Serving the Wellness Focused Guest
By Josh Corman

IT CAN SOMETIMES BE DIFFICULT to pinpoint an aspect of the spa industry that has not been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. And though its impact has been almost entirely negative, the crisis we’ve experienced for more than a year and a half is not without the occasional silver lining.

A simple web search illustrates this point. Headlines such as “COVID-19 Prompts Increased Focus on Self-Care” and “COVID-19 Moves People to Focus on Their Personal Health” fill page after page of results. The pandemic has terrible in so many ways, but as once-in-a-generation events often do, it has also clearly caused a considerable amount of reflection— in this case, reflection about the importance of our overall health and well-being as individuals and as a society. Business Wire reports that 57 percent of Americans named health and wellness their top focus area for 2021, highest among their survey’s possible choices*.

How exactly this heightened focus on well-being will affect the spa industry going forward isn’t yet a settled matter, but it stands to reason that a population more attentive than ever to its own health can benefit immensely from the incredible array of treatments and services spas offer, even if parts of that population still view spa visits as merely occasions for pampering rather than opportunities to invest in their own well-being. Pulse spoke with three ISPA members to discuss the ways in which their spas are serving—and marketing to—guests whose concerns have evolved along these newly drawn lines. Beyond the Traditional

At Mirbeau Inn and Spa in Rhinebeck, New York, Spa Director Pamela Maes feels like her spa is well positioned to meet the needs of guests focused on their holistic wellness. The spa’s wellness membership program is designed to attract people living locally and give them the chance to incorporate more of those amenities that are often seen as “once in a while” treats into their regular health and wellness routines. “We didn’t make any alterations to our existing spa menu of services,” Maes explains. “But we did look to see what other services are we offering or should we be offering for our guests that may not be just massage-related or facial- related or body treatment-related…maybe something that’s an alternative people are expressing an interest in.”

Guest interest in, for example, smaller, more specialized classes led the spa to introduce classes designed for those who want a more intimate, personalized experience they can enjoy alongside their friends. As Maes notes, these classes have expanded beyond traditional group fitness offerings such as Pilates, cycling and yoga to include things like wellness counseling. In that class, guests work to define what wellness means to them so they can then, as Maes describes it, “Create a program for them to feel better about themselves or do better for themselves as well.” Other recently introduced classes focused on dance and movement, Tai Chi and meditation have diversified the spa’s offerings even further, giving wellness-conscious guests plenty of ways to keep themselves physically and mentally fresh.

One unexpected result of these expanded offerings at Mirbeau has been that the spa experience many guests now seek out is very different from what is typical. In the past, says Maes, “We very rarely had overnight guests taking our classes… but now people are signing up for two or three classes and wanting a variety.” Maes adds that the guests’ relationship to spa seems to be shifting. Instead of seeing the spa as a place for “zoning out and relaxing,” many guests now seem to want a “different level of engagement” from their experience, which often includes higher-intensity classes alongside more restful services and treatments. She suspects that some of this demand is rooted in many guests’ pent-up desire to enjoy a moment of connection and celebration with those close to them after the stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic—something that simply isn’t possible in a quiet relaxation lounge. “Instead of a bachelorette party where they’re just doing a massage, now they get to do some Zen yoga or a really fun dance class… now we have an outlet for them to be able to truly enjoy each other’s company.”

By expanding the definition of what a spa experience can look like and emphasizing the role that spa can play in an individual’s overall health and wellness, Maes believes her spa can reach a new set of guests while offering repeat guests new ways to enjoy their visits. Mirbeau’s marketing efforts, which have been targeted more at local guests than ever before due to the drop in guests traveling long distances to the property, have emphasized not just their new offerings but also the spa’s convenience to those guests less than an hour’s drive away. The spa has also hosted open houses where interested locals can learn more about the wellness membership program and see for themselves how the spa might serve their overall well-being. The result has been a sharp increase in the local, frequent spa visitor. “We have people we see nearly every single day. I feel like we’ve become their second workplace, where they’ve carefully blended their relaxation and wellness and work all into one really special, unique experience.”

Opening the Door
On the other side of the U.S., Daniel Spencer, director of spas at Sunstone Spa at Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage, sees this time as an opportunity to educate the typical spa-goer about how the spa might serve their health and wellness goals beyond the effects of a traditional spa service. “There are so many guests that are very use to a set regimen— here’s your facial; here’s your massage—and sometimes that’s as far as it goes. But there are all these little opportunities to open someone up to what different types of therapies are available,” Spencer says.

The alternative therapies and amenities Sunstone offers to guests include halotherapy, infrared-heated gemstones and zero gravity grounding chairs designed to remove EMF from the body (which the carpet in the facility also does). Though not all of these are part of the spa’s service menu, they have all been adopted at least in part with the wellness- focused guest in mind. By making guests aware of the myriad ways in which the spa might help them supplement or sustain their broader health and well-being, Spencer believes that their relationship to spa itself can transform into something much more robust and beneficial. The spa has even found ways to adapt more traditional amenities to have a clearer connection to guests’ health—mental health, in this case—goals. “We have a private spa pool, and we have two private cabanas that people can rent,” Spencer says. “What we did is converted one of the cabanas into a self-interactive meditation space. We have some meditation singing with some singing bowls; we have water arts—it becomes a little more playful. The feedback we get when guests came in is always positive. There are a lot of different ways you can squeeze self-care into [the spa experience].”

The cumulative effect of these offerings is that they significantly enhance the experience of a typical day pass spa guest seeking the greatest possible benefit to their overall well-being during their limited time on site. As Spencer notes, Sunstone—which features 11 treatment rooms and measures roughly 10,000 square feet—doesn’t have acres of land they can utilize to offer guests a large amount of outdoor, nature-focused experience, so finding ways to add more wellness opportunities (and more value) for guests can help not only attract guests but allow them to experience the best of what a spa experience can offer.

And like Pamela Maes at Mirbeau Inn and Spa, Spencer recognizes the benefit these services can provide to local guests, who qualify for reduced prices. “That gives us an opportunity to have more people coming in who have been to us before, and then when they find out that we have these different programs for locals, it allows them to work in those services a lot because they’re just around the corner. The feedback we’ve gotten from the guests that we’ve seen so far—it’s really positive.”

A Shifting Approach
Collecting and analyzing guest feedback is, of course, a crucial component of a spa’s programming and marketing efforts, and from what Trilogy Spa Holdings’ Vice President of Marketing Erin Stremcha has seen, spa guests are on the hunt for ways to serve their wellness needs, even if they don’t say so explicitly. “I don’t know that [guests] are necessarily communicating that they’re looking for a specific wellness service,” Stremcha says. However, she notes that services that include components guests perceive to serve a wellness function—vitamin C and CBD, for example—have been highly popular. “Guests are choosing [CBD treatments] over just a regular massage, even though it’s more expensive,” she says.

Stremcha also points out that, even though guests may not use the word “wellness” to explain why they are seeking out a particular type of service, marketing highlighting the wellness benefits of spa treatments has been effective because it speaks to the concerns about stress, fatigue and burnout that so many have experienced during the pandemic. “Am I playing on that from a marketing angle? Absolutely, because I’m meeting the consumer where they are when they’re booking. ‘I’m going to take care of myself’— that’s the kind of feedback we’re getting,” Stremcha says.

Despite COVID-19’s role in shifting attitudes regarding personal health and well-being, Stremcha notes that Trilogy spas have consciously pulled back from positioning their services as a response to the impact of the pandemic. “Guests were so sick of hearing about COVID that we cut [that messaging] off and made it wellness-focused from a standpoint of, ‘Come and take care of yourself.’ [COVID] is in their faces 24-seven. They’re trying to move past it.”

In addition to reducing the COVID-focused aspect of the spas’ marketing, many Trilogy spas have opted to lean away from the seasonal treatment offerings (and the marketing efforts that typically follow) in favor of emphasizing services and add-ons that may have a more obvious relationship to health and well-being in guests’ minds. “We moved off of the seasonal treatments… and started to focus more on the services that had magnesium, or CBD, or Himalayan salt. We moved more towards the wellness aspect,” Stremcha explains. That shift hasn’t just had an impact on the spas’ marketing, but also in the way that they approach guest education about treatments and their potential benefits. “We’ve moved away from the fluffy, fun piece of [education],” says Stremcha. In its place, she says, is a more outcome- focused approach that aligns with guests’ increased attention to how their spa routine might benefit their health overall.

For some spa leaders, it may seem like much of what Stremcha describes is par for the course. Spas have long touted the benefits of spa services to mental and physical well-being, after all. What may be changing, then, isn’t necessarily what spas offer guests, but how spas position those offerings and the lens through which guests are now equipped to view them: not as a “nice-to-have” luxury, but as a key part of maintaining their health and wellness at a time when they are more attentive to those things than ever before.