The COVID-19 pandemic has taught hospitality industry executives several lessons over the past 18 months, some of which have made the industry—and continue to make it—stronger and more service oriented. Count spa directors among those who have learned and adapted, particularly in a post-pandemic world that is putting more emphasis on health and wellness.
“The past year has been stressful for everyone, and we are all looking for an escape and opportunity to release tension and rejuvenate our minds, spirits and muscles,” said Jerilyn Leavell, spa director at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. “There is an increased emphasis on wellness within the spa industry. This year we have created wellness rituals focused on a healthy body and peaceful mind that are highlighted in our Living Well section of our menu.”
Those offerings, according to Leavell, focus on private training sessions in the resort’s fitness facility and yoga studio. They are then combined with therapeutic treatments, guided meditation and relaxation time in a private, hydrotherapy bath.
“We want our guests’ muscles to begin to relax and their tension to melt away and their faces to feel refreshed after a year of mask-wearing,” said Leavell. “But more than anything, we want to be an oasis where our guests come to be pampered and feel like they are floating from one act of kindness to the next; where every question is answered before they even think to ask it; and every need is met before they even realize they have it.”
For many guests, one of those needs is skin relief from wearing facial masks. A new term, ‘maskne,’ was termed to describe acne on the face believed to be caused by hours of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Our Oxygen Infusion Facial is a terrific option for those whose skin was affected by masks,” said Leavell. “The protocols used within the facial release pure oxygen molecules into the skin, restoring the skin’s tone and vitality and offering a breath of fresh air for the face.”
The pandemic’s global lockdown, said Ashley Spurlock, director of Heavenly Spa at The Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, was a “reminder” that people desire to live balanced and healthy lives.
“It brought to our industry’s attention that we need to be better educators to the world, explaining how the spa lifestyle supports overall well-being,” said Spurlock. “Many things, of course, changed temporarily, such as hours of operation, closure of spa amenities and locker rooms, increased time between treatments, removal of self-serve food and beverage in exchange for more butler-style service of packaged snacks.
“Fortunately, depending on where the spa is located geographically, things are starting to work their way back to normal. At our location, we recently reopened our steam room and hot tubs, and masks are now optional for fully vaccinated guests with the exception of treatments that cannot be performed socially distanced.”
A few big changes the spa industry is experiencing, Spurlock said, is higher demand for services and nationwide staffing shortages.
“Many spa directors are now operating busier facilities without assistant directors or supervisors,” said Spurlock. “Like hotel management across the board, we are working harder and smarter as we wear the hats of receptionist, attendant, marketing director, recruiting manager, trainer, supervisor and revenue manager.
“As we perform these various roles, many resorts and hotels that previously had a 50/50 ratio mix of business and leisure travel, might now be at or close to 100 percent [leisure]. This one statistic— combined with the fact that people have not traveled or spent money the past year and they are tired of being stressed out—has been huge for spa demand. Our budgets are typically based off transient capture rate, so as you can imagine, we’ve been capturing a few more guests than usual. In fact, many spas are experiencing double-digit growth and are achieving greater than 2019 revenues.”
Due to the pandemic, the stringent sanitation procedures throughout Acqualina Spa by ESPA at Acqualina Resort and Residences in Sunny Isles Beach, FL, were increased to even higher levels and became more visible to guests.
“Previously, sanitation efforts were implemented in a very discrete way, away from guests’ views. Today, to reassure confidence in our guests, the sanitation procedures are more visible to guests visiting us,” said Catherine Davalle, spa director at Acqualina Spa by ESPA. “For example, we created new signage to reinforce this message. New sanitation protocols were also implemented, such as using electrostatic foggers throughout the spa facilities.”
With therapists wearing masks and the increase in sanitation procedures between guest’s visits, Davalle said turnaround time increased between treatments—leaving a 30-minute gap between appointments.
“As a result, it gave us ample time to sanitize the room and offer our hard-working therapists a break as they are working with a mask on at all times. The pandemic world has changed how we do many things at Acqualina Spa, and I believe that most of our new procedures will remain even after the world returns to normal,” she said.
So far, that return to “normal” means increased business at many high-end spas.
“For the past six months, we’ve experienced all-time revenue highs that exceed pre-COVID numbers,” Spurlock said. “I have more spa associates working now than before the shutdown—we’ve even converted a guest room into an overflow treatment room for couples.
“While other hotels saw their spas as a liability, my GM and our ownership team saw opportunity. They said, who wants to travel to a hotel where everything is shut down? So, we opened everything up, including the spa. Our initial plan was to open weekends, but as the only spa operating on the beach, we were receiving overflow from other hotels and were open seven days a week within two weeks. Ever since, we’ve been riding the wave and we’re going to stay on top as long as we can,” concluded Spurlock.