Creating spa experiences outdoors

With nature-bathing a hot trend in spas, Matthew Mackaness, spa director at Rudding Park Spa in Harrogate, UK, outlines how to create outdoor spaces and experiences that are profitable, even in cool climates

Re-connecting with nature is growing in popularity – whether that is forest bathing, stargazing or simply relaxing in a beautiful space which makes the most of the natural surroundings. Taking time out to appreciate the outdoors can reduce stress and increase our sense of wellbeing.

There is something really special about being among nature. If you can incorporate this into your spa offering, it can help to create unique experiences, which guests are craving more than ever before. 

Using glass in the design of any structures allows guests to benefit and bring the outdoors in. Offering easy access from thermal experiences to the outdoors can maximise health benefits. And clever use of the landscape, so there is always something interesting to see all year round, can help make your outdoor offering popular all year. 

In the UK, Galgorm use the landscape really well with hot tubs along the riverside and its River House, which is raised on stilts to offer views over the cascading River Maine. Being able to hear and see nature is very tranquil and calming. Further afield, Terme Grand Hotel Bagni Nuovi in Italy offers incredible views from its hydrotherapy pool across the valley to the mountains.

My own spa, Rudding Park, is also as much about the outside as the inside, in so much as the two seamlessly work in tandem with each other. The Roof Top Spa Garden, with shrubs and trees, takes the spa experience into the landscape with a spa bath, hydrotherapy infinity pool and a sauna. Three pools use natural waters from the grounds. Natural daylight is a key element of wellbeing and the use of glass maximises this so our guests benefit from as much light as possible, even when inside.

The spa was designed to work with the landscape from the outset, taking into account existing topography and established, mature trees. The result is a building in harmony with the natural environment, further enhanced by the landscaped roof terrace. 

Choose materials wisely 

From a practical perspective, it’s important to consider the materials you use; for example, ensuring floors don’t become icy so spaces don’t have to be closed due to health and safety concerns. The variety of plants used within the scheme and proximity to water should also be considered to minimise leaf fall into the water. Guests love experiencing the landscape but they also like comfortable temperatures. This makes heat experiences such as hydrotherapy pools and saunas with views of the outdoors the perfect way to spa. 

Since opening, we’ve spent time observing and learning how guests use the space. This has allowed us to evolve the product and the guest experience. Our Roof Top Spa Sun Deck is a very generous space, and with last year’s glorious weather it was the place to be. In winter, however, this space was underutilised so we have installed a cabana – an additional relaxation space for our guests with soft sofa seating, a fire bowl and louvered roof to allow sunlight in or keep rain out. We’ve also recently opened a Sunlight Therapy Room.

Of course, outdoor spaces also need to increase revenue. One way to achieve this is by creating outdoor relaxation spaces that will accommodate additional guests and could be suitable for private hire. Consider the logistics of food and drink provision as well to create upselling opportunities. 

With so many new spas opening, it is vital you have something new to shout about and encourage guests to visit time after time. If you don’t have new facilities, use seasonality to create a buzz. Yes, you might have a great image of your pool on a beautiful summer day – but what about a shot on a cold winter’s day in the snow, or at night time with incredible lighting to get the wow factor to support your marketing activity?

Rudding Park nighttime

Light up the night

Creating fresh opportunities to use the outside space in the traditionally quieter evening times can also help boost revenue. 

Many spas refer to their evening packages as ‘Twilight Spa’. However, as Rudding Park Spa features the first Roof Top Spa in the UK, Starlight Spa seemed more fitting for us, as guests can literally bathe in the warming waters under the stars. We always want to offer new experiences and our head of marketing recently visited Kielder Observatory and had an incredible time at a stargazing event. She approached a local astronomer who we have been working with. Our new Stargazing Experience packages include an introduction to astronomy and time for stargazing on the Roof Top Spa. It’s another example of people reconnecting with nature and has proved incredibly popular.

We are currently developing plans to introduce eco and natural spring hot tubs in the Woodland Glade, a secluded space where guests will be able experience forest bathing in natural spring water from our own mineral-rich aquifer. When the Woodland Glade comes alive during spring with a colourful burst of rhododendrons, guests will be able to reconnect with nature throughout the seasons. 

Matthew Mackaness is spa director at Rudding Park Spa in Harrogate, UK, which opened in May 2017. He was an integral part of the design team, leading the pre-opening and delivery for the hotel spa, which has gone on to win several national awards.


Images: Rudding Park Spa