Authenticity of wellness and financial models among key discussions at WSW Asia 2018

The World Spa & Wellness Convention made its Asia debut in May, with a conference and brand showcase that attracted more than 300 delegates.

Held at the JW Marriott Hotel, Phuket, Thailand, on May 21–22, the event welcomed chief executives, directors and managers from the international spa and wellness sector.

The conference was supported by headline sponsor LPG. The Thai Government also supported the event, which was attended by Dr Tares Krassanairawiwong, deputy permanent secretary, Ministry of Public Health. Topics included the latest in technology and digital innovation, creating a benchmark for industry salaries, the issue of sexual harrassment in spas, and managing clients’ expectations around wellness.

The opening keynote was given by Krod Rojanastein, who runs the renowned Chiva-Som resort and is also president of the Thai Spa Association. He spoke about how the spa and wellness industry has truly staked its claim in Asia Pacific before handing over to the day’s second keynote, Matthew Allison, founder of fitness operator Space Cycle.

Allison pointed out that in the fitness sector the market is strong at both the luxury and budget ends, but the mid-market operators are being squeezed out. He predicted that the same will happen in the spa sector. He suggested that hotel spas which can’t offer the added value that comes with the highest price points, but can’t afford to offer a budget spa option, may even be better placed making links with a local day spa rather than offering a mediocre, mid-priced spa.

This issue was also addressed in the “Everyone is talking wellness” panel discussion, where chair Niamh O’Connell, group vice president of wellness at Rosewood Hotels, made the point that spas need to be more honest about how they promote themselves because most can’t deliver the sort of in-depth wellness programmes that spas like Lanserhof and Gwinganna do.

Emma McGrady, group director of spa for Australian group Crown Spas, took the discussion even further during a later panel on future industry trends, suggesting that many mid-range spas are damaging the reputation of the industry by overpromising and under-delivering on wellness.

For those spas operating at the luxury end of the market, justifying their price point with superior and consistent service, the path to success is still not straightforward, explained Tod Hewitt, head of spa for Shangri-La, during an insightful panel on how to achieve customer satisfaction.

He spoke about the ways in which some spa ratings and benchmarking organisations are damaging the market at the top end because their rating systems are too rigid. For example, he mentioned that to receive the highest scores, some insist that all magazines in reception must be in leather-bound folders, whereas for some high-end spas such a formal approach doesn’t match their ethos, so they face a choice of whether to reject the ratings system or compromise on their brand values to comply.

Summing up the message of the convention, Mark Moloney, managing director of M Squared Media, which owns World Spa & Wellness, said, “Do spas have an automatic right to justify their space within hotels? The discussion around this topic told me that the industry has reached a new level of confidence and maturity.

“The focus on value, service excellence and authenticity showed that our profession can justify increased investment as well as help with lifestyle challenges facing consumers the world over. Thank you to all speakers and delegates who in one meeting have made World Spa & Wellness Asia a must-attend industry gathering.”

Kathryn Moore, managing director of consultancy Spa Connectors, who organised the Asia programme, added: “This was the first event of this size and quality in Asia, which is why I feel so many people wanted to attend. I could see that they were pleasantly surprised with the calibre of speakers and the quality of the content.”

In addition to a packed conference programme, the event featured a showcase of selected spa suppliers. Joining headline sponsor LPG on the exhibition floor, were well-known spa brands such as Aromatherapy Associates, Gharieni, Oakworks, Phyt’s, Biologique Recherche and more. The event also had a media partnership with AsiaSpa.

World Spa & Wellness Asia also featured unrivalled networking opportunities, from a glamorous gala party to a schedule of one-to-one meetings that brought buyers and suppliers together. During lunch, guests were encouraged to rotate between a series of tables to make sure they spoke to as many new business contacts as possible.