Here to Stay: 2020 Spa Innovations Sticking Around for 2021
By: Ryan O'Gara

LAST SPRING, AS THE COVID-19 CRISIS WORSENED AROUND THE GLOBE, spa leaders raced to assess the ways in which the pandemic would affect their businesses and how they would respond. To say that the situation was fluid would be a massive understatement. Flexibility and adaptation became necessary on an unprecedented scale. Nearly a year later, the widespread operational changes ushered in by COVID-19 are no longer novel. Instead, they are simply a matter of course, so much so that they could almost be recited from memory, like a mantra intended to ward off transmission of the world-altering virus. Heightened sanitation protocols. Overhauled pre-arrival processes. Reimagined guest experiences. The list, of course, goes on and on.

But soon, as those adaptations became standard practice and spas reopened, many spa leaders realized that some of the adjustments that they had made in response to the pandemic could be worth keeping in place, even under normal circumstances. Still others made use of the closures forced upon them by COVID-19 to speed up the arrival of treatments and services that they had been slow to add amid the pre-pandemic busyness. Now, those leaders are stepping into 2021 with a sharpened understanding of what worked well, what didn’t and what will likely stick around, even when COVID-19 no longer dominates every news cycle.

Let the Market Be Your Guide
In some cases, the need for creative solutions to problems caused by the pandemic hastened the implementation of plans that spas had been developing for months or even years. That was exactly what happened at The Spa at the Bellmoor in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

“I come from Manhattan, where, in hotel properties I’ve managed, the spas always had in-room massage,” says Heather Pleasants, spa director at The Spa at the Bellmoor. “So when I came in five and a half years ago, the ?rst thing I said was, ‘Let’s do in-room massage.’ They were all for it, and we had it kind of on the list to develop, but COVID sped all of that up.”

When the spa reopened in mid-June, Pleasants adds, the high level of guest demand for in-room massage made the decision to pivot fairly straightforward. “For us, what has dictated the initiatives that I’m going to be implementing at the end of November and December [of 2020] and then in 2021 was what the market was telling us. We quickly ascertained that [in-room massage] was one of the things that we wanted to offer.”

As Pleasants and her team worked on developing strict protocols for how they would safely deliver in-room services to hotel guests, demand remained high. They redoubled their efforts to move the launch of in-room massage from January to late November in an effort to provide peace of mind to guests who may have balked at entering the spa, which is open to the general public as well as hotel guests.

“Whatever makes the hotel guests for this period feel comfortable is something that we’re happy to offer. We understand that some people don’t want to go to the hotel spa, or they’re just more comfortable in their hotel room, or they want the intimacy of having that in-room experience.”

The market guided Pleasants in more ways than one as she looked toward 2021, however. After noticing that guests were booking longer services, she led her spa to increase the length of massages. When guests began inquiring more frequently about CBD products and services due to increased stress and anxiety, The Spa at the Bellmoor introduced new CBD lines and add-ons to their offerings. Pleasants credits these adjustments with the spa’s better-than-expected performance since reopening.

“We know through this pandemic that anything can change at any moment, but the last three or four months has been unbelievable for us, so we just hope we can keep up with this trend.”

A Focus on Everyday Wellness
At Tricoci Salon and Spa, the pandemic presented a similar opportunity to kickstart an already-planned shift in some of the company’s marketing and services. “People tend to look at day spas as a luxury, something they do to treat themselves,” says Jamee Taylor, the company’s vice president of spa and retail. “Our goal was to make sure that the guests use us as something that’s important to their everyday lifestyle, so they understand that it’s okay to visit us more than just when you want to pamper yourself.”

Part of that shift included a newfound focus on athletic performance, recovery and day-to-day wellness, which Taylor notes are not necessarily what existing guests have come to expect from the Tricoci brand. However, Taylor is confident that, in a world increasingly conscious of the importance of a more complete approach to wellness, these new offerings will allow her company to broaden its reach as it heads into 2021. “We’re definitely hoping to capture that additional guest who probably didn’t think of Tricoci Salon and Spa as being able to support their active lifestyle,” says Taylor.

Among Tricoci’s new offerings are a percussive massage treatment and stretch therapy, both of which are geared to-ward the active guests Taylor describes. The spa is also planning to introduce a cupping massage treatment in 2021. Of course, simply adding new services to your spa’s menu only goes so far. The team at Tricoci Salon and Spa knew that these newly introduced treatments would have to be presented in a clear and thoughtful way to their audience.

“We want to get the message out to our people that we can support those other things beyond that luxury experience,” Taylor says. “It was a challenge for all of us and our marketing team to wrap our brains around what this looks like. It’s about making sure the guest understands the treatment. Our guests are used to coming in and putting on a cushy plush robe and going into the treatment room, and this is different. We’re asking them to maybe come in in their workout clothes, so that’s a total change from what our guests are used to. We want them to feel comfortable and maybe reach people who have never come to us before.”

Be Ready to Flex
Treatment menus aren’t the only things that are going to look different for a lot of spas in 2021. For many spas, adjust-ments to everything from training practices to financial approaches have been reappraised and reimagined. Spa Gregorie’s Day Spas and Salons in southern California have prioritized that kind of flexibility on all fronts in order to get through the pandemic, a philosophy that Scott Duncan, president of Spa Gregorie’s, believes will remain in place well into the new year. And nowhere is that flexibility more important, Duncan points out, than when it comes to the spa’s finances.

“Right now, our whole perspective is ‘Spend less than we make.’ That sounds so simplified, I know, but the bottom line is that what leads us now is not the ebbs and flows,” Duncan says. That approach has necessitated not only an unfortunate reduction in staffing, but also a totally different mode of forecasting. Where once it might have been acceptable, for example, to take a loss one month because that revenue would have been made up for in December, those kinds of assumptions are simply no longer safe to make. “We don’t look at it that way anymore,” says Duncan. “We’re playing this almost week by week at this stage of the game. To actually nail down a forecast is going to be a huge shot in the dark. We’re looking at our numbers daily right now. This is not a forecasting for 12 months, this a daily forecasting almost. You have to be extraordinarily creative. It was a shock up front but now that we’ve been doing it for almost nine months, we’re getting the idea.”

One way that Spa Gregorie’s has gotten creative is with the use of their outdoor spaces, something that spa owners and operators throughout California grew accustomed to while indoor services were off the table due to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. Until now, those outdoor spaces have taken the form of temporary tenting and cabanas at Spa Gregorie’s, but Duncan says he’s hoping to replace those with permanent installations so that the spa will be ready if services have to be performed outdoors in winter. “That’s one thing we’re strongly looking at and trying to get permis-sion from our property managers and move in that direction regardless of COVID-19,” he says.

Even more critical than an altered forecasting plan or the addition of outdoor treatment spaces, Duncan notes, is con-tinuing the work of making spa staff feel heard and cared for as the stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic continues to last into 2021. “Beyond being creative or looking for options for hands-free services and all that, I think, is keeping your own spirit up and your staff’s spirit up, because it’s so easy to go inward and feel sorry and have pity for your own situation,” says Duncan. “But there are so many people having mental health issues because of [the pandemic]. I started realizing that my team around me was starting to collapse, and we decided to have meetings to pull people together and say, ‘Look, this is creating a lot of anxiety. Let’s just talk about it and let’s come to the under-standing that we’re all here for each other. We wanted everybody to know that we’re here to support [them].”

To call 2020 an unprecedented or challenging or difficult year is a spectacular failure of language. It’s not that the words aren’t accurate, it’s that no set of synonyms could ever convey what it really felt like to navigate the ever-changing reality of day-to-day life for most of last year. For the spa industry, 2021 hovered in the distance for months on end, like a pillar of fire to be followed in the hope that it would lead us out of what sometimes felt like an endless march through the desert. But amid all that doom and gloom, leaders across the spa industry rejected the notion that they were powerless against the forces of nature that seemed to plot against them. Instead, they went to work. They got creative. They innovated and adapted. The individuals and spas referenced in this article are just a few out of thousands who have devoted so much of their time and effort to serving their guests more effectively than ever. And because of all they’ve done, the spa industry stands ready to step into 2021 with every hope of making it a year to remember for all the right reasons.