Resort + Recreation

This Month's Cover


Consultants & Other Industry Resources

Adding a Spa – Words from the Wise
By Mary Tabacchi

You may be considering adding a spa facility at your resort or club – a wise move. First, however, consider whether you should outsource the facility or build your own. Outsourcing will likely reduce your potential Return On Investment, especially if you are a larger resort or hotel, where economies of scale can provide advantages to managing your own spa. Be aware too that outsourcing means the introduction of a different culture to your resort, and you must seriously consider whether that culture or brand is parallel to yours in its level of service, offerings and goals. That said, if you cannot make the investment to learn what it takes to develop, market, and manage a spa, then you might want to consider outsourcing.

A reliable consultant can help you weigh the pros and cons of developing your own spa versus inviting a spa management company to handle it for you. Spas are costly to build, maintain and market. If you are truly serious about exploring the added value of a spa, a good first step is to obtain a trusted and knowledgeable spa consulting firm. Professional spa organizations or universities can provide leads for these contacts, and you’ll find some reputable firms here in the pages of R+R.


Spas are to resorts what swimming pools used to be to hotels and motels, and spas are now considered a necessity by many guests. However, just because you build it, they may not come. It is essential that you have a sound business plan, which includes market research as to what type of spa would best fit your resort.

Some consumers are very sophisticated regarding spa treatments, food and activities. There are those “purists” who want to only be exposed to the tranquility of spa life, to eat healthfully-designed, organic foods prepared in gourmet fashion, to exercise in undisturbed bliss, and relax and regenerate body, mind and spirit. Often these types of guests go to destination spas where they will encounter fewer distractions. Resort spas, on the other hand, offer many amenities in addition to an excellent spa. Some day spas, in clubs for instance, resemble their destination and resort counterparts. Advance marketing and merchandising must occur so that guests know what to expect, since exceeding guest expectations is accomplished more readily if guests have a clear picture of what you offer before they arrive.

Spas do not generate immediate ROI. Many destination spas take 5 years to break even, and some become profitable way after the five year mark. In the past, some resort and club owners have not held spa directors accountable for ROI. Growth of spas will continue during the next decade, and competition will increase. Spas that survive will undoubtedly be those whose directors are accountable for superb service, authenticity and profit.


Many hoteliers suggest that adding a spa that is correctly conceived, marketed and operated may increase occupancy by as much as 30 percent. Today’s guests value relaxation – the major reason a guest visits a spa is to de-stress! And, adding a well-received spa at your club or resort will increase your retail sales. Spa retail sales can make up as much as 40% of your revenues.


Spas are all about rest, relaxation, regeneration and reflection. When developing your spa be sure that these concepts are compatible with your overall facility. If you do obtain a spa management company to represent your resort, be sure its goals are compatible with yours. Conflicting organizational values can be the downfall of an outsourced resort spa. It may be necessary to isolate your spa from the remainder of the resort. This can be expensive. Some resort spas actually built an entirely separate lodging area in order to create a destination spa experience. In addition to construction, equipment, supplies, and staffing costs, other ongoing costs in operating a spa include energy consumption related to heated water, towels and laundry, pools and whirlpools, saunas, and steam rooms. Plus, you’ll have to maintain your relaxation and changing rooms.


According to an ISPA survey, growth of resort spas was about 147% in the two years starting in 1999. With new spas seemingly popping up everywhere, the need to clearly define your spa cannot be overemphasized. The lack of general standards can lead to vast differences in customer expectations. There are wide differences from spa to spa, and from resort to resort, so remember when you market your spa that spa patrons are interested in the process. They’ll have questions: What should they wear to a treatment room? Do they have a choice between a male or female therapist? Clearly define your spa menu, because it may be all “Greek” to even seasoned spa veterans.

Make sure your therapists and practitioners are good communicators. If you want to emphasize a warm stone massage, with stones from Japan, explain in your marketing materials why stones from Japan are important. Be clear about what your spa offers. Celebrate your uniqueness without diluting the authenticity of the true spa experience; establish standards and create your own brand. Remember, a brand is not simply a trademark, it is what’s in your consumer’s minds eye. To create a true brand, the human resources component is paramount. Treat your employees better than your guests - protect your excellent employees from overly demanding guests so they can represent your spa with great self-esteem and love. Spas are about love because guests come to spas to receive the healing touch.


When incorporating a spa into your resort, remember to carry it through to the whole resort. Consider what changes or additions you might want to make to your food service, retail sales and in-room amenities. Whether your spa is centered on rest and relaxation or offers more exhilaration and exercise, work to carry through the spa experience to touch on your other resort services.


The rate of growth the spa industry has experienced lately won’t continue forever. That’s not bad; it just means resort owners need to think beyond just having a spa, and they must begin to think competitively and creatively. We also must begin thinking about the next generation of spa goers, and what it takes to attract the 20-30 years olds. They relax in different ways than the Boomer or X-generation client might. This kind of thinking will enable us to continue growing our customer base.

Kid spas are another consideration where children grow up expecting resort spas to be part of their vacation plans. Some resorts spas have had multigenerational guests, where children return as a result of a kid’s program they experienced when their grandparents took them on vacation. And Medical spas will grow. A few forward looking resorts have instituted preventative medical clinics, and some have had medical clinics for a number of years. If one has to be poked and prodded, perhaps it’s more desirable to be examined at a luxury resort, where after your physical you can enjoy a spa treatment, or play a round of golf. There’s a world of opportunity right now for those with the vision and desire to consider adding what can become the most satisfying service amenity at their club or resort.