The spa industry, still in its infancy, is growing and maturing. Sometimes, it doesn't know where it's going, yet so many follow.

Just when we thought we could not get any more spa categories (resort, day, destination, hotel, salon, medical), we now have dog spas, anti-aging spas, skin spas, dental spas and wellness spas. What's next? Will someone come up with a low-priced spa for the masses, a la Curves?

Finally, spa owners are becoming more business savvy and developing sophisticated financial models. This is long overdue since many spas do not generate a profit. This has migrated into the hotel world, where in the past, spas were considered amenities and cost centers instead of profit centers. A large number of hotel properties have poorly run spa facilities that lack quality management and are bleeding financially.

One of my clients, Starwood Hotel, recently purchased Bliss for approximately $25 million, which shows how serious hoteliers are taking spas. Starwood will integrate the spa into its W brand hotels, and use the products as in-room amenities.

RETAIL REALITY

Additionally, they will have a retail component. Spas have become a staple in any luxury and mid-level hotel brand, even in the lower-end segment. I believe the hotel industry will yield many new trends in the spa industry, due to the fact that once every hotel has a spa, they will need to differentiate themselves from the competition. They also have the resources to invest in R&D versus the independent mom and pop operators. Starwood, Fairmount and The Ritz Carlton are all poised to be leaders in the industry. I would watch Starwood to be the leader in the area of innovation.

MANAGEMENT ISSUES

Manage the spa or outsource it. This is another hot topic in the industry. Many hotels like control of the spa facilities so they can make sure the guest's experience is managed in a way that is consistent with their brand. This takes a great deal of investment on the part of hotel companies that decide to go this route. Not only will they have to invest heavily in staffing and training, but they also will need additional support at the corporate level. This additional support would not just be for the spa department, but it would also be for educating the general manager about spa operations and what is acceptable, and integrating the spa into the other areas of the hotel operation.

By outsourcing, they would have an operator who is keen on profit-and-loss responsibility while also maintaining the standard operating procedures that the chain develops. This would be a win-win situation. The hotel would have the enthusiasm and dedication of an independent owner with operational guidance and innovation from the hotel's parent company.

The struggle lies in treating the hotel guest who might be a one-time visitor vs. the local customer who may frequent the spa, as well as making sure that the hotel guest can have preferential treatment for booking a room. This can all be overcome and will be discussed in a future column.

SOCIAL HOUR

The spa industry is seeing a trend toward more couple treatments because people like to share the experience with a loved one or a friend. Spas are finally providing space where people can socialize and not be rushed out for the next guest. Social spaces may include a relaxation room, restaurant or even a bar where a client can enjoy a glass of wine.

Spas are going high tech as well. Some busy spas have automated kiosk check-ins. When you check out, you can see every product that was used or applied during your treatment, and if you want to purchase it, it's just a click away. During the busy holiday months, spa employees walk around with portable PDA-like devices to assist with gift certificate purchases.

What I would like to see are fewer treatments on the spa menu. They look like those 20-page intimidating wine lists. Too much fluff on menus hurts the spa image. Come on now, you have the chocolate massage, the caviar facial, and the coffee grind scrub special. Let's get real.

We will discuss all this and more in future columns.


Glenn Colarossi is the president of Colarossi Spa & Health Club Consulting & Management. He has worked on projects throughout the world for five-star clients. He can be reached at 203 357-7555 or www.healthclubandspa.com.