Talking to... Laura Vallati

The new spa director at Espa Life at Corinthia talks about her plans to infuse world-class wellness and luxury into the UK spa market.

Laura Vallati arrived at Espa Life at Corinthia, London, last year, bringing with her a wealth of experience – both business and cultural – from her years in the spa industry. Having worked with the Espa group since 2010, Vallati’s first months at Corinthia have been spent “assessing, evaluating and securing what has already been very successful here,” she says.

As she settles into her new home, the first order of business is to keep the world-renowned spa pushing forward in terms of its wellness and membership offerings. “We want to continue building Espa Life’s global reputation as the leader of a new generation of spa,” says Vallati. “Wellness is a very misused word these days, and we still believe that we have a pioneering concept that presents a fully integrated approach, so want to continue offering authentic programmes.”

One such example is the Medical Massage programme that was introduced last summer. The idea was to identify the root causes of clients’ health problems and offer various options for holistic treatment from a team of expert practitioners. The programme has had a soon-to-be-implemented rejig, under the new name of Wellness Massage and with a host of new practitioners from various fields of expertise. “It has been incredibly successful. People no longer suffer in silence and they don’t have to go to a doctor to fix themselves – they know there is a more holistic way and they are taking responsibility,” says Vallati.

Accessible wellness
The name change is evidence of the spa’s attempt to make wellness more digestible for clients who aren’t yet fully on the all-encompassing wellbeing bandwagon. “A medical massage is not intimidating for the novice. So, if you’re just stepping into wellness for the first time, you’re just going for a massage rather than a full-blown programme of nutrition or something that is a bigger commitment and expenditure, or more invasive,” she explains. “We renamed it to Wellness Massage because we don’t want it to be intimidating.”

More programmes of this nature will be launched over the next six months, and Vallati says they will be “under two main umbrellas – mindfulness and nurture and support.” These are likely to link in with the new Life Spa membership programmes that launched in March, which Vallati describes as “a departure from the typical benefit-driven membership that is usually offered by spas. It’s a completely new concept that is driven by experiences.” She continues: “This membership goes beyond the confines of Espa Life to experiences created by Corinthia, customised and offered from selected partners. We invite members to enter a journey of discovery, not just of Espa, but of Corinthia.”

Incorporating the hotel’s spa, fitness, wellness, beauty, social and lifestyle offerings, the packages are divided into Body and Spirit. While Body predominantly focuses on fitness, Spirit is a lifestyle membership for “the sophisticated urban dweller” that “grants you exclusive access and privileges to London while ensuring your optimum wellbeing of mind, body and soul”, according to the brochure. Detailed fitness, wellness and skin consultations are just the tip of the iceberg – members also receive a bespoke programme to achieve their goals for the year ahead, as well as a dining “safari” for two in the hotel and a choice of 10 experiences over the 12-month period.

Overseas influence
It is clear that Vallati’s previous roles with Espa – including as general manager of the brand’s flagship spa at Resorts World Sentosa Singapore and then at Baha Mar in The Bahamas – have inspired her opinion on what makes a world-class spa. “I’ve spent many years on international assignments both in Asia and the Caribbean, and I think this really enhanced my cultural awareness, which brings creativity,” she says. “I’ve studied eastern philosophies and that really gives you a much wider, more holistic bird’s eye view of the wellness scene.”

And this is what the new membership packages are based on: “the social awareness to know what would be a better fit for a particular cultural or social group – customisation makes the difference between a good spa experience and an exceptional one,” she says.

Cultural differences 
The European, and more specifically UK, spa market is a new challenge, and Vallati explains why she thinks we’ve been a little slow on the uptake of spa culture: “If we look east, a lot of wellbeing practices are very much part of the social life and culture. It’s a natural extension of the cultural beliefs and practices.”

Similarly, the US has found a way to make spa culture a part of daily life: “In America there’s always been a big focus on keeping fit and looking good… in a way, Europe has been lagging behind a little,” she says. Vallati remains optimistic though: “I think there have been huge improvements over the past decade – there’s an increasing uptake from a variety of different people and a new openness to the fact that feeling good is a matter of responsibility,” she says.

Looking to the future, the new packages – which will launch gradually over the next six months – are set to take up a lot of Vallati’s time, but she’s also keen to grow her team. “We want to build our own in-house team to ensure continuity, add to the guest experience and engage mental commitment of the team.” It’s this type of unusual approach that Vallati believes sets Espa Life at Corinthia apart from its competitors. “We launch new trends and stay at the forefront of new developments," she says.