Triple Threat

Maintaining consistent standards across any spa brand can be a challenge. But for FRHI Hotels and Resorts, parent company of Raffles, Fairmont, and Swissôtel, that challenge is threefold. Here, Andrew Gibson, vice president of spas and wellness, shares the strategies that make each group unique while continuing to meet and exceed guests’ wellness needs.


What is your company’s spa philosophy?

A: Our company has three brands under the holding company—Raffles, Fairmont, and Swissôtel. Each one has its own identity. The spa, fitness, and wellness brand within each of the hotel brands operates alongside the brand standards and mission of each hotel group. Raffles aims to create an oasis for the well traveled, and, therefore, the spas aim to provide luxurious experiences that are built around the pillars of time, space, and privacy. Fairmont wants to turn moments into memories, and, therefore, the spa tries to create a social atmosphere with memorable treatments. The Pürovel brand for Swissôtel is built around vitality and has more of a fitness profile. It is important that every aspect of the brand story is considered and understood so that the point of difference is established and enables the operator to train and deliver the mission.


What sort of training do you offer your spa management team members?

A: Before we establish the training program, it is important that we recruit the best manager for the location. In many respects, we try to recruit locally and then provide them with the tools to manage. In January, we held a series of regional meetings to gather the spa directors and provide them with the support to become effective business managers. An effective business manager needs to have responsibility and autonomy to lead. We require brand consistency, so there is a fine balance between autonomy and brand consistency. Through philosophy, tools, and support, the corporate office is able to give our spa directors the freedom to manage within clear objectives, standards, and goals. We have also identified regional task forces that are made up of exemplary team members who can be used to visit sister properties and provide support where necessary. We also launched an internal portal that has regular communication channels for our spa directors. One section of the portal includes a library of training courses and establishments that provide courses suitable for career development. This list is continually expanding as we learn more about the training options available around the world.


What sort of training do you offer, brand-wide, to your therapists, estheticians, and other spa staff?

A: We do not train our staff to become therapists or estheticians—we recruit people who have the qualifications. Once they are in employment, we have three main areas of training. This first is guest courtesy and programs that are universal for all employees within the hotel. This is done by the human resources department. The second area is in-house spa training, such as software management, local spa protocols, and signature treatments, and brand standards. This training is done by the supervisory team in the spa. The third area is product-treatment training that is particular to a brand. This training is done by the brand trainer.


What do you do to keep your spas at the forefront of industry trends and development?

A: Our guests determine if we are relevant or not. The ultimate way to ensure guests return to the spa and talk about the company is to ensure they have memorable experiences. To do this, the brand must consistently deliver the best service that does a little bit more than the guest expects. Memorable experiences can be as simple as opening the door for someone with a nice smile. Trends come and go, so it is more important to listen to our guests and gauge what they want rather than reading about trends and following them. We have modified the Swissôtel emphasis after listening to our guests. The urban locations will have more emphasis on health and wellness and will have a simple, consistent, and popular treatment menu. The fitness choices will be expanded, and in-room choices will be improved. We are in the process of completely rejuvenating the Fairmont solution to spa and wellness and have taken note of our guest preferences in a large survey that was conducted last year. We intend to completely reshape the perception of spa and wellness in a hotel.


What sort of elements do you maintain brand-wide, and what do you also do for spas to allow them to honor their varied locales?

A: Agree on a clear vision, establish common goals, clearly identify non-negotiable standards, and offer consistent delivery of service. To become effective business managers, we need to allow our spa directors to devise their strategies, develop their own marketing and promotional activities, create local signature treatments, and insert some personality into their spa.


What do think your clients want in a spa experience, and how, as a company, do you meet those needs?

A: Clients’ needs are as varied as the type of clients we have. We have to be flexible, adaptable, and receptive to new ideas. We have to actively listen and be able to adjust quickly. Part of the role of effective business managers is to be able to identify business opportunities, create options for the guest mix within the hotel, and recognize profitable situations. This needs to be done within the framework of understanding the brand philosophy and knowing where the boundaries are so that brand integrity is maintained. The entire team needs clear goals and standards and to agree on a common objective. If they do this, then it makes it easier to identify opportunities and discard deviants from the brand values.


How do you appeal to spa-goers from various cultures?

A: This is the magic of being a global company. It enables us to draw upon a wealth of talent and share successes and best practices. We also need to know that we may not appeal to all spa cultures—we are not destination spas, we have very few barefoot luxury locations, we are not health farms, and we are selective in the application of niche trends such as Ayurveda, hammams, thalassotherapy, Vichy showers, and other similar cultural specialties.


Do you offer certain treatments and experiences across the brand?

A: We have developed a specific treatment menu template that has clear guidelines on the type of treatments we offer, the number of treatments we offer, and the order of presentation. The template also allows for a personal signature from each location. The menu is actually created locally and passed to our team in corporate to ensure it is formatted correctly, uses appropriate imagery, and follows the marketing standards.


Do you work with specific spa product, equipment, and retail brands across your portfolios?

A: It is very difficult for any management company to stipulate to owners what brand they must buy. We can only recommend our preferred brands and provide options for the owner. We do have our preferred brands for fitness and for spa products. We want to ensure that each of our three brands has a distinction and therefore have preferred and approved brands. Pürovel also has a small product line for body treatments. It has two massage oils that are created by supporting the farmers in Switzerland. This is part of its philosophy to use Swiss products and to provide environmental support.


What do you think is your company’s most distinctive spa and why?

A: FRHI was among the first wave of companies to create a dedicated team to look at spa, fitness, and now wellness as services for the hotels. As a result, this has benefited each brand since the protocols, standard operating procedures, training programs, financial reporting, design and construction standards, marketing and brand communication identities, and many other tools are well established. There is an effective global system of training and reviews that motivates each team to perform. We also have a clear vision and system of reporting that can quickly and efficiently demonstrate those spas that are performing very well and those that need some support. Perhaps the strongest distinction is the fact that we have three distinct brands that are rapidly becoming recognized for the quality of the experience.


What is the most exciting spa currently in development and why?

A: We are currently working on 52 different projects, and all are exciting because they bring challenges, innovative solutions, and fresh ideas to the group. There are a few multi-site developments where the spa will service two or all three brands. These are exciting, because they add a new challenge of ensuring the facilities and services meet the customer requirements for all brands. Perhaps the most exciting development is not a spa development but the emergence of spa fitness and wellness in the conceptual design of the hotel. Imperceptible wellness where just visiting the hotel makes you feel better.