Spa China Summit Day 3

The third day of the Spa China Summit consisted of presentations on concepts and ideas for the future of the spa industry.  We were scheduled to begin with a presentation by Andrea Lomas, Head of Group Spa Operations for Mandarin Oriental, but Lomas had been called away by a project, so we were treated to a substitute speaker, Lomas’ boss, Andrew Gibson, Group Spa Director.  As the 21 Mandarin Spas are consistent industry leaders and award-winners, everyone loves to hear from Gibson.  The presentation was entitled “Brand and Quality,” and delved into how the Mandarin brand was created and is maintained.  Everyone knows that the Mandarin brand logo is a fan, underscoring its oriental heritage; what I did not realize is that each property has its own version of the fan, signifying their distinct personalities.  The Mandarin tagline is “Delighting Guests with Luxury Experiences;” simple and easy to translate to everyday activities.  The luxury message is obvious in each property, from design and concept through to treatments.

Gibson reported that, while each property may have a unique concept, it’s “the people that make things happen,” thus Mandarin puts a huge amount of energy and money into their training programs.  Gibson says that Mandarin recruits on attitude, as they have the infrastructure to train on the skills portion of a position.  And train they do; from therapist up to Spa Director, there is a detailed and lengthy training program that can last, even for therapists, as long as a month before ever encountering a client.   Additionally, Gibson shared results of a detailed in-house survey of 50,000 Mandarin guests that included a number of interesting data points, such as preferred time for treatments and how guests learned about the spa.  One intriguing finding; in their city spas, the guest capture rate is only 5%, and yet 87% of guests said they chose the property because of the spa.  As Gibson commented, “When developing a property today, the question is not whether to have a spa, it’s how big should it be!”

The Mandarin assessment methods are also as complex and sophisticated as one would expect, including a five-day environmental risk assessment at each property, measuring everything from workers environments and food safety to the chemistry of water swabs taken throughout the property.  All in all, it makes you realize how much behind-the-scenes effort goes into creating and maintaining a top-tier luxury hospitality brand.

Neil Orvay, CEO and co-founder of the Sense of Touch chain of five day spas in Hong Kong gave an insightful presentation entitled “Actively Running your Spas,” walking the audience through the many facets involved in day-to-day operations, including care for internal clients (staff), systems and support infrastructure, and marketing and growing your business.  Orvay has grown the SOT chain from one unit to five in 8 years, and his spas are beautifully-designed and decorated jewel boxes, with distinct ambiance and high quality treatments.

For more on the nuts and bolts of spa operations, we were delighted by Lee Stephens’ presentation, “Putting the ‘WOW’ into your Guest Service Journey.”  Stephens, a 16 year industry veteran and Managing Director of Sol Spa Services, focused on the physical journey of the client, from entering the spa, through the welcome and reception area, back through changing and locker areas, relaxation and treatment rooms, and back to the desk again.  Stephens shared some great slides with layouts of existing spas, and then overlaid the client journey map, to emphasize the features of smart design.  He also advised using the support provided with technology options, and reminded us not to forget the sensory appeal of a spa visit.  Really great and practical advice.

Our next presenter was Xiangxiu Liu, President of Spa Moment, who started her first spa in 2002 and has grown her company into a chain of 20 spas and 30 allied clubs in cities across China.  Her fascinating presentation was entitled “Franchise Spa Business Strategies for China,” and I could not begin to write fast enough to capture all of the information she shared.  The word “franchise” was not used in the same way that we mean it here stateside, but the idea was the same; creating a concept and then duplicating success.  While spa-goers in China are still more limited to the major cities (of which there are many!), the existing spas are growing rapidly, and experience many of the same challenges that we see in other regions of the world; finding the right staff, training them, and marketing your brand.  Chinese spas are still heavily massage-focused, but are looking to move into body, skincare and hair removal services, and eventually, wellness and lifestyle programming.

We enjoyed another delicious lunch, and then returned to the ballroom to hear a presentation by Davide Neri, Product Manager for Technogym.  Neri took us through the evolution of fitness and spa; from the 70’s & 80’s when the focus was on body building and aerobics, to today’s approach to a wellness lifestyle.  Neri showed photographs of fitness areas throughout the world illustrating how good design of both equipment and space supports the mission of the business.  Today’s fitness areas are separated into 4 main segments; 1) cardiovascular activity, 2) strength training, 3) stretching, and 4) functional movement, and Neri shared floor plans of various sizes that allowed for the inclusion of all of these elements.

Olya Eastman, General Manager of Delicious Lifestyle, Inc., demonstrated a facial using natural and unprocessed ingredients, including nuts, berries, plant oils, clays and minerals, and other botanicals.  Eastman was born in Russia but has lived in China for the last 12 years, and is clearly enthusiastic about the potential of these ingredients and the holistic approach to spa services.

Next was a workshop entitled “East Meets West” by the highly-trained and widely-traveled holistic therapist Michael Koethner.  Koethner turned down the lights, turned up the music, and treated us to a demonstration of a body massage, focusing on rebalancing, and connecting with the energies of the guest, and combining yin and yang energies.  We could all feel the passion he has for his work through his demonstration.

The Summit closed with Earnshaw moderating a panel of 5 Spa Directors who discussed training and HR issues, and it sounded quite familiar.  Not enough staff, not enough training, and no clear career path.  China has so much potential, and so many people, I am sure they will find a way to harness that energy to continue to improve and expand the spa industry.  All told, this was a terrific conference and a great learning experience for me.  I’ll share my overall thoughts and impressions on China and its spa market in a subsequent blog.