Getting the cruise ship spa concept right
Creating a successful spa experience on a cruise ship is hard work for all team members involved.
There are no extra resources available for peak hours, changes in schedules, increased demands from VIP guests or when a therapist is sick, which is why you need a team that’s grounded, highly organised and adaptable. You also need savvy spa managers who can set an example of how to deal with the rigorous demands of life at sea.
In 2015, the spa consultancy firm I work for, Raison d’Etre, launched its LivNordic spa concept on Viking Cruises, and now the sixth ship, Viking Jupiter, will set sail on February 16, 2019. The spa model has been hugely successful and it’s because it provides authentic Nordic treatments and experiences, including a first-of-its-kind sea-bound snow grotto, in a high-class cruise environment with exceptional customer service.
But, of course, there have been challenges along the way and these have been completely different to the issues you might experience when launching a spa on land, requiring much more planning and foresight. For example, depending on the type and length of the cruise, your ship will dock in many countries, travelling through different time zones. As such, you need to be highly organised and forward thinking to manage the logistics of inventory and staff rotations. You can be faced with everything from changing port regulations and restrictions to delays in deliveries and staff arrivals, all happening on a daily basis.
Severe storms can also influence which treatments your team are able to perform and which they shouldn’t – because they could cause sea sickness in both guests and therapists. This means your booking schedules need to be more fluid than on land, and as such, you need a spa manager who can handle and negotiate guest demands during these unforeseen events.
Striking a balance
Storms, as well as politics, can change docking itineraries at the last moment, meaning guests may suddenly flock to the spa during an unexpected sea day. This can influence when deliveries are scheduled to arrive at the ship and delay planned embarkation of new crew members. Your spa operation needs to have the capability and experience to be able to adapt to this kind of change effortlessly and will require quick decisions to keep it running efficiently.
However, one of the most time-consuming aspects of running a spa onboard a cruise ship is staffing. Contract duration is, on average, six months, so there’s an almost constant rotation of therapists that need induction, training and support to find their sea legs. Added to this are the human resources (HR) and admin requirements around safety, visas and transportation coordination, which require a dedicated HR department working closely with a spa manager strong in administration.
There’s also the management of the on-board spa team to consider. Therapists living in close quarters with the cruise staff, often sharing accommodation, need a high level of empathy and consideration.
Although working on a cruise ship offers all the excitement of seeing the world and being able to save money while travelling, it also means long working hours, little personal space, and constantly being subject to changes in schedules and working conditions.
There are some jobs that aren’t suited for everyone within the hospitality industry and working on a cruise ship is one of them. Because of these conditions, I’d suggest developing workplace wellness programmes that focus on your therapists’ wellbeing.
This involves balancing schedules to maximise spa optimisation, while giving therapists the time and opportunity to recover and recuperate. Training your spa managers to support fluctuating group dynamics will help, as well as getting them to host workshops in subjects such as conflict management and team building.
However, one of the greatest joys in establishing LivNordic spas has been to see how the demands of working at sea have allowed our managers to grow into strong, competent and skilled people with heart. Many have risen through the ranks and some have even moved to other roles to support our corporate cruise ship team – for example, helping sea-based team members find land positions once they decide they need a change.
Another aspect that has led to the concept’s success is our strong focus on emotional hospitality, which includes a training module on conscious touch, and this approach has created a team culture we’re really proud of.
Plus, given the often challenging working conditions of a cruise ship environment, we find ourselves with a high rate of staff retention and employee satisfaction. This was an important factor for Viking Cruises when we partnered, given its loyal clientele and long list of return guests. Launching spas on cruise ships has allowed us to create a really strong business.
Nora Forsberg joined spa consultancy firm and wellness think tank Raison d’Etre in 2014 and now holds the position of operations director for LivNordic, the company’s spa concept on Viking Cruises ocean vessels. Forsberg’s main responsibilities involve contributing to the business operations.