is to know those guests and their interests—be one step ahead of their curiosity, equip yourself with knowledge and make clear the role that spa can play as a hub for their well-
being that extends into their lives beyond the walls of your business. This approach will provide an important protection against a potential slowdown in demand and change the depth of our relationship with guests who seek spa services, enhancements and home care
recommendations. The world is our oyster—we must be ready to grasp the pearl inside. n
- Mcgroarty, B. (2021, December 28). Industry research – what is the future of Wellness? 7 shifts to watch. Global Wellness Institute. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/global-wellness-institute-blog/2021/12/28/industry-research-what-is-the-future-of-wellness-7-shifts-to-watch/
- Callaghan, S., Lösch, M., Pione, A., & Teichner, W. (2022, January 27). Feeling good: The future of the $1.5 Trillion wellness market. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/consumer-packaged-goods/our-insights/feeling-good-the-future-of-the-1-5-trillion-wellness-market
BY DR. MICHELA HENKE CILENTI
Michela Henke Cilenti, CPTD, is a passionate customer sales & engagement consultant who vibrantly shares the science and know-how around the psychology of selling, recommending, and enriching the spa and hospitality guest experience. Also instructs as Professor in Leadership & Change at Webster University, St. Louis
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