The Role Of Therapists In Hotel Spas

| October 23, 2014 | Comments (0)


When it comes to successfully managing a hotel spa, therapists are at a distinct advantage compared to other professionals who may be involved in these organisations, due to their training, which equips them with an incredible sense of versatility. It would, however, be illusory to rely solely on beauty therapists. Significant effort should be made to equip staff with management, administration and language skills.

Director of DJP Spa Consulting, Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere, who hosted the round table discussion thoroughly outlined the problems experienced by therapists who wanted to launch themselves into a career in the hotel spa industry, a role which he describes as “extremely important in his eyes”. Simultaneously he paid emphatic tribute to hotel managers who “for the past 10 to 15 years, have enabled therapists to find work” in these new structures. “I remember a time when it wasn’t that easy to find a job as a therapist in a traditional establishment. Today there are multiple job opportunities in this sector as a result of the phenomenal way in which spa hotels have mushroomed in recent years.” He quoted the example of hotel chain, Relais Ch‰teaux, who have launched 150 spas in the last few years. “Think about the incredible potential represented by these 150 spas, with each one requiring a minimum of three employees. And let us not limit ourselves to the borders of our country because the growth of the spa industry is a global phenomenon. The question really is whether you would consider relocating to another country. At the end of the day, the choice lies with you but these days mobility is one of the biggest success factors,” explains Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere.

The Spa Manager: The Interface Between Therapists And Hotel Management

The recruitment of a spa manager is an issue, which Eric Boonftoppel, manager of the prestigious Fouquet’s BarriŽre Hotel on the Champs ElysŽes, understands well. So, how did he address this issue? “The inclusion of a spa within a hotel does not necessarily come ‘naturally’ for a hotel. We, therefore, had to rely on the competencies of people who had experience in this field and make sure that we recruited therapists of the highest caliber. To achieve this, we recruited a spa manager from a beauty therapy background.” The spa occupies 750 square metres on the corner of the most beautiful street in the world where it intersects with Georges V Avenue. “The combination of our points of difference and the spa itself with its eight treatment rooms, must be up to standard. In the hotel industry, we understand that you are not just offering a product in isolation; you are reliant on men and women to deliver a service. And it is the same with a spa. We recruited about 10 people right from the outset to ensure that life was breathed into the spa and that it was not simply a beautiful space to look at but also a place that offered desirable services.”

The result was that the hotel recruited a spa manager from a beauty therapy background, who, in turn, was tasked with recruiting the relevant staff required to run the spa.

The spa manager was responsible for putting all the protocols into place and for developing brand awareness, which is very important in the hotel industry. She was also in charge of logistic and organisational issues as well as the training of her staff. “The spa manager has acted as the interface between the spa therapy team and hotel management since the inception of the spa,” underlines Eric Boonftoppel.

The Fantastic Evolution of Beauty Therapy as a Career

According to Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere, it is quite remarkable that “within a prestigious, top-notch establishment, once a spa has been added, that management will appoint a spa manager from a beauty therapy background and give her the responsibility of recruiting her team. It really is a fantastic evolution as far as beauty therapy as a career is concerned.” He added that “more and more spa managers have received training and that beauty colleges are going to great lengths to create spa management modules to equip students with skills that have previously been lacking.” He insists, nevertheless, that emphasis is placed on quality in order to ensure competence levels.

When talking to VŽronique DŽsarmŽnien Guedj, head of recruitment and training at DJP Spa Consulting, he questioned her about why recruiters favoured therapists who had climbed the ladder for management positions and what she felt about the role of therapists in the hotel industry.

According to VŽronique DŽsarmŽnien, “As far as the recruitment of spa managers is concerned, therapists are the most versatile candidates, partly because they are also capable of administering treatments but also because they understand the other therapists working there. The human element is very important. They need to staff and safeguard the spa. This represents one of the possible evolutions for therapy, in response to a very real demand in the industry.”

This is why Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere has listed the necessary qualities in order to become a spa manager. “But the majority of therapist do not possess these competencies because you have not been trained for this purpose. It is usually as a result of your development within a business, by displaying your professional capabilities, qualities and motivation, that you will progress, for example, by standing in for the spa manager when she is on leave. Usually, one will ask the oldest or most qualified beautician and she will have the opportunity to gain recognition for skills other than her ability to administer treatments. This might result in her being offered the position of assistant spa manager which may lead to a job offer as spa manager in a small spa and ultimately in a big spa.”

Strengths and Weaknesses

When it comes to the strengths and weaknesses of therapists in the development of hotel spas, the directors of the hotel school in Lausanne had some interesting things to say and indicated that “the marriage between spas and hotels is not always an easy one.” For Stephen Frankael, “Every one has their own idea of a spa. Some big hotels talk about a spa whereas, in fact, what they have is massage chambers and a pool or perhaps, a hammam. The tendency today is to take what previously used to function as the hotel’s beauty salon and merge it with a wellness centre. In luxury hotels, there is a high demand for activities that promote well-being. Even business men want to stay at hotels that offer these services. We saw the same evolution as we are witnessing now with spas when we saw the incorporation of restaurants into big hotels. It was not so long ago that restaurants were seen as a necessary evil because they weren’t particularly lucrative. But they became profitable. And it is the same with the spa: not only do we want to create a space that contributes to the well-being of the client but also one that contributes to the overall well-being of the establishment… But you need competent people in place in order to achieve that. An excellent chef does not necessarily make for a good manager. With all due respect to the technical know-how that therapists bring to the table, this does not necessarily mean that they will be good spa managers. The opposite is equally true. That is why it is so important to recruit people who display aptitude in both areas. Additional training is mandatory. That is why we offer supplementary modules (not for degree purposes but in order to build competence) in field such as finance, marketing, general administration etc. So what is it that makes a good manager? Essentially, you need to have staying power and perseverance and be prepared to keep on doing the small things right to make sure that the establishment runs smoothly. And of course you need to be open and willing to learn new things throughout your life, whether you are working in a small salon or a big hotel.”

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Placing Strong Emphasis on Management and Administration

According to Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere, since the areas of management, administration, marketing and accounting are the areas where therapists often fall down, it is in these areas that they should be making a concerted effort to grow. Beauty schools are now offering spa manager training in order to address these very issues. He encourages therapists to familiarise themselves with these topics. “These days if there is a particular area where you lack knowledge, you can seek out further training or education in that area. To say that you cannot do something is to do yourself a disservice. The onus is on you to educate yourself and prove that you can do it.”

“We are in a profession that is ten years behind and we have a lot to learn. Do not, however, be misled into thinking that you are the only ones who have to learn new things. Hoteliers also have a lot to learn about the spa industry,” confirms Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere. Eric Boonftoppel, manager of the Fouquet BarriŽre Hotel is showing a positive balance sheet from a point of sales.

With regards to the therapist who recruited the employees who now work in the spa and who put the various protocols in place, he indicated that she had the relevant technical know-how but lacked managerial skills.

No Predetermined Career Path or Fast Track

“There is, in fact, no predetermined path or fast track to becoming a spa manager. It takes managerial qualities that transcend technical know-how. We are talking about individuals with business savvy, an ability to interact well with clients and an over-arching understanding of the principles of management. As director of a hotel I am reliant on people who share our global vision and who take responsibility for their area of sales. And as we have previously discussed, the spa is no longer a necessary evil, a nice-to-have which makes us appear more appealing to clients. It is an important service which not only allows clients to spend a few moments of relaxation there but also allows the establishment to generate revenue in the same way as the restaurant and the rooms. That is why it is so important to work with capable individuals who are hand on in the running of their part of the business, ”reiterates Eric Boonftoppel.

Emphasis on Versatility

When it comes to the versatility of therapists in the context of today’s spa, Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere has plenty to say. “A therapist knows how to do hands, feet, waxing, facial treatments, body treatments, massages and all kinds of hydrotherapy… They are taught these techniques during their studies where they are expected to be able to perform these treatments as prerequisites of their diploma. And, by comparison to people from other professions who are involved in spas and who fulfill a role in a specific sector, beauticians know how to do just about everything. That said, with the multitude of spas that exist, from urban spas to hotel spas to destination spas, the clients’ requirements and expectations are always changing.”

“The versatility of the therapist means that she can be productive for eight hours of the day and not be weighed down by the monotony of having to repeatedly perform the same treatments over and over. Can you imagine having to administer massages for eight hours every day? Not only would this become tedious but it would also affect the quality of the massages given towards the end of the day. Fortunately the versatility of a therapist enables her to alternate between a variety of treatments, from facials to hydrotherapy to wraps etc, which means that her job does not become boring or routine. I do not know of a single other profession today which can compete with therapists and the role that you play in the spa industry,” concludes Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere.

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Constant Re-invention And Eternal Evolution

A woman who has vast experience in the spa industry, Brigitte Caron, whole-heartedly agrees that therapists possess a valuable versatility, which makes them very employable in the hotel spa industry. “In this industry, you will find a job that is not routine and in which you will constantly be learning new things because there are new treatments and techniques and new products appearing all the time. You are going to be head hunted, particularly by the hotel spas, who need to make sure that they are on the cutting edge of any new developments. They need people who are prepared to constantly reinvent themselves and who will keep their offering fresh.” She also addresses the issue of compulsory training. “You come from a background where you have received training in facial treatments, hair removal, and perhaps to a lesser degree in body treatments and massage techniques. Training in spa practices will enable you to supplement your know-how. You can then set your sights on an assistant spa manager position in an establishment with a larger offering, in terms of equipment. This will broaden your skills to include client relations, sales and management which will help you work towards the position of spa manager…” explains Brigitte Caron, who said she was surprised that the issue of sales was not touched on. “In your job as a therapist, assistant spa manager or even spa manager, you are going to be required to sell, whether it be treatments or products. And this is made all the more challenging in a hotel spa environment where the client may not be ready to decide to buy a particular product that you recommend on the first day. This sale is an important factor in the overall profitability of the spa and the way in which the client is approached is key.” She therefore firmly believes that versatility is a very significant aspect. She also suggests that, as far as the position of spa manager is concerned, certain additional abilities need to be acquired, such as managerial skills, administration, creativity when it comes to creating a menu of treatments and introducing new modalities. All of this will also depend on the structure in which the spa is integrated, whether it is a small, boutique hotel or a large hotel chain.

In Competition with Hotel Managers

Now, the role of your training college is to equip you. It is up to therapists themselves to outline what skills they need. If we take the example of the ElysŽe-Marboeuf School, to whom Brigitte Caron consults, they offer three levels of training as far as the spa is concerned: spa practitioner, assistant and spa manager, which are open to people who are not necessarily from a beauty therapy background. “You can come from a hotel or business background and gain the relevant competencies. However, currently hotel managers are looking in your direction for suitable spa managers because they know that you offer a valuable yet versatile set of skills.”

This is why spa manager training for people who do not come from a beauty therapy background has been introduced at a hotel school in Lausanne. They teach management, accounting, guest relations, human relations etc… but not beauty therapy. So, on the one hand, therapists may lack certain management skills, which they make up for with their technical know-how, and on the other hand, hotel schools are able to produce excellent spa managers equipped with numerous skills but sorely lacking in an understanding of beauty therapy.

That is why people at the Lausanne hotel school are considering the merits of “converging the hotel industry, which is not specifically geared towards health, well being and beauty therapy, with the spa industry, which is not focused on management, guest relations and human relations.”

“So what do we do?” asks Stephan Frankael, the director of the Swiss school? “We stop thinking about in terms of what each job description should cover and look at things in a more global sense in terms of management. In reality, as far as sales are concerned in a hotel, product sales account for up to 20% of turnover. This is an industry that is showing growth of 12-13%. The hotel industry is developing and in order to succeed it is trying to make sense of the world of the spa. The spa industry is becoming more professional and needs a managerial approach. These two sectors are coming closer together and the overlap means that the dividing lines are not as clear as they were before. We are working together to achieve a single, common goal, which is ultimately to ensure the satisfaction of the client.”

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The Demanding World Of The Hotel Industry

For Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere, the evolution of the spa industry is in full swing and there are big changes taking place. “We are definitely going to see results, as a result of the hotel industry being as demanding as it is. In hotel spas you are looking at product sales accounting for approximately 5 – 10% of the total turnover. This is, quite simply, not enough, because in order for a spa to be viable, the sale of products should account for at least 25% of the turnover.”

And so, who is responsible for ‘motivating therapists to sell more?’ It is clear that therapists are becoming more informed when it comes to the technical knowledge related to the treatments administered, but the sale of product is still a problem for therapists because they have not received any practical sales training.

Eric Boonftoppel confirms that “the sale of products is one of the most important areas of profitability. When you open a spa, you find that some of the services offered involve a great deal of space, time and personnel so, product sales becomes an important activity, ensuring the success of the business but there are always some who are not comfortable with this. It is important to address this issue, which I view as one of the non-negotiable aspects of a financially viable spa.” Boonftoppel tries to incorporate a ‘global vision in his management style of the hotel’ and he is equally involved in the running of the restaurant as he is in other areas of the establishment. “It is the same with the spa: there are different people involved in different activities but it is very important to have competent individuals who understand the notion of service and who are adept at understanding which clients are from the hotel and which are day visitors and how best to treat both types of client.” He suggests that it is crucial that everyone receive training in sales so that they understand the significant role it plays in the success of their establishment. A spa is not just a beauty salon in the hotel. It represents a revenue generator that needs to be generating revenue comparable to other areas in the hotel complex, such as the restaurant.

From the hotel school in Lausanne, he feels that clients are becoming more and more exacting in terms of the luxury they demand and simultaneously they are less and less concerned with what they have to pay for this luxury. It is an incredible new world for the hotel industry and we need to be constantly asking ourselves if we are the same language as our clients and if we are, how far are we prepared to go? Client loyalty is important and the use of spa treatments is one of the ways in which we can develop client loyalty. It is not just about the accommodation offering. The spa plays an important role here.

How To Help Therapists Improve Their Sales Techniques

The area of sales is a crucial one when it comes to the role of the therapist in the hotel spa. How can we help therapists to become better sales people?

Brigitte Caron suggests that “We are clearly faced with a cultural problem in France, as with the balance of the world: we are afraid of sales. We know how to start the discussion but we have difficulty in closing the deal. This is something which should be taught at training college but which should be followed up on, once in the workplace. The client is there to make a purchase. It is crucial that you are successful in selling her something that is going to assist in converting her into a loyal client. When it comes to selling products there is sometimes the fear that you do not know enough about the product. In this regard, cosmetic houses have made huge efforts to ensure that you have the relevant information about their products and this is especially true for hotel spas where they feel that there is great potential for sales. They offer advice and product samples, to help you in your quest to understand and cater for luxury hotel clients, as opposed to the clients who go to a regular salon. Therapists need to make a concerted effort to up sales, perhaps set themselves a personal challenge so that sales become fun. In European culture we have the impression that we are forcing our clients when we try to sell to them. Whereas, in fact, they are there to spend money and if they are happy with the treatment you have administered and you offer them the promise that they can prolong the effects of the treatment through the purchase of a particular product, they will be guided by the advice you give them. It is often this last step which is missing and it is here that you will see the most progress in your sales and the sales of your team.”

According to Stephan Frankael, “There are lots of things that need to be done because we are basically pioneering a whole industry. The bigger hotels are investing millions of Euros in certain establishments and you are going to grow within this extraordinary sector that is itself evolving. You have the opportunity to help us improve the offering of the hotel industry and at the same time, to experience personal growth.

The future is very much in your hands, you need to reach out and take hold of it. But this growth is reliant on your adoptions of a more global, professional approach that moves beyond an understanding of the technical aspects of beauty therapy and incorporates additional skills that include client relationship management and the general management of the spa.”

In conclusion, Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere’s message is one of hope and inspiration: “Remember this, you understand your profession but you absolutely must make a concerted effort to develop yourself beyond this. Those who display the biggest aptitude for becoming a spa manager are those who have grown and evolved because your basic training does not really equip you to become a spa manager in a luxury hotel. A small hotel consisting of 20 to 30 bedrooms and 3 or 4 treatment room is quite similar to a beauty salon and you should have no problem relating to this environment. But if you are looking to move to a hotel spa that has 10, 20, 30 or even 40 employees, you will need to work on those competencies and skills that have already been outlined above.”

Jean-Pierre Demeerlaere’s parting words are, “You are more than capable of achieving these goals, if you have the desire.”

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