Questex Hosts Virtual Roundtable on Touchless Therapy

Recent wellness trends show an increased demand for low-touch and touchless equipment in spas and fitness facilities, which is impacting the spa setting and offerings. Questex's Jennifer Willey held a virtual roundtable with spa professionals to discuss how spas are revising their menus, adapting their spa footprints, and talk about what equipment they are most excited to bring to their spas.

Meet the Spa Industry Experts

• Edward Navan, founder and CVO, Regymen Fitness - Regymen Fitness and The Covery Wellness Spa

• Erin Lee, founder, Koru Wellness and Touchless Wellness Association

• Hank Van Weelden, COO, Lum’ais Wellness

• Sherrie Tennessee, education director and public speaker, SpaSOS

• Stephanie Pisano, director of spa and salon, East Bank Club

• Tammy Pahel, vice president of spa and wellness, Carillon Miami Wellness Resort

• Jenna Reeder, spa director at The Spa at Montgomery at the Renaissance Hotel Spa and Convention Center

Jennifer Willey (JW): What industry shift brought a focus to wellness in spas?

Edward Navan (EN): We've seen post-COVID a shift in what fitness people are looking for. It's been less fitness and more recovery, more optimization. The entire fitness industry is starting to head this way. The traditional spa is now definitely merging a lot with wellness and fitness. That's what we've seen. I think operators in the fitness industry have seen they need more revenue, and there's a huge increase in interest in the spa space for us.

Erin Lee (EL): I agree. I think COVID has really accelerated what was an emerging trend and pushed us forward more into recovery. This is where touchless wellness really comes into its own because off the back of the pandemic, we saw the labor disappear. We lost our spa therapists and now it's difficult to get them back. By utilizing the benefits of touchless wellness technologies, we're able to plug some of those gaps and offer these complementary therapies to enhance both the user experience and assist the spa therapists.

Hank Van Weelden (HVW): I'd like to add that through COVID, we've been experiencing a bit of a shift away from an Instagram-kind of presentation of things. People are getting a little cynical about information that's out there and are wanting to look back at older traditions or traditions that are rooted in science and/or backed up by science, and so a shift away from gimmicky into calm ancient traditions. 

Tammy Pahel (TP): At the Carillon, I was involved with the Hotel and Spa Forum in Paris in 2019, and I looked around and saw technology for the first time at this show. I thought, the next thing’s going to be technology; it'll be a new revenue stream in spas. I partnered with seven companies and came back to the U.S. We were planning on launching March 1, 2020, and of course, we know what happened. We had to delay. We opened back up in July 2020 and launched seven new technologies. I had closed in March with 38 massage therapists. When I owned back up, I had five. Touchless helped drive some revenue. We have wellness circuits as well. We combine it with massage and/or facial and/or body treatment. It's not necessarily stand-alone. It can be a part, and it's made a big difference in our business year over year.

Stephanie Pisano (SP): People look for alternate therapies at a spa, and it made sense with labor shortages to incorporate touchless equipment – more revenue coming in, no labor and payroll involved, and they always show up for work.

Sherrie Tennessee (ST): On the education side, we saw a 10-year decrease in the number of massage therapists going into the industry before COVID hit. And then after COVID, we saw a serious decline. What we're now seeing is that people are coming back, but they don't want to work for major chains. They want to go to their own locations and provide wellness experiences to the point that there are locations now that rent time by the hour. If you are an esthetician or massage therapist, and you have three clients for the week, you book those three clients and that's all you're charged. There has been a shift overall in the industry that is pushing more of this conversation of wellness and then especially touchless technology.

Jenna Reeder (JR): We have touchless treatments to enhance the guest experience, to give them more of an option to save their bodies as well, and to give the guests that full recovery treatment that they are looking for when they come here.

JW: What therapies and equipment do you offer or are looking to offer?

HVW: Our business model is predominantly self-directed. We create the environment where there's a suggestion in terms of what people can do, but they have the facility, and they can make their own journey. There's a minimal amount of staff interaction other than from a hospitality perspective. We're kind of labor-light, and we are actively looking at several technologies in the massage category for automated robotic massage systems. We are planning on that for maybe about 20 percent, so massage still ends up being an area where we'll have lots of touch, but the rest of the facility predominantly will be self-directed without any staff involvement.

EL: As a consultant, I'm always looking where we can therapy-stack to get more bang for your buck in a little amount of time. People are often time-precious, and they want to be able to come in and feel amazing when they go out. Wherever we can get multiple modalities layered is a win. Some of my favorites would be halotherapy with infrared or red light, chromotherapy lighting, aromatherapy, and maybe massage added in there, as well. You know, there are lots of different ways that you can bring the touch therapies into these touchless wellness technologies.

A lot of the people that come in aren't necessarily educated about how the different technologies can marry together or in what sequence they should do them. It's our responsibility to be able to provide them with some education and the understanding that if you do X, Y, and Z in a particular order, or bring A, B, and C together, you're going to go out feeling how you want. Some people might come in feeling really stressed or they want to come and recover from a marathon or something like that. We need to understand how they want to go out feeling and then tailor that guest journey to them.

EN: With The Covery we have a lot of different modalities. We have upwards of 12 to 14 different therapies, and I agree on stacking. When we do IV therapies, we're not labor-heavy. We typically have a nurse, an esthetician, and then a front desk person, but these are also 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot centers. When somebody comes in for an IV, we figure out if they're there for esthetic reasons, if it's pain management, if it's more energy-related, or if it’s just a weekend bender. Based on that, we'll stack things like brain tap or PEMF, Balance, or Pro. Every therapy we do, we say you can be in here for 30 minutes and get 10 things done, or you can be in here for four hours and get these 10 things done.

What we found has been eye-opening. We know we love PEMF and red light and things like that, but what are we using them for? What's outcome based? I think what’s going to be industry changing overall is genetic testing and energy and meridian testing to figure out what's really happening internally with organ function, brain function, recovery time, and HRV. We brought these in, and we can tailor an approach with a specific number of therapies in a specific order for a specific amount of a time. I believe we're moving to a remedy-based - truly outcome-based - spot in wellness right now. We are the new medical. Ten years from now, if not sooner, this will be in every medical office.

SP: We're seeing a spike in demand in cold showering and cold plunges. We just added two cold plunges to our pool area. We're also seeing a demand for red light therapy as well as infrared. We're finding the right space and determining, whether it'll be a charged, revenue-based service or a value-add to our overall club membership. We recently added the Normatec recovery boots, and that's going well. Our members want convenience. They want one-stop shopping and for us it's all about balancing that value to our membership versus driving revenue in a separate area.

TP: At the Carillon, we have about 22 different touchless wellness experiences from red light to fiber acoustics. Most of ours surround muscle recovery, pain management, sleep wellness, relaxation and reducing stress, detoxification, and better-your-back. We've collaborated with 22 companies and created wellness circuits that our guests want. We have athletes that come here – five out of the 15 Miami Heat. They do the muscle recovery circuit, which includes cryo, red light prism, BioCharger, the salt float bath with 800 pounds of Epsom salt, AVACEN and then ReLounge which is really recovery for the back. Because we have 583 units of residents here, we sell a lot of a la carte services in a package of 10 that might sell for $99. The average age living here is 65 and over. Our condos start at $1.5 million and go up to $20 million. If residents are not retired, they're semi-retired, and they're working out doing four classes per day on average, which is amazing for that age group. People are looking for muscle recovery more than anything, and the second is sleep. We still have a lot of people complaining that they can't sleep, and we see a lot of bookings for that. Then couples in general looking for a wellness journey they can do together.

JR: We have recovery boots and an infrared sauna. We have aromatherapy added in the showers. Guests can have a self-guided journey starting there. We also offer the infrared mask and Air recovery boots as a la carte services. We focused on generating revenue in our quiet spaces to bring the bottom line up. To build awareness about offerings and see if people want to have them included within their pre-booked services, we’re including them. Now we're offering a touchless recovery room that guests can either have included with a service or just pay for that day use. It separates them from our locker space and back of the house space. Where we have express massage, that comes with a 20- or 25-minute session of the recovery boots, so they get both touch and touchless.

JW: What I’m hearing from most of you is that the end goal for each guest determines what services they'll stack, which determines the different pieces of equipment they'll use. I'm also hearing that two of the biggest issues for people are muscle recovery and sleep. We've touched a little on revenue. Next let’s talk about popularity. What's most popular versus what's driving the most revenue?

EN: We're seeing with our spas that members don't understand all these therapies. There's a high level of education that must take place, and it can't all take place at one time. Memberships drove 19 percent of revenue in 2022 and 51 percent in 2023. We think that's because people don't have to pick specific items necessarily. They can choose their path, whether they did the testing or not, they can choose what they really like. If they're just dropping in and paying for treatments as one-offs, we don't see the stickiness as we do when we wrap it up and package it into a membership.

TP: Our number-one seller is Everest cryo, an electric cryotherapy. Halo, which is infrared and pharmaceutical salt is our number two. Number three is a tie between Prism light therapy and V.E.M.I., which is infrared vibrational and sound therapy. They both produce the same amount of revenue. ReLounge for the back, which is a stimulant for muscles from the nape to the lower back, is number four. The Somadome, which a lot of couples do together, rounds out our top five revenue producers.

We added some new things this year, and while it's not fair to measure them if they came in six months into the year, some are definitely making a mark and bringing in revenue for us. Back to what I mentioned earlier, a lot of these are for pain management. Halo is the only one that really doesn't address pain management, but it helps with respiratory issues. People that have COPD love it and will buy a series. In general, everything else really relates to either sleep or pain management.

JW: What you think is next for each of your spaces; what you're looking to add; what's going to be new that isn't in there now?

TP: We're going to add the Salt Chamber. Although we have Halo, only two people can go in it at a time. The Salt Chamber will allow for four people every 25 minutes. NEO Science has red light like Prism, and also has green light and blue light. As busy as we are with Prism because it is in the top five, we're going to use the NEO Science green light for before and after facials. It's an eight-minute service. One that's about mental wellness is called CLAS. It's a vibrational bed with a big 3-D screen where you feel like you're moving inside the projection. With the combination of vibrations and sound therapy and the feeling of moving through this 3-D screen, it's very calming and relaxing. It is meant for mental wellness and was developed by psychiatrists.

We're creating one other thing with Sammy Gharieni. We have a Satori, which is for mental wellness, sleep, and addictions. We're creating a restorative sleep suite with three different technologies included. One is essentially a mechanical massage from the nape to the lower back with heated ports. This suite experience can be touchless and takes about two hours. We can add a massage therapist to the mix upon request. With this suite, we can move into touchless much more.

Education is needed along with this technology. With our residents, we let them try something for free the first time. After they experience it, we found that they really like it and either bought a wellness circuit, or they'd end up buying a series. As for revenue, the local community drives 50 percent, hotel guests drive 30 percent, and residents drive 20 percent. I don't care if they're 20 or 70, everybody is much more excited about the touchless wellness experiences. They're affordable and by comparison with other hands-on treatments. A massage, for example, might be $229 plus the gratuity. Our touchless options range from $49 to $99. And within a series purchase, the $99 goes down to $79 per session. We see continued growth year over year for touchless, which can be combined with hands-on treatments. We saw that happening this year where people would do a technology and then get a massage or a body treatment or a facial. People are becoming more educated on what can be used in touchless, and in conjunction with traditional spa services.

EL: I think we're going to see more wellness for all coming into it, bringing families into the spa, bringing them into the wellness space. Children are the future. We should be teaching them from the roots up. Start them early. Let them take control of their lives and their health moving forward. I know there's kind of a taboo around having children in a spa, but to be honest, if you educate them at the right age or when they're young, and they understand the etiquette, they never become a problem within the spa itself.

I think that touchless wellness can help also democratize wellness, making it a lot more accessible to everyone. And through that, I think we'll even see more of the social bathing like the Aufguss. They fall into touchless wellness as do sauna, steam rooms, and hammams. They have been around for a long time. They're not necessarily a new technology, but we're finding new ways of bringing them to life and to the communities as well. It'll be exciting to see where that goes.

I think some other areas might be looking more into the longevity of people. What technologies are out there that can help improve long-term health? Things like bone scanning and bone density, improving the density of the bones, relieving osteoporosis. You might see more of the vibrational treatments, the vibration plates and maybe even more into crystal healing as well. Who knows? It's a really exciting space, this whole touchless one, this technology, and there's new things coming all the time.

HVW: We're spending a significant amount of time and energy working with consultants to create spaces that enhance social connection. We're figuring that you're going on an individual wellness journey, but our business thesis is that you're going to enjoy that and come back more if it can also enhance your social wellness and your ability to connect with the people that matter to you the most. We're incorporating that into design to highlight that factor of wellness. It is about social as well.

ST: We're starting to see more equipment that's ADA compliant, so making sure there really is wellness for all. I'm part of the Las Vegas Spa Association and some of the conversations we're having is how do you provide experiences after hours, early morning before the spas are traditionally open? That's where the touchless concept is starting to come in, where guests can access those before or after the traditional spa hours. Also being able to increase revenue.

EL: Another wonderful thing about some of these touchless wellness technologies is that you can do them with your clothes on, so people who maybe didn't want to remove their clothes or feel a bit shy to do so, they can still go and enjoy these experiences too.

JW: What do you think is missing right now?

HVW: One thing that our organization is trying to encourage is to make it more accessible to men. I don't know what your ratios are, but the spa industry is predominantly female over male, and we're trying to get as close to a 50/50 ratio, and we're finding interesting social dynamics around that. It's not necessarily a technology, but I think it is a bit of a trend. I had a facility that was focused predominantly on men, and it was very successful because the men brought the women. We still never got to 50/50, but we got 45 percent men, and the dynamic was interesting. The feedback we got from our female guests – they were amazed that it was their husbands and boyfriends that were bringing them there for the first time. So, not exclusively male, but trying to get that balance.

EN: We tend to be about 70 percent female, 30 percent male. We're starting to see more males come in as we introduce wearable programs where we’re charting things through Oura Rings and the WHOOPs. This isn't a technology comment, but I think we must be aware of what's coming into this space right now. We're going see a plethora of cold plunge and sauna only places open. We're going to start to see some niche, specialty places, and they're going to bring more awareness to our services. As it happened in the fitness industry, these places will bring the price and value points down. You'll want to have some built-ins against this. I'm in the franchise world and just this year, there are 15-20 new spa/recovery franchises coming out of the gates. I thought four years ago the onslaught might be coming.

What we saw in the fitness space was Orange Theory go from zero to 100 in eight to nine years, and then that space got really crowded. In this space, we're seeing the same thing happen in three to five years.

TP: When you're looking at technology of any kind, you should ask what research, white papers, and support materials the company can share that proves what's being said. In the interest of growth and development, let’s support brands that have the research and white papers to support legitimate wellness technology because there are a lot coming out that do not have that. If we're involved with the growth of something, we also have responsibility for educating people that are joining the wellness sector of touchless. Don't just buy something because somebody tells you it's great. Look at the research behind it and make sure it's authentic.

EL: I think that we might see more breathwork in these. It’s filtering through into the different types of bathing, with the cold plunge, the mindfulness, the awareness, and there's a lot to be done within the breath workspace. It's also something that people can take home with them and do when they're not at the facility. I think by being able to give your customers a toolbox that they can then take home and do in between their sessions will give them even better results and make them want to keep coming back to you as well because they understand that you're invested in them as a person and in their journey.

SP: I am seeing the emerging trend of these franchises like the biostation or The Covery or Pure Medical Spa. I'm seeing those all-inclusive concepts, whether it's touchless or medical-based or hybrid. And as Erin mentioned – longevity. Whether it's focusing on Blue Zones and what those secrets are.

EN: We are a wellness and recovery optimization spot, but 40 percent of our income comes from esthetics and body contouring treatments. I think this whole shift is changing where you're going to have to have the recovery items – the optimization items, the sleep tracking, along with the esthetics. I don't think esthetics alone is going to be enough because you're not going to be able to pivot out of it.