By Michael Haynie, SR., President, Parkway Hospitality Management

More than a decade ago, spas in general were “in.” Like low-calorie menu items and personal trainers, everyone wanted to talk about and be seen at the spa. Hotels soon followed the trend, and spas began cropping up in hotels all over the country. Many establishments tried to expand the health club concept which they had adopted in previous years, upgrading their workout facilities to transform them into the latest trend at that time — the health spa kick. The profitability model for these never seemed to make sense nor be achievable, but many operators and companies looked at this amenity as just that: a potential loss leader which would attract additional market share because it was an amenity the property had.

Fast forward to 2012 and the current economic situation, and everyone is watching their wallets a little more closely. For some, spa services might be seen as a necessity for health or beauty reasons, but for most people, they are still a luxury. With the ever-increasing cost of air travel and gasoline prices, travelers need to cut corners. Marketing to outside customers, providing complementary services and partnering with local spas and treatment professionals are just some of the ways that hotels can provide their guests the spa services they want without having to sacrifice profitability.

Marketing to Outside Customers

Just like a good signature restaurant, a hotel spa must have the ability to attract transient or outside customers and not be wholly reliant on hotel guests. Resort hotels have a much better opportunity to capture hotel guests within the spa, as many resort guests go to the resort exclusively to experience the amenities such as a spa, pool or health club. It does make perfect sense for an actively marketed “resort” hotel, which is typically a four- or five-star property, to consider a spa among its amenities. The key ingredient to the resort spa’s success is the ability to market the services to transient customers and hotel guests alike.

In hotels that are geared more toward business travelers, many guests are off at meetings during the course of the week, and thus have very limited opportunity to go to a hotel spa. That’s why it is crucial to market to customers outside of the hotel. Offering locals discounts for spa services is a great way to attract new customers and create a solid customer base who can become repeat customers.

Incentives for locals can include discounts off of certain spa packages; frequent customer cards which allow them to buy a certain number of services and get the next one free; and “slow day” discounts to draw customers in on the least busy days of the week. As an offshoot of the frequent customer cards, the hotel spa can create a rewards program for customers, in which every dollar spent can equal points. When customers get to a certain number of points, they can be “cashed in” for free services at different levels. Direct mail and email blasts to locals offering them a “welcome” discount (or a “welcome back” discount for past customers) can help encourage people to visit or revisit the spa.

Facebook and other social media promotions can be an inexpensive way to gain exposure and attract new customers. Offer exclusive discounts for Facebook followers, or hold an online contest where people can return to the page each day for updates and to see winners announced. Hotels should be sure to promote their spa’s Facebook page on all printed collateral as well as the hotel’s website, which should have a link directing visitors so they can “like” the Facebook page.

Marketing to area businesses such as medical practices and hospitals, law offices, banks, major retailers, and other corporations can also benefit the hotel spa. Spas can offer a discount for these businesses who may want to purchase a set dollar amount of gift cards for their employees or their clients. Or, if the businesses can secure a certain number of employees to receive services at the hotel spa on a given day, they will receive a group discount.

Providing Complementary Amenities

In some cases, the hotel spa is still regularly booked with appointments but the average sales ticket has decreased. It could be that guests aren’t dropping hundreds of dollars at a time on massages, facials and aromatherapy wraps like they used to. This is yet another reason to increase marketing efforts and provide other services which are usually associated with a healthy lifestyle and diet that will act as an incentive for the spa customers.

For example, adding a healthy “spa menu” at the hotel restaurant, carving out space for a juice bar, or offering yoga classes poolside would add to the overall spa experience and help attract potential spa customers. In addition to selling skincare and beauty products at the spa, hotel spas can increase their bottom line by creating a boutique-like atmosphere, selling items such as robes and other loungewear, jewelry, relaxation CDs and gift sets.

Going Above and Beyond

Additionally, a very proactive staff of professionals who understand the health conscious customers is paramount, and it can be very costly to hire the best of the best. The heart of the hotel spa is its staff, and the staff can “make or break” the hotel spa experience for the customer. Being knowledgeable in their profession and experienced in providing their unique service is a given, but in addition to knowing what to do, it is just as important to know how to do it. Ensuring excellent customer service is a surefire way to keep people coming back.

As mentioned previously, people are carefully choosing where to spend their hard-earned money these days. When they want to be pampered, they expect an excellent customer service experience from the time they are greeted by the receptionist until the time they are out the door, hopefully feeling better, relaxed and free of stress. Staff of all levels should be trained to provide superior customer service. By word of mouth — and on the Internet — customers will choose to recommend your hotel spa or not. If the massage was great but staff was rude and the customer had to wait too long or wasn’t offered a beverage, that will add up to a less than stellar review and people spending their money elsewhere.

Reevaluating the Hotel Spa

The nature of the hotel business — particularly over the past four years — is to run a good business with streamlined cost. Many properties that had full-scale fitness facilities or spas have had to reevaluate their hotel spas. Management has had to consider each facility and determine whether they were room generators that could sustain on their own or expensive amenities which made the hotel profile look good but at the end of the day did very little to add market share or appeal.

But if hotel management concludes that the full-scale spa is no longer a profitable venture, there are other options for the hotel to provide customers with some of the services they are looking for. Some hotels have chosen to include “pieces” of the spa feel, such as in-room saunas or quiet rooms with lighting effects and mood music. This would give the property some uniqueness in amenities but stop short of the labor intensity and operating costs of a full spa. Guest seem to welcome alternatives which are tasteful and cost effective.

Partnering with Local Spas

Unless a property is in a very unique high-end market with transient generators, such as in an office building, near office parks or near major hospital centers, it may not be feasible financially to get into the spa business at all. However, associations with spas and a partnership arrangement at a nearby facility would make sense. For example, hotels could build a relationship with a local spa to offer a percent-off of services to all hotel guests or establish a discounted package that is designed for their location. Guests who stay a minimum number of nights could receive a free spa service, offered to the hotel at a substantial discount.

Another way hotels are able to offer spa services without incurring internal cost is partnering with local spas or independent professionals to offer services to guests. Hotels can offer on-call services with the local spa for services at the property, which allows the guest to enjoy a massage, manicure, facial or other spa treatment in the comfort of their hotel room.

While hotel spas can be a profitable venture in some markets, there are hotels in other markets that need to reevaluate the way they provide spa services to their guests. For some hotels, that might mean stepping up marketing efforts and offering discounts and other incentives to recruit outside customers. For others, downsizing their spa or partnering with a local spa to offer the services either off-site at the spa or in the guest’s hotel room might be the best solution. Whatever the case, hotels can find a way to offer guests the spa services they want without having to sacrifice profitability.

Michael Haynie has devoted his entire professional career to the lodging and hospitality industry. After attending Northeastern University in Boston, MA, he took on various entry level positions before rising through the ranks to the executive level positions he has held for many years. Mr. Haynie has experience in every facet of hotel operations and has served in leadership capacities in hotels ranging from economy to luxury. Prior to launching his own hotel management enterprise, Mr. Haynie served as the Vice-President and Managing Director of Baltimore’s Tremonts Hotels which encompassed the upscale Tremont Plaza Hotel and the economy Tremont Park Hotel. Mr. Haynie, SR. can be contacted at 443-604-3835.