The wellness market spells big opportunities for hotel spas, and the million-dollar question is whether pandering to today's exotic and even bizarre trends will help your bottom line. Rosalind Mullen reports
Tibetan singing bowls, ice caves and custom-made edible body scrubs are the norm in some hotel spas. Indeed, if you've only just opened a tepidarium, you need to wake up and smell the eucalyptus tea.
In short, spas are evolving. The new wellness movement takes a holistic approach, embracing meditation, Nordic walking and even digestion. Many UK hotel spas have very un-British-sounding outdoor hot tubs, hydrotherapy pools, colonic irrigation and mud rasul treatment rooms. Sceptics say such investment is a waste of money as most hotel guests opt for a massage or a manicure. Many experts would disagree.
Catherine Whittle, owner-director of consultancy Spa Partners, argues that differentiating is a crucial marketing tool: "I believe you need new ideas to get the spa name out there.
"Hotels with spas need to embrace trends and explore new markets to bring customers, both domestic and inbound, to their hotels.
This will help persuade customers to stay longer and spend more, thus impacting revenues and room trevpar [total revenue per available
room]," adds Whittle.
The truth is hotel spas are big business. According to Spafinder, which offers marketing partnerships to spas, the industry grew 46% in the UK between 2007 and 2013, and wellness tourism is up 11.8%. And Global Wellness Institute says that global wellness tourism is a $494b (£324b) market
It's perhaps surprising, then, that Lifehouse hotel and spa, in Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, which won the UK Spafinder Wellness Travel Award 2014, is one of the few UK hotel spas offering wellness breaks - including food intolerance testing, myotherapy and bespoke
therapies for those suffering from cancer or bereavement.
"We need to get on the back of it. It is an international opportunity that needs to be embraced," says Whittle.
But with hotel spas competing to unveil ever more dramatic treatments, what is the potential return on your investment? Whittle cites Donnington Valley hotel, where she opened the health club and spa in 2007. The owners doubled the number of bedrooms to 111 and
invested £5m in a state-of-the-art spa. Within a year, hotel turnover had doubled and the spa is now turning over £1m annually.
Indeed, spas can account for at least 10%, often more, of a hotel's revenue. Whittle reckons that Rockliffe Hall can track more than 20% of revenue back to its spa, while for Chewton Glen it's about a third. Center Parcs has invested £20m and payback is six to seven years.
The Isle of Eriska hotel, spa & island has just opened a £1m state-of-the-art thermal suite, with sauna, steam room and rasul mud room.
They join the 17-metre indoor swimming pool, which opened in 1992. In March, two treatment rooms will open, as well as a new life fitness gymnasium, followed by a casual dining restaurant in April. Owner Beppo Buchanan- Smith says it will enhance the hotel as a destination spa, with the return on investment expected to be 10%.
At Pennyhill Park - owned by Exclusive Hotels and Resorts - general manager Julian Tomlin says the spa is responsible for 25% of the five-AA-star hotel's income (see panel, opposite).
"I do think having a spa makes running a hotel easier," he says. "You can be successful without it, but it broadens the reach into other markets. And it helps to improve rooms yield during softer periods, such as after Christmas and New Year."
Exclusive Hotels and Resorts is now set to develop a second spa, at a cost of £7.5m, at its South Lodge hotel in Lower Beeding, West Sussex, believing that it will drive leisure business to the property as it has done for Pennyhill Park, where occupancy has grown from
59% during pre-spa days to 70% today.
One pitfall is to mismatch facilities to the target market. If you want to keep families happy and provide lane-swimming for locals, you will need more than one pool. You also need enough treatment rooms and space to cope with full occupancy on a Saturday night.
Running costs need to be factored in too. At Pennyhill Park, up to 7,000 towels and robes are washed a week, while heat cabins are
switched on at 5am and off at 9.45pm.
According to spa manager Darren Dixon, seasonal requirements help to balance the bills out - but obviously business will need to be brisk to pay them.
As Whittle says: "The UK spa market is very competitive and it is those who have a robust marketing and PR strategy and who constantly reinvent themselves and launch exciting products and packages who are winning customers."
Those Tibetan singing bowls could be very handy indeed.
Top spa and wellness trends
Independent spa marketing consultant Catherine Whittle (right) of Spa Partners has picked four trends identified in the Spa and Wellness Forecast 2015 report from Spafinder Wellness 365, which she believes will take off in the UK.
Forest bathing: mindfulness meets nature
This comes from the Japanese concept of "quietly walking with mind intent on the sounds, scents, colours and feel of the forest".
In the UK, treehouses are gaining popularity, with Chewton Glen offering customised massages in its treehouse suites. Similarly, the Herb House spa and terrace at Lime Wood hotel in the New Forest overlooks the trees.
In April, Alton Towers hotel spa is set to open its Enchanted Village, which includes five luxury treehouses sleeping eight people, priced at £650 a night, and 120 woodland lodges. And the 16,500 sq ft spa opening later this year at the Coniston hotel and country estate will maximise views over the Yorkshire Dales and a 24-acre lake.
Outdoor facilities are also being developed to meet guest demand to get closer to nature. The Y Spa at Wyboston Lakes hotel has a combined indoor and outdoor pool, and Moddershall Oaks in Staffordshire launched its new outdoor facility last year with a 25 sq m vitality spa pool and a Finnish kelo sauna cabin with scented wood, feature showers and outdoor log fire.
The report points out that musculoskeletal, obesity and mental issues can hit blue-collar workers the hardest. It predicts there will be more wellness programmes, such as massage breaks, designed for them in the future. In the meantime, white-collar workers are benefiting.
Blue-chip companies such as Marks and Spencer, Starbucks and some City banks now give spa and wellness vouchers as part of their employee benefits schemes. Center ParcsSpa recently hosted a corporate retreat for 200 people for two nights. This trend provides a big opportunity for hotels with conference and spa facilities to fill unsold rooms midweek.
The rise in the numbers of people living alone and working longer hours has caused a loneliness epidemic. People now see exercise as an opportunity to socialise. Yoga, pilates and other gym classes are popular. This spells an opportunity for hotel spas to broaden their local customer base. Spa days and spa breaks could be aimed at single people. Work out what this singles market might want - for instance, group workouts, dance lessons - or just make your spa accessible and friendly. Hand Picked's Rookery Hall Hotel in Cheshire, won the 2014 Good Spa Guide award for best spa to go to solo.
The evils of sugar and perils of obesity are in the news. No surprise then that one of the hottest trends in 2015 will be how to maintain a healthy gut to enhance immunity, resilience, happiness and beauty. Chewton Glen is already offering packages with colonic irrigation and Gleneagles has a treatment for bloated stomachs.
The full Spafinder Wellness 365 Spa and Wellness Forecast 2015 report can be found at www.spafinder.co.uk
From ice caves to warrior circuits at Pennyhill Park
When a 45,000 sq ft spawas added to Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, Surrey, 11 years ago, it was secondary to the 123-bedroom property.
Today, some 80% of hotel guests use it and it accounts for 25% of the business's income, with 70 to 120 treatments being completed a day.
General manager Julian Tomlin says: "It makes a good profit as well. We continue to reinvest what we earn because it is a legacy business."
Indeed, the £15m spa gets a pampering every year. In the past 18 months or so, £850,000 has been invested in refurbishing the spa lounge, ice igloo, sensory lounge, manicure area and herbal sauna, extending alfresco decking and creating a new spa laundry. New footbaths are being added. In March, the hot tubs and ladies' herbal steam room will be refurbished, followed by a new dry sauna in April. And in May, a covered walkway will link the hotel and spa.
Spa manager Darren Dixon reckons Pennyhill is already ahead of the curve with its indoor-tooutdoor hydrotherapy pool, three Canadian open-air hot tubs and a heated swimming pool. "We picked up on the northern European trend of wanting to sit in a natural borehole. Guests can start inside and swim outside," says Dixon, who has worked in the spa industry for 25 years.
The hotel also offers outdoor activities such as Nordic walking and warrior circuits. Altogether, there are 21 treatment rooms manned by 30 therapists, eight indoor and outdoor pools - one with underwater music - tepidariums, ice cave, laconiums, herbal saunas and a vast technogym fitness suite, and a studio offering 50 exercise classes, including kettlercise.
Even some of the hotel bathrooms sync with the spa - check out the horizontal shower. And in line with the trend towards local bespoke products, The Spa brand uses honey from Pennyhill'sown bees, and lavender, thyme and rosemary from the kitchen garden.
Do guests really need all this? "As wellness takes hold, people are increasingly aware of living longer and the need to look after themselves," explains Dixon.
"They see having a treatment every four to six weeks as a necessity rather than a luxury. People now come from different walks of life. And a growing market is men."
Dixon concedes that not everyone will use all the facilities, but believes they help with marketing. Images on social media are particularly
powerful. "Lots of people choose a destination because of the photo of the pool, but more people sit beside it than use it.
The colder the weather, the more fun the experience at Rockliffe Hall
The 61-bedroom Rockliffe Hall near Darlington may be in the chilly north, but it was the hotel spa guests themselves who said they would welcome an outdoor hot tub or pool to complement the spa.
When the 200 sq m spa garden opens in the autumn there will be two outdoor hot pools, including an infinity edge hydrotherapy pool with massage features and jacuzzi.
They will sit outside the existing spa, which the Good Spa Guide named as its best spa for sheer luxury in 2014.
The plans also include underfloor heated decking and lounging areas, a garden room with a glass-fronted sauna cabin, fire-pit, water feature, landscaped gardens and heated relaxation loungers. A range of new treatments and spa packages is being developed too.
Spa director Liz Holmes has described it as a major development for Rockliffe Hall. "The spa garden will make the resort the go-to place in the north of England as it is going to be the only one of its kind."
Forget the weather. In winter the garden room's windows can be shut, the fire pit lit and mulled wine or hot chocolate offered. "As in Scandinavian countries, the colder the weather, the more fun the experience," says Holmes.
She won't specify the price tag, but says about £1m is being invested in the hotel this year. The project is expected to boost average room rate, average spa day rate and visitor numbers and membership subscriptions. "We will also be offering package upgrades which include a garden room experience, which will make ROI easy to track," says Holmes.
The spa garden is also being used to draw new customers from further afield, as well as adding value - and differentiation.
"The garden room is a bookable space. This means it will make a perfect venue for a private group or a unique chill-out area for corporate delegates at the hotel," she says.
The hotel has already embraced at least one trend mentioned in the Spafinder Wellness report, with its private rasul mud treatment chamber and shower. This self-administered skin treatment is one of the wellness traditions from the Islamic world. Rockliffe also offers Tibetan sound massage and circuit training using mini trampolines.