Targeting New Audiences During COVID-19
by: Ryan O'Gara

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC FORCED SPAS TO ADJUST their strategies in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most im-portant consideration for spas was this: When the govern-ment allowed the doors to reopen, who would come to the spa? And more specifically, how will spas target those people to ensure that their business remains viable?

In this scenario, spas had to work backwards. Large-group gatherings and retreats were off the table at resorts because of the limits on the number of people in one space. The casual spa-goer may not have been as incentiv-ized either, out of an abundance of caution. So, which groups of people made the most sense? And what reason would those demographics have for coming to the spa?

In Member Perspectives this month, Pulse spoke to two spas who quickly figured out which groups of people were still interested in the spa experience, and just as impor-tantly, how to market their unique offerings to consumers.

Potosa Spa is located in Dubuque, Iowa in the Tri-State Area—close to the Wisconsin and Illinois borders. Though it is the 11th biggest city in Iowa, Potosa Spa discovered how to keep business humming during the pandemic by using its location to its advantage. Acqualina Spa, on the other hand, is located just 20 miles north of Miami in Sunny Isles Beach. It has beautiful views and the luxury environment perfect for a beach vacationer, and by tweak-ing a few offerings, Acqualina has been able to stay busy.

One spa is in the middle of the country and the other is on the water, yet both have maximized their opportuni-ties during the pandemic. Here’s how they went about it:

WEEKEND DESTINATION

The Potosa Spa—which is a 90-minute drive from Cedar Rapids and Madison, three hours from Chicago and Des Moines and five hours from St. Louis—has always been fo-cused on making the hotel and spa part of a weekend des-tination. They have done bridal shows and travel shows in Chicago, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines the past few years and worked with the convention bureaus and chambers of commerce.

That approach became especially useful this summer when the entire country, at one time or another, was forced to quarantine and avoid crowds. Many people who didn’t feel safe flying, which meant they couldn’t easily go to another part of the country. Travel became much more regional.

After a few months of the pandemic, those in crowded cities were getting a little stir-crazy and looking for a more remote environment to relax and unwind, and Potosa took advantage of the groundwork it had laid in marketing.

“I think that it all just kind of culminated this summer,” says Alexis Cabrera, the Spa Manager at Potosa. “When people were looking for a destination, maybe it was in the back of their mind, or they had heard of it, or they’d seen it at a bridal show. We are within driving distance, and we’re a really cute little resort town, so I think it’s really fun. It was a nice getaway for everyone.”

Potosa saw a big bump in business starting in June, and an even bigger one in July, before it finally tapered off near the end of August. Potosa did even more business during the pandemic summer months than it did in the summer of 2019.

“The demand was way higher,” Cabrera says. “When we reopened, we almost needed extra staff immediately because the demand was so high—especially for relaxing services, more than personal-care services. We’ve always been busy with that, but people wanted our spa packages. They wanted things like our baths and our body ceremony and things that weren't as easy to book last year. They were looking for an escape, I think.”

In talking with out-of-town guests, Cabrera noted that they were pleasantly surprised at the relaxed atmosphere at Hotel Julien Dubuque, where Potosa is located. Masks were required, but it wasn’t a stressful environment like in many places in the bigger cities.

Typically, about 60 percent of Potosa’s business is from local customers, and 40 percent is travelers. During the pandemic, those numbers have flipped to where 60 per-cent are travelers and only 40 percent is local. Looking ahead to 2021 when the pandemic may not have as great of an impact as in 2020, Cabrera says she is hopeful to see similar numbers from travelers.

“I hope the trend continues,” she says. “I hope that it will be word of mouth where they’ll go home and tell all their friends and want to come back. They said they had no idea that it was such a charming place to be in that the spa was so beautiful.”

Cabrera thinks targeting the bigger cities within driving range is a worthwhile strategy to spas with or without a pandemic.

“Get involved in the bigger cities,” she recommends. “If there are events there, go to shows and make yourself known. Go to some chamber meetings there and network. If it’s just a short drive away, get to know them.

“And then, when you do have guests come in from bigger cities, show off a little bit. Let them know what’s going on in your town, what’s going on in your spa and then showcase some of your local services.”

COUPLES SUITE

The Acqualina Resort and Spa has limited its menu since reopening, and that includes the Royal Spa Suite, which is for couples only. But the demand for the couples suite has been anything but limited, as it has been bringing
in needed revenue not only on the weekend, but on weekdays, too.

That was a little surprising at first to Catherine Davalle, the Executive Director of Spa at Acqualina. But then it started to make sense.

“I wasn’t sure about couples suite when you’ve already been locked down with your spouse for two months, but that has been their choice,” she says. “I think it’s just the feeling of being on vacation, even if you’re only maybe half an hour from home.

“People are longing to be together and escape because they can’t go anywhere. This is a nice escape for two to try to forget what is happening in the world.”

The Royal Spa Suite features a private lounge and an oceanfront treatment room with a steam shower for two and private wraparound balcony. It’s been perfect during the pandemic because it offers complete privacy. Guests can choose between experience of three hours, two hours or 90 minutes and varying levels of spa treatments, Champagne and lunch.

This sort of package has always been available at Ac-qualina, but it’s taken off during the pandemic. That’s because this suite is like a mini apartment where you can lounge, enjoy the view and feel like you’re on a trip without going anywhere.

“The renewal in interest is because people want to feel special, they want to feel their best,” Davalle says. “It’s been frustrating for so many months that right now, it is selling like hot pancakes. And a lot of spas haven’t reopened, so there are less choices.”

Davalle says Acqualina has tweaked the package a little during the pandemic. For example, the longest treatment available is two hours (down from three hours) as it gets more difficult for therapists to do long treatments with a mask on. As a substitute, though, guests get more time alone in the steam shower, in the lounge for food and drinks or on the balcony to look down on the water.

When quarantined with kids, the alone time for spouses is a valuable commodity. And that’s why this option has been so attractive. It is typically 100-percent booked, even when the hotel is only at 50 percent capacity. Those looking to book the couples suite have to book 2-3 weeks in advance.

Davalle estimates about 60 percent of the spa’s business is local. The majority who come are celebrating something like a birthday or an anniversary.

Since a lot of people want to get out of their house but also stay safe, this has been a great option for local guests.

“It’s all about creating some type of escape for our guests,” Davalle says. “It’s a very luxurious experience that they can’t find in other spas. Create that bubble where they can forget everything and enjoy each other’s company.”