Quick Q&A with Sue Harmsworth of ESPA

• BHN: In terms of consumer trends, what do guests expect from a hotel spa, and how are their expectations evolving/changing?

SH: Many years ago spas were the domain of the affluent; then as their popularity grew and consumers travelled more they became available to a much broader market as a treat or a gift. Now we are seeing spa-goers with higher expectations and a new generation that have to cope with work stress and environmental factors. They are not just looking for a holiday with massages; they want sophistication, knowledge and to learn how to eat well, live longer and stay healthy. On the treatment front, we have noticed a shift towards results-orientated efficacious treatments. In resorts, spa-goers are looking for longer, more involved treatments – hour-long and 90-minute treatments are increasingly popular again. Grooming is increasing again, personal training and men’s treatments account for 40% of our business.

• BHN: What are the essential offerings for a boutique hotel spa, particularly one with limited space?

SH: The smaller the spa, the more important the basics become and a cleverly designed space with well thought-out efficiencies is essential.  In brief, the consumer will demand privacy, comfort and exceptional therapies delivered by very well-trained therapists. Even in smaller spaces, quality and comfort should never be compromised. There is not necessarily a need for elaborate spa journeys with heat and water facilities, but every experiential encounter should provide treatments that deliver results, the finest quality natural products, personalised services and a memorable, beautiful, relaxing environment.  The design and treatment menu will depend on whether it is city or resort and the cultural and geographic region.

• BHN: How can hotel spas become more appealing to male guests?

SH: The spa arena needed to become unisex quite some time ago to attract what is now up to 50% of their business from male guests.  This is achieved through gender neutral, stylish design, clear and concise menus, male-specific products and treatments and men’s-only facilities such as heat experiences and hot pools. Men are often introduced by their partner and so often we see their first visit being a couple’s suite experience. The fitness offering is also very important – not necessarily huge gyms but personalised, well trained staff with a philosophy that mirrors the spa and can be individualised to each person regardless of their level of fitness.

• BHN: How influential are brands on guests’ decisions over spa use, in terms of products used and overall spa branding?

SH: In our experience, guests are understandably cautious when it comes to using unknown brands on their skin due to concerns about efficacy and quality of a product.  Today’s consumer seeks a brand they know and can trust, with proven results.  Therefore we see a spa product brand as a critical influencer in the decision making process, even when selecting the hotel itself.  The sophisticated spa user will go for trusted brands because it is not just the product and treatment training that is important but the whole team training in hygiene, customer care, training the business model, SOP’s, KPI’s etc.  The end result should be a seamless experience for the guest.

• BHN: How do you envisage the hotel spa of 2034 will look and what services will it offer?

SH: The spa industry is highly consumer driven and we believe that the industry will have more defined segments to meet the growing demand for different types of spa.

These segments will each themselves serve the need of the individual.  We suspect the segmentations will resemble the following:  amenity, city-centre spa, clinics, destination spas with resorts, wellness destinations, beauty salons and medical clinics for more invasive procedures and other surgeries.  This range of spa treatment will meet the needs of both the time poor looking for ‘rush hour’ treatments to the social areas created as more people opt to spa together in groups.

As demand grows for all-round wellness, we can see that hotels will attempt to incorporate a more holistic, wellness approach. This will be very difficult for hotels to deliver effectively to the guest due to the cost of extra specialists (nutritionist, naturopath, acupuncturist, and personal trainers) and the requirement for consistent level of service across all disciplines. For this to succeed in the long term, a high level of investment will be required to compete with the rise in popularity of the new spa and wellness destination retreats. These destination retreats will increase in demand as integrative medicine becomes more important.  As international health systems fail, individuals will begin to take greater responsibility for their own health and will seek complementary and alternative therapies for long-term health benefit.

Technology in the industry is still an ongoing debate!  The addiction to technology and sleep disturbance and other psychological side effects it has, will either cause a backlash against visible technology in spas or it will be incorporated in more subtle ways than at present.

Certainly advanced technology and eco-friendly methods of construction are already becoming more important and will continue to be so in the future.

Sue Harmsworth is the founder of ESPA. She has been involved in the spa world for most of her professional life, helping define the concept of the modern spa and anticipating by decades the trend for holistic treatments and natural products.


Be in the know.

Subscribe to our newsletter »