Digital Innovation in Spa and Wellness: The Guest Experience

| February 4, 2021

By Ilana Alberico CEO, ISM Spa

Published in Hotel Executive Review


The business of spa operations in the Covid-19 era is challenging. Reopened hotel and resort spas are seeing demand yet operating safely and profitably with increasing restrictions is narrowing already thin margins. Properties that choose to stay closed risk losing guest loyalty and brand cache. Effective use of technology can be the difference between success and failure.
This article is all about the guest. From market segmentation, to touchless spa treatments, to personalized spa services, technology enables a more efficient operations strategy and improved service delivery.
CRM for Precision Marketing
Technology enables a highly targeted, “rifle” versus a “shot gun” approach to marketing. The right message to the right guest or prospect increases capture rates, repeat business and guest loyalty and engagement.  Spa management software or CRM programs allow for market segmentation to divide your market into smaller, more defined categories based on similar characteristics. The more descretely you segment guests and prospects based on demographics, psychographics, behavior, geography, and lifecycle, the more effective your messaging.
The customer segmentation for all of the U.S. hotel spas in 2018 was comprised of 53 percent hotel guests, 4 percent spa members and 43 percent locals/others (Source, CBRE Trends in the Hotel Spa Industry.) When looking at urban hotel spas, the percentage of locals is higher, at 61 percent. Conversely, resort hotels count 62 percent of their customer base to hotel guests, 32 percent to locals/ others and 6 percent to spa members.
Resort hotel spas can leverage their CRM’s marketing functionality to have an opportunity to capture business by directly targeting and engaging with guests prior to their arrival. Hotel spas can target locals for membership, staycation packages, and return visits.
Emlyn Brown, VP of Wellbeing at Accor, believes COVID-19 has provided a platform for hotel spas in city locations to leverage the local market to become a crucial revenue driver.
“I believe city spas will be seen as a much more important thing to draw people into hotels. Our city locations previously relied on internal guest capture, but now because European cities are flat with tourism they’ve got to compete with an established local day spa market. There is an opportunity for these city spas to stand out, which requires a ‘completely different headspace’ focused on CRM, marketing, and a strong presence on social media.”
Hyper Personalization: Death of the Static Spa Menu
The days of the “one size fits all” spa model are gone.  As guest needs become more individualized, effective use of technology has become critical. Personalized needs and preferences are driving product creation. This need for “hyper personalization” fundamentally changes the business model for how to attract, satisfy, and retain guests.
“The pandemic is causing people to adopt self-care and wellbeing practices as a coping strategy for the new normal,” said Melissa Gelula, Wellness Expert Co-Founder of Well + Good, at the 2020 Global Wellness Summit. ‘The future of the wellness market is a new kind of problem-solving: More solutions-minded wellness businesses that can reach far more people.”
ISM spas have eliminated the traditional spa menu and replaced it with customized massages and facials that meet guests’ personalized wellness needs. Therapists are loving having the freedom to design a treatment experience that is unique and personal to that guest. Our client Kessler Hotels is embracing the new customized spa model:
“The guests that come to stay with us are open to traveling and have chosen our hotels and spas because of a sense of confidence that our hotels and spas are safe for their escape and pleasure. ISM’s willingness to embrace technology and create a personalized approach to booking spa clients and guests appeals to the luxury-scale client that we attract and encourages and gives confidence that the world can again travel and enjoy the experience of a spa without the risk,” says Lori Kiel, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer of The Kessler Collection
The need for “hyper personalization” fundamentally changes the spa business model
High-Tech Touchless Treatments
Some spa-goers want to return to the spa but, for safety concerns, prefer a contactless experience. Luxury resorts are responding with high-tech touchless treatments, scientifically validated to address common wellness concerns like sleep, stress, pain and immunity.
Carillon Miami offers high tech and touchless wellness experiences that “provide guests with cutting edge technology that will provide you relaxation with multiple health benefits.” The menu includes the Gharieni Spa Wave, a computer-controlled acoustic and vibrational therapy that trains the brain to relax and benefit from deep relaxation techniques. Using specific vibrations and binaural audio frequencies while lying on a heated water cushion, The Spa Wave states benefits including  stress reduction, improved concentration, balanced mood, and a boost in creativity.
Additional touchless menu experiences include full-body red light therapy, scalar-plasma-sound technology, and VibroAcoustic, ElectroMagnetic, and Infrared technology. The Prism Light Pod uses red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM) therapy, “to accelerate healing and recovery by 4 to 10 times faster than the body’s restoration process. The Prism Light Pod can be programmed for Skin Conditioning and Anti-Aging, Weight Loss; Sports Rehab and Recovery; Reducing Chronic Pain & Disorders Soothing Arthritis and Joint Pains Wounds and Injury Healing.
The Rasha Body-Mind-Spirit is a vibrational frequency technology that “combines scalar-plasma-sound technology with resonant frequency that harmonizes the autonomic nervous system (ANS) by harmonizing the left and right hemispheres of the brain thus relieving stressors, transmuting negative habitual patterns, supporting relaxation, cellular detoxification and healing from stress and inflammation.”
The VEMI all-in-one system is a VibroAcoustic, ElectroMagnetic, and Infrared technology that uses healing sound resonance in tandem with full body vibrations, natural earth frequencies and Infrared for a deep meditation state. Vibro-Acoustic Harmonics emitted through the full body mat and headphones open cellular communication to all cells in the body.
All of these high tech treatments compliment, but will never fully replace the need for one-on-one personal attention and care.
Smart Environments
Look for smart environments to fundamentally shift the way spa experiences are delivered in the future. Cook and Das, authors of Smart Environments: Technology, Protocols and Applications define a smart environment as “a small world where different kinds of smart device are continuously working to make inhabitants’ lives more comfortable.”
The Getty’s Group, ideas generated by The Hotel of Tomorrow® Project, envisions a future where smart environments deliver individual wellness solutions. A collaboration of hundreds of developers, designers, manufacturers, owners and operators from all over the world, the group put their minds together to imagine the future of hospitality and travel and how to respond.
“We set out to rethink the design of environments and experiences at hotels and restaurants, considering the new demands and expectations resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic. Imagine a word where design, sensors and data help to deliver a new form of personalized wellness. We already trust hotels to keep us safe, this is a whole other level of being cared for,” said Ron Swidler, Chief Innovation Officer of The Getty’s Group Global Design & Development Firm.
Picture the spa journey of the future. Guests check-in and check-out through their smart devices. Temperature and music style and volume are adjusted through an app on your phone or a smart device found in the room. After guests change into their spa wear, they select their favorite personalization preferences and listen to the welcome message that confirms their journey, conducts skin scanning and provides guided mediation featuring light, sound, and aromatherapy.  All leading to a personalized treatment customized for your needs and optimized based on previous selections and reviews.


Culture of Care
At its best, technology frees up spa operators and therapists from mundane tasks so they can put effort where it counts-connecting with guests. High-tech should enable high touch.
“Technology has a ying-yang reputation within spa environments.  On the one hand, there has never been a greater need for nurturing, therapeutic touch, ideally absent of our 2020 love-affair with Zoom and other digital devices.  On the other hand, personalizing and delivering an exceptional guest experience ultimately relies on effective integration of technology into a spa operation,” said Mia Kyricos, CEO of Kyricos & Associates and founding board member of the Global Wellness Institute. Spa owners and developers therefore need to think about technology as an enabler of the guest experience versus a disruptor to it.”
In this age of Covid, all of us, including our guests, have become much more attuned and education to what we specifically need to keep our bodies and mind healthy.  And consumers are self-prescribing personal plans to help boost and maintain their health.  With this comes the rise of trends such as food as medicine, teletherapy, and online meditation and stress reduction solutions.  According to Trendium: A Compendium of Trends from the Global Wellness Summit, “…the trend is also being spurred by generational shifts, with millennials and Gen Z demanding easier access to therapy and psychiatry while also being much more focused on self-care and mental wellness solutions.”  Also sited by Trendium, “Investors are taking notice of this demand for more mental health and mental wellness technology solutions: Start-ups in this space raised a record-breaking $1.37 billion in the first three quarters of 2020, handily outpacing the $1.06 billion invested in 2019 (PitchBook)”
As these self-care and self-treatment trends continue to grow, spas will play a critical role with technology-enabled customized treatment plans.  Technology such as the Spa Space platform provides on demand access to available treatment rooms and expert wellness providers trained to address specific needs and modalities enable spas to reopen and operate more effectively.
The Spa industry is a notoriously late adopter of technology and innovation solutions.  But the need is clear, and the time is now for revolutionary thinking and technology to lead the way.  For all members of the spa value chain – hotels, providers, and guests – technology is an enabler to smarter, streamlined, enhanced spa experiences.   At ISM, we’ve put theory into practice and are using technology to reopen all of our spas and deliver a new model of spa for the future.
With this we have significantly lowered costs, implemented smart staffing solutions, and are providing improved, personalized spa services for our guests.  And that is just the baseline for the role of technology in the spa of the future.  Innovation and technology have disrupted almost every category, and now, the era of technology and innovation empowerment has just begun for the spa industry.


About: Ilana Alberico is an award-winning business visionary and serial entrepreneur. Her 20+ years in the spa industry spans from folding towels in a spa locker room, to the treatment room as a massage therapist, to the boardrooms of leading developers, owners, and hotel companies as a spa operations partner. Today, she leads a dynamic collection of wellness companies including boutique wellness design and spa management firm ISM Spa, luxury skin care line Privai, and Spa Space Chicago, a successful urban day spa. As CEO of ISM Spa, Ms. Alberico oversees a team of hundreds operating 20 full-service luxury spas across the US. ISM-managed signature spa brands conceptualized by her and her team include Poseidon Spa for the Kessler Collection, Privai Wellness & Spa at Renaissance® Orlando at SeaWorld, and her newest concept R+R Wellness at Grand Hyatt Nashville. Accolades for ISM include twice being named to Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies in the US, and recipient of the International Spa Association’s Innovate Award for Outstanding Leadership. In recognition for her many achievements, Ms. Alberico was awarded the 2015 Entrepreneur of the Year in Asheville, NC.

Category: Spa Reviews

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