A pina colada-scented massage beside a tropical tide pool, hot stone therapy beneath a golden Balinese canopy, a ritual bath in which water jets pulse to the strains of Vivaldi while multicolored lights dance among the bubbles.
These paradisiacal treatments are the signature and fantasy fuel of the ultra-luxurious destination and resort spas. While it's true the best spas offer extraordinary treatments and therapies, I've recently seen the emergence of personal touches that set a spa apart and meet the needs of the spa's world-weary clientele.
Research has shown that the recent growth in the popularity of spas is in part a reaction against the isolation of the modern world. We move from home to car to cubicle plugged into an iPod, cellphone and laptop. The result is a complete disconnect from play, surprise, daydream and magic, and the ineffable charms inherent in up-close-and-personal encounters with our fellow human beings.
In response to this new-age alienation, savvy spa specialists are creating myriad bijou services — small, but exquisite treats to infuse the spa experience with heart and soul. These “touchpoints,” as I think of them, can be incorporated throughout the client's visit at a lot less cost than, say, an aromatherapy waterfall wet room feature, but the payoff is nothing short of profound, raising customer expectations and securing their undying devotion.
Touchpoints should begin the minute the client walks into the spa. Even the smallest gesture — a friendly smile accompanied by a warm greeting during which the guest is called by name — can influence the guest's immediate frame of mind and the good impression she takes away at the end of the day.
Here are a few examples of touchpoints:
Extending the warm welcome to the platinum-level, Fairmont Hotels' Willow Stream Spas offer guests a complimentary footbath before spa treatment.
At the Miramonte Resort's The Well Spa, spa director Jennifer DiFrancesco came up with touchstones, gifting guests with small bags of special stones, each inscribed with a word, such as patience, harmony or joy. At the beginning of a treatment, the therapist asks the client to select a stone and then to focus their thoughts on the meaning of the word while receiving their service.
Locker room amenity bags can provide a double-duty touchpoint: a pretty kit filled with single-use-sized servings of branded deodorant, shampoo, conditioner and a comb is a thoughtful remembrance, a selling tool and a way to clear out the mess of full size amenities.
The St. Regis Monarch Beach has created a magical touchpoint whose value is really all in the client's head: after a treatment, the spa gives each client a bag of special coins to be deposited in the hotel's wishing well.
Post-treatment relaxation rooms offer multiple opportunities for touchpoints and they're good for a spa's bottom line as well, providing clients with a soothing transition time while freeing up valuable treatment room.
At the Herrington Inn in Geneva, IL, Tina Berger of WTS International designed a relaxation room that takes advantage of several high-concept but low-cost touchpoints including a Shiatsu chair, color-therapy glasses, relaxation CDs and calming scenery projected on a gel-screen monitor.
The spa goer's soul also takes nourishment via the chocolate-truffle or cocktail route. The Herrington offers guests a post-treatment “Pomtini,” a cocktail of pomegranate juice, soda water and lime sherbet.
Along with a cool, frangipani-scented towel, the finale of a treatment at the Mandarin Oriental Kahala on the Big Island in Hawaii is an icy glass of herbal infused ice tea, a cool towel and a delicate, island-flavored cookie.
The Century Plaza's Spa Mystique provides a complimentary spa lunch between treatments, which not incidentally provides a low-cost incentive for guests to take multiple treatments. After all, you do need two appointments in order to require lunch in between.
So, the next time you find yourself bemoaning a budget that prohibits the glamorous gadgets and exotic settings of the destination spa resorts, turn on a touchpoint. They can and should be a source of relief not only for your guests but also for you. True, the Ritz Carlton Cancun has the dual advantages of luxury and locale, but what I've never forgotten from my visit there was that while working out in their cardio room, an unbidden attendant passed through with a cool, scented towel for me.
In the end, Touchpoints are ways to let your guests feel the love. Cool towels, warm robes, tea and sympathy are love songs any spa can play to give clients a five-star destination spa experience every day of the week.
Polly Johnson is vice president for SpaEquip Corporate Accounts Division. Formerly known as Hydro Spa Consulting, SpaEquip offers technical spa consultants during the design phase and are a FF&E and OS&E procurement company for many of the world's finest destination and resort spas. Johnson has managed many spas including Fairmont Resorts, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Marriott Resorts, Westin and W Hotels. Johnson has also published several articles in American Spa Magazine, Archi-Tech, DermaScope, American Salon and with the Day Spa Association.