February 28-29 saw the return of the Professional Spa & Wellness Convention, an annual event that has become one of the leading for the global industry, featuring two days of seminar sessions and networking.
Attracting leading chairs and speakers within and outside of the sector, the convention, which took place as part of the Professional Beauty London trade show and was hosted by spa consultant Jean-Guy de Gabriac, also drew a delegate base of senior spa and wellness professionals from around the world. Covering a wide span of topics that ranged from the practical to the aspirational, areas addressed included KPIs, human resources, spa leadership, advanced aesthetics, spa innovation and treating cancer patients in spas.
Among the skilled and experienced speakers were Daniel Friedland, president and chief executive of Super Smart Health; Jeremy McCarthy, group director of spa at Mandarin Oriental; Allan Share, president of the International Medical Spa Association and Day Spa Association; Jacqueline Kneebone, regional director of spa and retail at Morgans Hotel Group; Jeff Matthews, president of Steiner Spa Consulting and chief operating officer of Mandara Spa; Charlie Thompson, chairman of the UK Spa Association and; Amanda Roman Al-Masri, global director of spa development & operations at Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
In our summary of the content-filled convention, which saw 297 speakers, chairs and delegates take part over the two days, we have highlighted seven of the event's key themes:
- Spa on the go
“Mobility reigns,” as chair Andrew Gibson, vice president of spa and wellness at Fairmont Raffles Hotels and Resorts, explained in his introduction to the Spa: The Future is Now session. Today’s busy consumer, accustomed to nothing being further away than the click of a button, expect a smooth and seamless spa experience, including the spa coming to them if that’s what they want. It could be a case of iPad check-ins, allowing customers to take a seat somewhere comfortable while filling their details in, apps and mobile-friendly websites that let them book spa treatments on their phone or tablet, or services like US company Zeel, which can send a massage therapist to a person’s home within an hour of them making a booking. The common denominator: delivering spa service to clients faster and with less effort on their part than ever before.
- Good leadership = good business
Keynote speaker Daniel Friedland, whose company Super Smart Health offers leadership programmes, among other services, highlighted the difference between good and bad leadership. Good or creative leaders are, Friedland said, characterised by being achievement-oriented and getting results. They also relate well to people, care about their team, are self-aware, mentor well and are “in service of something larger than themselves”. Bad or reactive leaders, meanwhile, can be anything from too eager to please, arrogant or distant to critical, cynical or autocratic. Good leadership, Friedland added, matters not only because it produces happier staff that are more likely to stay but also because it has an impact on business. Research shows that negative leadership results in lower quality of goods and services, higher absenteeism and decreased profitability, while positive leadership generates higher productivity, greater customer satisfaction and increased profitability.
- Measurements matter
Assessing how well spa is preforming both on a small and a large scale, from individual businesses to national spa industries, is key to the healthy and continued growth of the sector and the businesses within it, as the speakers on the Spa KPIs panel outlined. Gustavo Albanesi, managing partner of Brazil’s Buddha Spa group, drew on KPI strategies from the business and said spas should use KPIs to improve their performance. KPIs are, he commented, a tool to help you figure out what is and is not working, draw attention to alternative routes and help you do better in the future. George Tavelis, president of the Cyrpus Spa Association, explained how the association’s first benchmarking study, carried out in 2015, has helped pinpoint the weaknesses and strengths in the island’s spa industry; allowing the sector to target improvements when it comes to the former and fully capitalise on the latter.
- Be cancer conscious
Making sure that patients with or in recovery from cancer are not refused treatment in spas, and that the treatments given are adapted to the needs the illness creates, is gathering global industry pace at the moment, and was addressed at the convention. Julie Bach, executive director of training provider Wellness For Cancer, encouraged spa directors to train their therapists on working with this clientele. There is, she said, “really no reason why every single therapist should not be trained on how to work with somebody with cancer”. Professor Marc Cohen, a Global Wellness Summit board member, pointed to the spa industry’s unique ability to make clients with cancer feel better and give them respite from their illness. “The spa is a place of connection,” he said. “There is no other industry that has such an intimate connection with its clients.”
- People power
Speaking as part of the Human Resources session, Jeremy McCarthy advised spa managers to focus on the positive to motivate their teams. Most of us, Gibson said, spend too much time addressing the negative; troublesome clients, things that have gone wrong in the business and mistakes that need to be rectified. While these areas should not be ignored, we ought to give more attention to the positive: to the business’s strength and what can be learned from its successes. Chair Jeff Matthews commented that motivating and nurturing your staff is one of the most important topics that can be addressed at an industry event. Matthews also emphasised great leadership, commenting that “people don’t quit their jobs, they quite their boss”. Other primary motivators for leaving a job is, Matthews said, not being recognised for the contribution you’re making, not being given sufficient support to do your job well and not growing professionally – making these key HR factors to address.
- The finance factor
The issue with budgeting, explained Amanda Roman Al-Masri, global director of spa development and operations at Starwood, “is not really the why – we understand that we need to do it – it’s really the what and the how”; understanding what you need to do and doing it effectively. Alexandra Charalampidou, director of financial performance at spa management company Resense, recommended spas to set clear and realistic financial targets and KPIs and to communicate them to their team, to measure daily and understand what it is you’re measuring and why, and to look at what you can improve on from the previous year. Charalampidou also suggested that spa managers “choose the four or five KPIs that are important to them, that they think they can drive, that they understand and that they can influence” and focus on those. She added: “I don’t believe in measuring everything”.
- Managing operations
The Spa Leadership session looked at how to manage key areas of the spa cycle, including pre-opening and keeping operations going. In her presentation on getting the pre-opening right, Morgans’ Hotels Jacqueline Kneebone returned to what was a key convention theme, developing and encouraging your staff. Kneebone advised spa managers and directors not to let your ego get in the way. No matter how hard you’ve worked to realise your vision of the perfect pre-opening, “it’s actually not about you, it’s all about your staff. Your main responsibility is to get them to opening date and make sure they’re motivated and confident,” she said. Liz Holmes, at the time of the convention national heath and beauty manager at UK health club chain Virgin Active, discussed the importance of allowing your staff to be heard, explaining that “it’s really important for your team to have a voice. And it’s especially important for them to challenge one another because that is the only way you can take a random bunch of people and turn them into a cohesive group moving in the same direction”.