The Growth of Medical Spa in the Hospitality Industry

By Peter Anderson, Anderson & Associates

One of the fastest growing segments of the spa industry is the medical spa and ironically it is one of the hardest concepts to define. For many years "medical spa" was short hand for a great dermatologist's office that had nice furniture, good tea, and current magazines in the waiting area.

While some medical spas still provide very valuable state-of-the art care for skin, the scope of many medical spas has expanded along with our definitions of medical treatment, health care and overall wellness. Medical spas today are highly inclusive and are anchored in various health care modalities, best described as something that is "more significant than" the traditional fluff and buff spas (i.e., small pores, great hair and perfect nails), and "less serious than" medical procedures that manually redistribute ones fat cells. "Medical Spas" and "Wellness" are first cousins with some very interesting family ties. Simply put, the definition of "spa" and "medicine" are both developing into areas that have a huge amount of tangible overlap. A savvy resort operator and hotelier can use this trend to his or her advantage to extend demand during low and shoulder periods, increase rate premiums with minimal capital expenses, enhance revenue from other profit centers at the hotel or resort, and double or even triple the average length of stay.

The market has spoken with their wallets, and in a tacit way has given progressive hoteliers, who want to have cutting edge spas, the permission and responsibility to create programs that combine proactive and reactive components of wellness. To that end we have listed nine issues to consider when incorporating medical components into your spa, be it a day, mineral or destination environment.

  1. Do your research, and ensure that the claims you make are supportable and tangible via the wellness modalities you select. It is one thing to promise smoother skin. (Evaluating those results can be somewhat subjective). However, promising unrealistic outcomes from a glycolic peel or a face lift is quite another story. Procedures in the medicine field hopefully have longer lasting results than their aesthetic counterparts. Missteps in medicine can remain with someone for life.
  2. Do not promise any procedure that your staff cannot deliver. Many states have no official designation for a surgeon who specializes in plastic or reconstructive surgery. Don't make your customers their guinea pigs.
  3. Be honest and realistic with your customers and manage their expectations regarding any medical (eastern or western) treatments. Remember, in spite of claims from the manufacturer, the fountain of youth is still a metaphorical concept.
  4. If you are going to offer "alternative" treatments ensure that you have well-trained professionals that are well-versed in their delivery. "Alternative treatments" are no less important or risky, just because it is not the kind of medicine you or I may have grown up with.
  5. Pay close attention to local, state and federal guidelines. While this portion of the spa industry is not exceptionally well regulated, the medical industry is. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution, independent of your profit margin.
  6. The line between invasive and non-invasive is normally a question of whether the skin is broken, which is true if your practitioners are working with an acupuncture needle or doing a complete face lift.
  7. Remember just because something is new or from "very far away "doesn't make it better or more marketable. Pursuing fads in the medical world is inviting trouble.
  8. Medicine, especially amongst the "cultural creative" segment of the population now extends well beyond the confines of traditional allopathic medical treatments.
  9. Medical tourism and medically-oriented vacations are fast becoming a growth opportunity. In short, first world countries with prohibitively-high elective health care costs are looking for areas with a mature and well tested health care infrastructure to purchase elective healthcare treatments. This trend is expected to continue. It is realistic to anticipate and capture some of this demand.

If your spa has a medical director, ensure that is it not in name only. Require them to be knowledgeable and involved in your staff's training and your patient's care. If they are not they are not doing their job and it is just a matter of time before you are facing a lawsuit, or worse.

Looking at the long-term benefits of a medical spa is an excellent way to set yourself apart from your competitors. It requires an initial financial commitment, market intelligence, a cohesive sales and marketing program, and an on-going commitment to stay ahead of trends in the medical spa industry. When done correctly a medical spa can provide significant returns on ones investment, over and above those experienced at day and destination spas.

Peter Anderson is a principal of Anderson and Associates, consulting firm that focuses on the issues of spa development and wellness programming for full-service hotels and destination resorts. In this capacity, Mr. Anderson consults to a variety of clients for the inclusion of spa programs and wellness therapies. Mr. Anderson's firm conducts engagements in market and financial analysis by tracking and evaluating spa and wellness trends in the context of industry trends which include emerging healing modalities in the allopathic and alternative medical disciplines. Mr. Anderson holds a Masters of Professional Studies from Cornell University School of Hotel Administration and a Bachelors of Arts in PsychologicalBasis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Anderson can be contacted at 310-392-9368 or [email protected]

This article first appeared in Hotel Executive