Opened more than 20 years ago, Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (CA) has a long history of captivating savvy spa-goers. With 30 treatment rooms, the 40,000-square-foot spa is the biggest in town and boasts a variety of pools and hot tubs that are fed by local geothermal mineral springs. In fact, it’s one of the few luxury spa resorts in the country with its own source of thermal mineral water. Capitalizing on that fact, the spa recently updated its bathhouse to give guests the ultimate bathing experience. Here, Alison Abbott, director of spa operations, shares how the spa continues to make a splash after all these years.
To what do you attribute Willow Stream Spa’s success over the years?
A. Willow Stream has maintained a driving commitment to service excellence coupled with an unmatched location. As one of the first luxury resort spas in Northern California, we are dedicated to providing our discerning guests with authentic experiences.
Why do you think the business has been able to succeed where others have failed?
A. We remain relevant in a fast-paced competitive market by having a strong mix of business offerings that cater to resort, local, and day-use guests who rely on us to consistently deliver luxury services that offer something for everyone. In addition, our reputation as a well-known luxury spa in Sonoma county with deep roots in the community gives us name recognition and top-of-mind consideration when guests are looking for spa services and a weekend getaway.
What prompted the latest renovation, and what did it involve?
A. Our most recent renovation, which was completed in February, was prompted by our commitment to provide state-of-the-art services and experiences to our guests. We introduced a number of new bathing rituals, including a signature Rain Tunnel, which is fed by the mineral water of our pool. This whimsical way of experiencing the waters features uniquely entertaining showers for individuals or groups to enjoy. Guests are also raving about our new Dry Sauna Salt Therapy Room. The salts are heated and then ground to allow the inhalation of tiny micro-particles of salt, which have high concentrations of negative particles. Over the years, research shows that treatment of negative ions can dramatically increase energy, mental alertness, reduce stress, and provide an enhanced overall sense of wellbeing. The salt particles also help to absorb moisture and alleviate inflammation, making it ideal for those with respiratory issues like asthma.
What have been the biggest challenges in expanding and growing the business?
A. Labor continues to be a challenge, as finding and training the caliber of therapists we require is difficult due to the relatively limited labor pool.
How do you attract new and repeat clients and encourage them to visit?
A. We encourage all of the guests at the resort to enjoy the spa, and we market extensively to this audience. Day spa guests are also an important market. Our “Good Neighbor” locals program has been immensely successful. We offer weekday discounted services with 10 percent off on all spa treatments with complimentary bathhouse access for those who have a treatment valued at $169 or greater. In addition, during the weekdays, those who are just looking to relax for the day can enjoy our bathhouse and pool access for only $49.
How do you use digital marketing and social media to boost business?
A. Social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are incorporated into our integrated marketing plans. Sharing promotional specials, treatments of the month, and new offerings is great fodder for new media channels.
How do you keep the treatment menu fresh and relevant?
A. We are scrupulous in our efforts to provide the very best to our guests. We constantly research new products, technologies, and methodologies and listen to our providers, therapists, and guests.
How do you keep your staff motivated to sell?
A. We engage our colleagues, allowing them to participate in the planning, execution, and review of all business goals. Our colleagues are our greatest asset.
What have you learned from surviving the recent recession, and how do you plan to incorporate those lessons in the future?
A. Remain nimble and flexible, try new ideas, and don’t be afraid to fail.