Laszlo Puczko CEOI & Co-Founder, Health Tourism Worldwide
Hotels spas have been facing significant challenges now for years. Owners started to looking for better performance, clearer measures of success and real return on their investment. The market has become more interested in products and brands with stronger dedication towards sustainability issues.
Then came the COVID19 pandemic and the whole global travel and hospitality industry got stopped almost overnight. Such turns of events left not only the hotel spa owners, operators, but also the hospitality owners and their management in despair.
In the meantime we can see that the general public has been showing growing interest in anything that is related to health, well-being, or wellness. Current research results such as the one from the Wellness Tourism Association revealed that customers would be happy to learn more about what wellness actually can mean and how that may be translated to services. This increased interest, however, may not be directly translated to hotel spa revenues but certainly highlights that a global pandemic can trigger business opportunities, too.
Health in Every Way
The provision of health-related or healthcare services has been taken new platforms and directions. M-health, e-health or tele-health are not new concepts any more. Those traditional healthcare providers that have had introduced such solutions pre-pandemic benefit the most from the change in demand. One can have a tele-consultation with a specialist who would not be accessible otherwise. Wearable technology provides readings and data of the users 24/7. E-health provision can be available anytime and from anywhere.
Many hotel guests now are looking for healthy options during their stay. This can mean healthy F&B provision as well as adjustable and personalised room amenities and services.
How did hotels spas benefit from such trends? Hotel spas that offer fitness facilities might have picked up this trend first. Health and fitness savvy hotel guests most certainly have already been using wearable technology and they happily link to the smart fitness equipment in the hotel.
Online/Mobile Wellness & Fitness
The pandemic showed customers news ways of how they can keep being engaged with their favourite spa, wellness centre, trainer or programme. On-demand services, on-line classes, personalised fitness programmes powered by online apps, touchless wellness programming provide the basis for such demand. These new alternatives can potentially create direct competition to what hotel spas traditionally offer. Still, currently we can see that many costumers really are looking forward to enjoying the traditional spa or fitness experiences in person.
One can argue that hotels spas may not be ready to take on these challenges. That observation may even be correct. We can see that anything to do with health, healthcare or wellness may not be in the core interest of hospitality projects. Of course, there are exceptions where wellness is in the very centre of the value propositioning. There seems to be a bit of confusion in the hospitality sector. There is a difference between health and/or wellness savvy guests and those whose core motivation is wellness. Hotels and resorts cannot treat guests who looking for healthy or healthier options during stay and guests who are travelling for health/wellness in the same way. Hotel spas and wellness centres can expect very different demand from these two segments, too.
Health, Well-being and Wellness in Hospitality
The pandemic should actually make developers and operators to review their so called 'satellite approach' looking at the relationship between health/wellness and hospitality. The satellites orbit around the accommodation provision but rarely are integral part of that.
Hotel spas are part of this ecosystem, but so far typically developed and managed separately, based on a nice-to-have approach.
It really is time to take the lessons from the pandemic and turn these mostly challenging issues into an advantage!
We talk about m-, e-, or tele-health solution and services. Why cannot we define and introduce H-health, i.e. hotel-health?
Travellers are to be considered as temporary citizens to the destination they visit. They need very similar services to what the permanent citizens use. Healthcare, health-prevention, lifestyle-defined fitness, wellness or health provision are all expected. Most of these demands are of voluntary nature except travel health, which refers to providing care for those who may suffer an accident.
Well-being is the concept that should be considered at every hospitality provider. Hospitality per se aims at taking good care of the guests. This 'taking good care' leads us to well-being since it is defined as "A state of being or a feeling which is achieved by connections with family or community, with an emphasis upon making the best of life by self contentment and less stress". Would you agree that hospitality providers all should aim for that?
Hotel spas are the closest to understand what hotel guests may need in terms of health and well-being. This real as well as potential demand goes way beyond treadmills and massages. Currently hotel guests may turn to reception with their dietary requirements. They ask the health club for advice on the best jogging route. Discuss treatment options with the spa reception and the therapists. They talk to the concierge about bicycle rental or if they need a painkiller. And these requirements may or may not come together in the hotel's customer profile database.
Just think of the situation when one fills in the pre-treatment questionnaire at the hotel spa reception and upon arrival to the treatment room, the therapist would ask the very same questions again since the results of the questionnaire are not shared with her/him pre-treatment.
The growing awareness and interest in wellness related issues gives hotel spas an unprecedented opportunity. They can re-define their mission and role and can come out of the pandemic as winners.
Goodbye Hotel Spa, Hello Hotel Health Hub!
Let's see how the new hotel spa proposition may look like. Following the footsteps of how the industrial revolutions are numbered, we may call Hotel Health Hub as hotel spa 4.0!
Learning from our projects which apply the so called integrative health approach this idea really is not impossible. In the near future hotel spas can take on other roles and become the epicentre of everything that may have a health and/or well-being related function in a hotel or resort environment.
We can already see that how the traditional spa, fitness and wellness service move closer together and create a 'wellness centre'. The next step to be considered is that the spa becomes the main exchange for health and well-being related information pre-, during and post visit. Spa/wellness centre personnel are trained in and licenced for certain healthcare services, and they are monitored at regular basis. Of course, there are significant differences between hotel or resort spas in terms of personnel, staff specialisation and service focus. Still, hotel spa personnel do understand the physical as well as the mental, psychological needs of the hotel guests. Especially after the pandemic this is a crucial asset since re-establishing mental health and balance has become the number one issue to many travellers.
Hotel health hubs can offer guidance and recommendation about insomnia and other sleeping issues. The HHH can liaise with house-keeping about the pillows, the room scent, or in-room exercise options. It can discuss the dietary requirements with F&B. Can come up with the best jogging route pre-visit and arrange a running concierge. The hotel spa can operate as a one-stop-shop for guests and can redeem its role within the operation as well. The integration and coordination of hotel services aiming at the improved well-being of guests can be the very purpose and added value of HHHs.
To be able to launch a hotel health hub, however, hotel owners, brands and operations need to make more than just changing the sign over the spa entrance. Hotel operations and existing management structures may not be ready to take on such a change. Although the hotel health hub could take responsibilities off of other departments and persons, this may represent a challenging task. The integration of hotel health and well-being functions and assignment of one department with the coordination can prove to be difficult. This would require a new organisational structure, new online presence and information collection, etc. Country-specific legislation may provide additional difficulties since health regulations are rather strict in most countries.
Still, if health(care), wellness and hospitality were considered to be equally important components of a hotel provision then guests would most definitely receive a more compelling service package and could achieve a higher state of well-being.
This can be achieved if hotels changed their attitude and approach, and parallel to C-suite they would introduce W-suite level coordination and management.
W-suite here stands for Well-being-suite. While C-suite looks at operational, financial and performance related information, W-suite considers all data and information that can make the guests stay more balanced and harmonious. The W-suite level coordination can provide the necessary recognition of all 'well' issues and can assign hotel spa 4.0 with the new roles and responsibilities.
The entry-level coordination of 'well' issues and related services would be a paradigm change in how hotels look at guests' well-being. Individual hotels as well as accommodation brands should look into how they can launch their W-suites. A W-suite can be a very clear declaration of well-being orientation. While a W-suite is more of a strategic level instrument the hotel health hubs can implement the strategic level decisions and can redefine not only the future of hotel spas but also that of hospitality in general.