SpaExec Las Vegas 2010 offers great industry dialogue

Spa Exec Las Vegas 2010 began with a keynote by Dr. Mariela de Oliveira Silveira, International Liaison of the Kurotel Longevity Center of Gramado, Brazil.  The Kurotel Center was begun in 1971 by Dr. Silveira’s parents, who wanted to find a spot to create a center using the Kur method.  At the time, being healthy meant simply that you weren’t sick; a movement was not afoot to embrace health living.  The Kur method included hydrotherapy, balanced diet, exercise, phytotherapy, emotional balance and other personal treatments prescribed by an interdisciplinary team.  Dr. Silveira commented on how her parents couldn’t consult with any other spas or clinics, there simply weren’t any.  Kurotel continued adding modalities over the years including phytotherapy medications, cosmetics and skincare, cellular revitalization, healthy cuisine, a longevity center, and smoking-cessation programs.  Their focus was on “healthy aging”, rather than anti-aging.  As Dr. Silveira said, “The only way to live longer is to age, so we don’t talk about anti-aging!”  Kurotel has won many international awards, but Dr. Silveira says, “The biggest award we can have is to have our clients tell us how we have positively changed their lives.”  At the end of her keynote presentation, Dr. Silveira accepted, on behalf of her entire family, a Medical Spa Lifetime Achievement Award from the Eric Light of the Medical Spa Association.

Following the keynote, I hosted a panel presentation entitled "Branding from the Inside Out"-- Creating Authentic Spa Experiences That Stand Out From The Crowd.”  The dynamic presenters were:


  • Anne Brahman, founder, American Spa Therapies Education Council

  • Ann Brown, Spa Director, Spa Shiki, President, American Spa Therapies Education Council

  • Rianna Riego, Principal, Global Spa Vantage

  • Ella Stimpson, Director of Spa, Encore at Wynn


Just in the core area of the Las Vegas strip, there are over 20 spas that generate a total of over $100 million in annual revenue.  With such a concentration of mega-spas, the panelists addressed ways to work within the constraints of their brands to make their spas stand out.  Ann Brown contributed that “It’s about fulfilling the guest’s needs and creating a seamless experience.  Intention in the treatment room is key, but your differentiators must be present throughout the entire spa.”  Riego advises to study your market and its untapped opportunities.  Accept your limitations, celebrate your strengths, and leverage them in your marketing.  Anne Brahman observed, “Create a moment of immediate connection with the client, something that catches their attention, and can make use of underutilized areas, such as wet amenities.”

Stimpson agreed that features like wet amenities can go unexplored; at Encore Spa her predecessor created a “ritual chart” that hangs on the walls and directs clients as to what amenities to use and in what sequence.  Everyone also agreed that clients are coming to spas together and looking for services to do together, such as scrubs or hamam treatments.

Ann Brown stated that the lack of training is a threat to the growth of our industry.  At Spa Shiki, they emphasize education both for the staff and the clients.  While at La Costa, Riego added modalities such as iridology, a chiropractor, and a nutritionist, so that the resort could achieve both a higher degree of customization and the ability to help the clients learn about how to stay healthy.  She stated that customization is key, and that too many spas are offering the same services.  Riego inherited some staff members who had been there as long as 30 years, and were unionized, making education requirements a challenge.  She had to develop a culture that valued advanced modalities, so she used acquired skills and modalities in order to create scheduling rankings, rather than length of employment.  Her wellness practitioners offered discounts to the staff members, which got them involved and interested in learning more.

All agreed that education budgets have been cut, making it difficult to get much done.  Stimpson sponsors educators with a room, so therapists have the opportunity to learn, and technicians sign up and pay on their own.  Brown remarks that free education is not always valued by staff; sometimes having them contribute, or having agreements that they will refund the cost if they leave employment within a certain amount of time, has been effective.  One of the benefits is that the more modalities that a technician possesses, then they have more tools to enable them to connect with the client on a personal level.

Brahman remarks; “Everyone talks about skills, but how do you train someone to ‘connect’ with the body, recognize contraindications for different spa treatments and modalities. You don’t want to scare off guests with an overly clinical approach, but guests want to feel safe and confident. All of your therapists have to have an understanding and ability—it enables them to accommodate a wide range of client needs.”   With education budgets being tight, many spas are relying on resource partners to supply education, but it was generally felt that if the product line isn’t strong, then the educational program won’t be strong, or may be based strictly on product knowledge.  A lot of vendors aren’t keeping up and as a result, a lot of spas aren’t keeping up.  We’re letting vendors create our brands.

The bigger challenge is in ensuring that our spa staffs understand the overall branding themes of our spas.  Ann Brown says, “There’s a me-too marketing approach, where we see spas trying everything to see if something sticks. You do need a have a USP (unique service proposition) and define what your client wants. Can we think of one spa that has a distinctive, USP or tagline? No Vegas spas really seem to meet that test. They’re trying to be all things to all people.”

Ann Brown shared the results of a Stephen Covey study; of 150,000 employees, only 15% knew what the company goals were, and only 10% could actually achieve those.  At Spa Shiki, Browns invites collaboration from their team when they choose product lines; is this the right product for us? Is this in line with who we are?  She believes it’s important to know what you are really good at.  Stimpson cited the Covey paradigm that people who work for you want to believe in what they do.  She shared that at Encore, there are over 14,000 employees.  Directors circulate among them and ask them random questions; a right answer wins $50 and the wrong answer gets a card with the right answer!  Spa Directors need to walk the walk, be the same consistent, passionate person all of the time.  Anne Brahman opines that “Enthusiasm is important, both for the whole picture and for what each technician does.  If you deliver purpose to them, they’re excited to stay and be a part of it.”  But all agreed that the branding commitment has to become a cult within the spa, and not tied to one particular person.  Stimpson agrees, “It’s not about us. As soon as you make it about you, you lose a lot of great people.”  The simple mission at Spa Shiki is, “To enlighten the guest to the ritual of spa.”  And that’s something that all spas can relate to!

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