Friday, December 30, 2011


I am constantly amazed when people who live an uneventful life, wake up one day and decide to invent the wheel. The French philosopher “Lapalisse” was known for proclaiming truism with assurance of a messiah! The earth is round, the sky is blue, and the water is wet! Another one might be: Innovation is the key to success in the spa industry. Innovation is the key to success in any industry, the lack of it spells a sure decline and eventually death! The “Global Spa Summit” organization in collaboration with the “Aspen Institute” has identified “Innovation” as the theme of the 2012 conference, Alleluia!
It was about time. In this industry, where everyone has been happily copying each other for decades, it certainly is timely to start thinking about new ideas. Of course there are some who have not waited for a “Global Spa Summit” to decide that innovation was a worthy subject. I have been innovating constantly for the last fifty years, one of the drawbacks of being in advance with ones time is that it is not necessarily appreciated. To do things differently is disturbing to most who relish in the norm, who find solace in doing what everyone else is doing. It takes courage and fortitude to be a pioneer. Europeans are still clinging to “Thermalism” the French “Thalassotherapy” in spite of the very reason why these forms of therapies are no longer successful. People want to see results and a twenty one day minimum to see results is the compulsory factor in these types of therapies. The average hotel stay is 4.5 days and a medical approach is totally obsolete today. Surely water is attractive and fun and this is how the product should be sold, not as medically beneficial but simply as a pleasurable experience. Water Parks have demonstrated that the formula works.
To innovate does not always mean to come up with something totally new, it can simply be another way to do the same thing. An example of this would the wrap, once a pillar of spa services which are no longer appreciated by a clientele more and more afflicted with claustrophobia. Astute spa creators offer “dynamic envelopments” performed on either a “Vichy Shower” or wet table in an appropriate wet room with the application of various products through long massage strokes and without “the wrapping”! The end result is better, the experience more pleasurable. Innovating can attract gimmicks and “snake oil” salesmen so, one must be weary not to fall in those traps and there are many: stone massages for example that are based on sound therapeutic principles; in the hands of “sorcerer’s apprentices” becomes a ridiculous satire!
Start with the fundamental philosophy of your industry: to create treatments to facilitate and improve life experiences, consider the objectives and expectations of your clientele: look better and younger, feel good, relax and be pleasured. Now extrapolate on those basics. An honest, objective analysis of what spa is today will surely help you to innovate without gimmicks!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What you should know about retail sales that most retailers won’t tell you.

I recently attended a spa conference where the Senior V.P. of a well known cosmetic brand was asked to give a lecture on retailing in spas. He apologetically stated multiple times in his presentation that there were many people in the audience who knew more than him on the subject, but that did not stop him in being very professorial in the delivery of his lecture. Everything that he presented had been thoroughly researched, but unfortunately not in the appropriate department. Indeed his lecture can be summarized through one of his remarks that hotel spas should copy what retail stores do in order to increase their retail revenue. And indeed to the non-professional it would sound logical; but unfortunately this is not the case.
The main difference lies in the mindset that clients have when they enter the premises of a retail shop or department store, they are there to buy stuff. This is usually not the case when a client goes to a spa, they are there to receive treatments and to live an experience; therefore the process of capturing their interest is vastly different. Displays of products are expected in a retail store and since most stores do not have a multitude of sales staff, it is the only way to show off what the store wants to sell. In a spa the sale of cosmetic products is either complementary to the service performed or suggested as another therapeutic approach to enhance the results of the treatments and service through home care. The proof is in the pudding as they say. I have designed and managed spas that do not have more than two or three products on display in an artistic manner thus reminding the subconscious that products are available and where the staff has been trained to sell properly, that yield 34 to 40% retail to treatment sales. However I have seen too many spas which use the antiquated retail shop methodology and rarely get more than 10% in retail sales.
Another important element to consider if retails sales are to be an important factor to the bottom line, is simply to make sure that what is being proposed meets what the clientele is interested in? Of course and yet most spas, particularly hotel and resort spas, have retail products or lines which are women centric cosmetic brands which can be found in department stores. My advice, do not listen to what cosmetic retailers are telling you, think for yourself and remember that the best way to sell anything is through a genuine service oriented attitude, a smile, a compassionate demeanor and the right choice of products for your targeted clientele. Spas are not the same as retail stores or pharmacies so what works for them may not necessarily work for you.

Monday, October 24, 2011


As the planet shrinks, well not really, but technology has erased the obstacle of physical distance. Communication has so improved that knowledge flows freely from one part of the globe to the other and this miracle of the modern world is breaching the gaps in the distribution of information and knowledge. In our world of wellness and health it has materialized in the fusion of totally different approaches to health and well being. On one side there’s the Western approach, or “wait until you are sick to be cured” and on the other, the Eastern approach, “prevention (so as not to get sick)”. The two are merging slowly; a bit faster in the East but slowly and surely also in the West. From a philosophical point of view the process begins by balancing the function of the right and left side of the brains. One side deals with the emotional analysis of perceived stimuli and the other side with a rational Cartesian or scientific understanding. Asian perception of reality is filtered through the emotional, instinctive rational the other is directed by a scientific or Cartesian logic.

The integration of both of these stimuli are the basis for the fusion movement. A perfect example of the right way to take advantage of the East West fusion trend is the: “5 Elements Spa” in Marrakech, Morocco, using the 5 elements theory of traditional Chinese Medicine. Leila Zouet, the owner has designed her spa to harmonize the vibrational sympathy of the five elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water) and since she is in Morocco she has done this while respecting the traditional Moroccan artisanal signature. There are five treatment suites where an array of services can be performed, dominated by colors of the five elements: red for fire, blue for water, brown for earth, green for wood and metallic grey for metal. Clients can experience the different suites but all will eventually settle for the ones that harmonize with their physical and or psychological biorhythm. The whole experience is phenomenal and unique. A great example of what can be done with instinct and rational. The East West fusion is not only restricted to wellness and is a further proof of this universal trend of “rapprochement” of cultures. The Asian influence can be seen in fashion in the West while western lifestyles are embraced by the young generations of Asians, but fusion does not mean losing one’s identity and the 5 Elements Spa in Marrakech is a perfect example of that.

Just as in food, to use spices to give character to a dish that are not typically used does not violate the regional signature of the dish but simply gives it a broader sensitivity to it. Adding cumin and soy sauce to lamb chops flatters the palate in different ways such as using argan oil rather than grape seed oil does not impede the value of a Swedish massage, it just adds value and new experience to the treatment. Fusion will not be limited to East and West but will extend to a great number of different cultures. It will be a hybrid revolution which we will witness in years to come.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Global Spa Summit in Bali featured the new Wellness Tourism phenomenon! All the Spa shows are now including talks and lectures on this new trend in Tourism. I will be giving a Master Class on this very subject during the ESS 2011, this September at the Beyond Beauty Show in Paris on September 12th. I invite all of you who read my blog to try and make this event as it will be without a doubt the most informative and complete presentation on the subject, available today. I have called upon some of my associates to present as well: Leslie Glover will address the new criteria’s in designing spas and wellness centers, Ludovic Laine will talk about the strong influence of ecologically sound and sustainable element linked to this new market’s expectations, while Ngub Nding will instruct the audience on the new trends relative to treatment and products of the future.
To make sure that you can get a seat at the lecture, book as early as you can. This is a "not to be missed" class for Tourism professionals, Resort operators and anyone interested in the Wellness culture.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


With the latest trend in Tourism: “Wellness Tourism,” comes with new challenges and to stay on top of the pile, one needs to revisit the methodologies of management. Of course the old way will continue to work but perhaps not as well as it used to! The secret of success in this as well as any new venture lies in doing an objective introspection of the status quo and rethink the formulas of sound operation. Many resort operators keep abreast of what is happening in the world of their activities and many will or have jumped on that bandwagon of Wellness destinations. In a nutshell a Wellness destination whether it is a resort, hotel or even an entire country, is a place where in addition to any other reason to go there, there will be a driving motivation factor which is simply an opportunity to combine an improvement of one’s health during their stay. Indeed the tourism professional who judiciously monitor the desires and interests of their clientele have discovered for quite some time now that most people going on vacation are no longer satisfy to tan and frolic in water but aspire at taking that free time from their professional activities to improve themselves whether it be intellectually or as in this case improve their health and well being. In other words combine the traditional reasons for traveling outside of their own environment such as sightseeing, discovery of different cultures, tasting new foods and drinks etc. with activities that will improve their lifestyle and now specifically improve their wellbeing.

To offer to this clientele room and board, the amenities of a spa, fitness center and other recreational activities will no longer be enough. It is in the packaging of these activities that will be found the difference, starting with identifying clearly the target (the specific market) that one wants to reach. With a few exceptions such as mega poles where one can find just about every type of activities under one humongous roof, it is necessary to pinpoint a niche market in order to serve it well. It is extremely difficult and extraordinarily expensive to try to serve different clienteles. In a mythical world everyone gets along well, in the real world there are certain groups that just do not fit with others! Everyone loves their children, but not necessarily other people’s children and those who do not have them will choose a childless resort to enjoy adult centered activities and just the quiet time by the pool. Golfers love to be fully immersed in golf and probably would not be ecstatic at sharing their vacation time with Yoga addicts and they, would most likely not be interested by the difficulties of hole number 5! Simply put resorts need to decide which market they want to attract and construct their mission statement to satisfy the aspirations of that segment of clientele. A resort is not a supermarket but a specialty store.

Next, one needs to understand clearly that due to technological advances, people do not think the same way today as they did in the very recent past. They want results that are visible but at the same time they want everything to be made available easily! They do not want to make an effort to find something they want that something to be presented to them on a silver platter This approach to service is not new but until now was only found in Club Med or Full all-inclusive resorts and on cruise ships. So, it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, but simply to adapt it and improve it. How?

Start with fine tuning your marketing. As soon as you have identified your target concentrate your promotional efforts to that segment. Your advertising and marketing efforts will be more productive than if you spread yourself thin. In your promotional material concentrate on what makes your resort different from others, avoid the platitude of showing a beautiful woman on a massage table with a bunch of stones on her back, or a photo of a couple dining at sunset on the beach (which is not available anyway!) All of your competitors do this and the client is bored by these images! Think out of the box!

The overall management of the resorts of the future will use some of the techniques practiced by cruise lines: simplify, and make all services available readily. Package the activities by affinity, explain clearly how they are done, and hold the client by the hand, they want to be driven, babied, assisted. I ran a program in the French Alps in the winters for many years which was extremely successful based on these principles and I sold it with the title: Take an Alpine cruise on the “SS Meribel” which was the name of the ski resort! When they arrived at the resort they were housed in chalets that had their own operational staff with cook, chalet girls who cleaned served, gave massages, made drinks and even took them skiing. The staff took out of the vacation all nuisances such as having to queue to get a ski pass, book a table at a restaurant, and find the right ski instructor or the best place to rent skis. In other words make available a full service concierge. This principle can be applied easily to any resort environment.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Raoul Andrews
Senior Advisor
Aspen Spa Management, LLC

During the Global Spa Summit in Bali this past May, I was interviewed by several magazines from China, Europe and Australia. Their questions reflected the perception of the industry of their readership. However they all asked one similar question; “where is the spa industry going, and what is the current state of the industry today?” Indeed when one travels throughout the planet as I do and have done all my life, one cannot ignore the fact that the same word can mean totally different things from one culture to another. With globalization at the forefront of political and economic concerns it stands to reason to analyze any activity through an international filter and then try to identify the future trends.
In a nutshell here is my view: First and foremost the word spa by itself does not mean anything today unless it is used with an epithet qualifying it as per its mission statement, objective, style and location. Very much like the restaurant industry; the Tour d’Argent in Paris and the local McDonald’s both serve food however no one would consider them to be in the same category. The differentiation is easily made, first because most patrons of these eateries know enough about food and beverage to judge the difference and no one today will mistake a fast food restaurant from a Michelin guide rated gastronomical restaurant. The problem in the spa industry however is that the majority of spa-goers really cannot make the difference between the qualities of a service from one compared to another. There are of course exceptions to this; those that travel internationally and have had a taste of what great spa service can be. However in general the consumer market still bases their judgment on superficial elements such as decoration and the apparent luxury of the settings. Next, there is no objective competent evaluation of spa services available today as there are in the F&B industry. No Michelin guide, no Zagat, no Gault & Milau. Not only are there no objective evaluation companies but you can actually buy a rating which only adds more confusion and continues the mediocrity. And keep in mind that to have any value a rating agency needs to have inspectors who are experts in the field not just follow guidelines concerned with hygiene and decoration.
So what will the future hold? In time the consumer will learn to distinguish quality of performance and service, mostly by traveling and being exposed to better quality of services, different deliveries of treatments, better customer service, and then and only then will start requiring that same level of quality when they return home. This same process took place in the F&B industry some thirty years ago! I recall being taken out for a gourmet dinner then, and the menu was shrimp cocktail, steak and potatoes, and for desert a cream de Mint Parfait! That was the ultimate gourmet dinner and it was served with Coffee, Tea, or Milk. We have certainly come a long way since then and hopefully that same thing will happen in the spa Industry.
At the present time the area of the world where across the board there is in general service quality in spas is in the Asia Pacific area and it is easy to see that this is recognized throughout the world as Asian type spas are opening everywhere. The U.S. is at the end of the queue overall (there are exceptions of course), Europe is having great difficulties breaking away from its past and continues to want spas to be exclusively medical where the rest of the world no longer mistake wellness for medicine? What is the bottom line of these considerations? Simply that as usual the cream will rise to the surface, the good will prevail the mediocre will fail, very much like in the restaurant industry where 8 out of 10 restaurants that open each year go under within the first year of operation. This is already a reality in the U.S. spa market. What do you think is the reason for the explosion of Wellness Tourism? What is the explanation of the fact that 2.4 million Germans went on vacation in Asia last year and most identified spa services as one of their primary reasons for choosing that destination? (Incidentally for those who would suggest that the reason for the choice is sex tourism; that only accounted for half of one percent.) To come back to the state of the industry and to use the F&B analogy, it can be summarized that the spa industry is still in its infancy and can only go one way: UP!
In essence for the most part the level of services offered, Asia being an exception, is at the level of McDonald’s or similar fast food outlets. And this is particularly true for spas in hotels including the large luxury brands. One recent example is of the Sofitel in Marrakech; where a colleague of mine went to the spa for a massage and the therapist was not only sitting down during the entire massage but also on a personal call on her cell phone for almost the duration! Most of the large hotel companies still do not get spa and concentrate their efforts on branding, focus on treatment room RevPar (which unlike the hotel industry, spa revenue does not and should not only come from treatment rooms but rather work stations), marketing, benchmarking, and other commonly used management techniques in the hospitality industry but have totally ignored what is the most important element of the service, the quality of the product (and I don’t mean a cream). It is as if in the F&B domain we considered that the quality of food was secondary to everything else. The reason for this is simply that the industry leaders for the most part have no real knowledge of the services their spas offer. Many even consider it below their dignity, or pay scale to acquire the technical knowledge essential to the success of their profession. Can you imagine if a restaurateur thought that preparing food, serving food or cooking food was beneath them?
Overall there are a number of trends that are emerging globally, the most important to date is the emergence of what is referred to as, “Wellness Tourism”. People choosing their vacation destination primarily based on the availability of spas or wellness centers and in many cases based on the quality of these centers. This movement will favor third world countries who either have a history of ancestral healing techniques or simply those who uninhibited by rules and regulations have determined their intent in being players in this arena and have made it easy for those interested in developing skills and knowhow. This is already visible in the flux of Europeans going to Asia or to countries like Morocco to find what they do not have at home: service with a smile, wonderful exotic environment at an affordable price. Europeans in the business are fully aware of this phenomenon but helpless to change their ways, laden down by protectionist and antiquated regulations and labor laws that are so rigid that they do not permit any modifications or adaptation to the new demands of the consumer base. In most of the western European countries the Wellness domain is jealously guarded by the medical profession and the corporatism mentality refuses to let anyone not in the medical traditional family enter the profession even when what is being seeked by the consumers is no longer within the realm of their expertise. Holistic approaches to wellness and treatments like massages that are based on energy flow and mostly an approach to customer care which is totally opposite to their understanding of it. In true European reaction to this type of problem they look to forbid, regulate and ask the justice department to rule against what is not in line with their perception of what the profession should be like. As a result those who can will go elsewhere.
In Asia the mistake that is being made is in thinking that what is done in the West is better and some have been tempted to emulate spas from America and sometimes from Europe as well. The same thing has happened in North Africa. Tunisia for instance, prompted by the French who desperately wanted to export Thalassotherapy have seen their spa clientele melt as butter in the sun to the delight of Morocco who understood quickly that tourists from Europe were looking for exotic cultural experiences and not what was the remains of what Europe has been selling for over a century: primarily water based therapies. As Asia became recognized as the leader of the new spa culture, many of the exceptional technicians have been exported throughout the world. As a result many spa operators, mostly in hotels have gone out of country to find trainers; many of which came from Australia and Great Britain. In the process losing their advantage as those trainers lack the intrinsic knowledge of Asian healing and have introduced western idiosyncrasies in the delivery of treatments, particularly massages. I experienced this recently at one of the most luxurious properties in Bangkok. I found that the traditional Thai massage that I received was not only bad but could hardly even be considered a traditional Thai massage. Half way through my treatment I asked the young Thai therapist who was working on me, “what she was doing” and she said, “Thai massage as you requested sir”. And I replied, “I signed up for a traditional Thai massage and this is nothing like it?” The therapist answered, “I am sorry sir but this is the way I have been trained to give the massage”. (Not in Thailand for sure) “So who taught you this? “I replied. And she went on to explain that the spa had hired a company from the UK and this was the way they insisted that the massage be performed.
The use of spas as a means to better health and wellbeing is very much at the forefront of interest in the Eastern European continent, and fortunately in most cases those former USSR countries have preserved their cultural interpretation of implementation: the Banya tradition in Russia, Ukraine and some of the Baltic states while Hungary continued to entrench itself in Thermalism and Romania, Bulgaria, Austria in Medical spas with an emphasis on water based treatments.
To complete this world review of what is happening I will finish with the Americas; divided by the US influence, found in Canada and Mexico and the rest of the Americas, Central and South. The US spas still are for the most part extensions of beauty salons catering mostly to women. American spas have ridden the fitness craze and many spas in the US belong to the health club variety. The holistic spas are becoming more and more in demand with a change in the perception of wellness and a new interest in what is still referred to as alternative medicines and disciplines. The big negative comes from a cultural hang-up over nudity and a permanent obsession with sex which explains why a full body massage in these spas treat only 2/3 of the body and the most important part of the massage is draping rather than actual proper execution of massage strokes. This will prevent spas in the US from competing with the rest of the world as the spa goers in the US become more savvy and educated in the international spa culture. Canada and Mexico for the most part have emulated US spas. In Central America the Yankee influence is still there but there is a beginning of wanting to be different as they turn to Asia and in some cases to Europe for role models to copy. Brazil on the other hand is favoring the medical spa approach and mostly rides the esthetic surgery reputation it has acquired through the world reputation of the likes of Dr. Pitanguy.
This brief overview of the Industry at large tells a simple story: just like in the food and beverage industry there are and will continue to be opportunities for those interested in the spa industry, and there will be multiple ways to get involved, not just one way decided by a government or a culture. The tastes and perception of quality of the clientele will drive the future of the industry and as the world gets smaller the competition will increase and hopefully only elevate the spa industry on a global scale.