Spas reinvent themselves to stay current with today’s trends.

A day at the spa once conjured up images of a restful feminine space featuring bouquets of flowers, candles, sweet-smelling soaps and women luxuriating in fluffy white robes. But the quaint, exclusive ladies-only spa experience is now a distant memory. These days, hotel spas are breaking new ground in hopes of attracting a more diverse clientele. Whether located in resorts or business hotels, spas are reinventing themselves as an “essential service,” developing services for on-the-go executives and local clientele; catering to a new customer base and emphasizing health and wellness services with take-home advice. 

Sitting atop the 31st floor of Toronto’s Trump Hotel, the recently opened Quartz Crystal Spa features a design scheme reminiscent of ancient Russian baths and the restorative properties of quartz crystal. The 15,000-square-foot spa aims to attract businesspeople from the surrounding downtown core who have limited free time for spa visits. “A lot of our menu is focused on express services,” explains Daphne Swenerton, director of Spa Operations, pointing to seven express services such as teeth whitening or an express service manicure and pedicure. Appealing to the health conscious, Quartz Crystal Spa also offers a “Nourish Nooner” package that adds a take-away lunch to any express service for an additional $20. “We do a really nice gourmet lunch that’s  health conscious,” Swenerton explains.

For some spas, tapping into the local market is a surefire way to ensure repeat business. For example, at the Willow Stream Spa in the Fairmont Banff Springs, catering to locals represents approximately 30 per cent of the hotel’s spa business. That’s why the spa has incorporated local, natural ingredients into many of its services, a feature spa sales manager Kimberley Flatt describes as “authentically local.” As an example, wild rose and lavender, two flowers native to Alberta, are offered in a variety of facials.

At the Stillwater Spa inside the Park Hyatt, Toronto, locals comprise 90 per cent of its business, therefore maintaining a local presence is important in generating repeat business from clients in the area. “We continue to advertise in local publications, we send monthly e-blasts to our database and participate in local beauty events. In addition, we use radio spots to feature our packages for special occasions,” says Krista Foulis, spa director.

While, traditionally spas have catered to a well-heeled clientele, these days they’re looking at new ways to market themselves to attract a wide mix of customers.  For example, the Wallace, N.S.-based Fox Harb’r Golf Resort & Spa attracts an older demographic — 80 per cent of its guests are retirement age and female. But spa manager Joann Patriquin says the resort is now looking to market itself as a wedding destination in an effort to appeal to a younger demographic as well as larger groups. And while moms, daughters and bridal parties have typically sought refuge in these restful and soothing sanctuaries, spas are now setting their sights on men as well. “They make up about 40 per cent of our clientele base these days,” stresses Trump’s Swenerton, explaining the hotel offers a men-only lounge featuring decor inspired by an “old-Hollywood” style, combining sleek elements of leather into its furniture scheme with a blazing fireplace in view. The Willow Stream Spa features plush, comfortable seating surrounded by big-screen TVs, while Toronto’s Stillwater offers separate men’s facilities and a neutral colour scheme, which lends itself to an inviting ambiance. The facility’s Couples Sanctuary offers side-by-side Swedish massages (starting at $390 for 60 minutes), which can be an effective way to introduce male clientele to the spa experience.

But getting men to patronize spas isn’t just about featuring manly decor in the spa itself. It’s also about offering appropriate services that will appeal to them. For instance, a gentleman’s barber facial ($179) and deluxe executive hand grooming ($75) are only two of the treatments offered by Willow Stream as part of its two-page men’s services list, including a golf-performance treatment massage ($199 for 60 minutes) and power pedicure ($85). “We have an exclusive male product line as well [at the Quartz Crystal Spa], focusing on men’s skin. We want them to feel just as comfortable in the space [as women],” explains Swenerton. And, for male spa-goers who want to receive services outdoors, the Fox Harb’r brings the spa experience to the green by offering tee-side chair massages during corporate golf events ($140 for 60 minutes). “This will keep men in their comfort zone but also give them a taste of what we can offer,” explains Patriquin.

Though the corporate market is a huge revenue stream for most spas, hoteliers are also looking to find new ways to generate group visits. With 85 per cent of Fox Harb’r spa-goers coming from the corporate market, the hotel has developed age-defying services to guarantee repeat business. For example, while many hotels employ a variety of medical professionals on staff, including chiropractors and dermatologists, some spas are now appealing to those seeking instant gratification by offering services that provide immediate results. “Spa goers are looking for instant results, whether it’s relaxation or reducing fine lines and wrinkles,” explains Patriquin. “I see day spas trending toward the medi-spa side along with the traditional side,” she adds. Botox, fillers, teeth whitening and eyelash extensions are now common requests from guests.

Some spas even offer Pilates, yoga and even boot camps as clients demand more health and wellness services. Willow Stream offers a “Stay Active” line of massages that relieve joint stiffness and muscle soreness, starting at $189 for 60 minutes. “We incorporate stretching, fitness consulting, very active living and homecare suggestions,” explains Willow Stream’s Flatt, “not just a traditional massage or traditional body service, and we take it further by asking our guests, ‘what is it that you want to achieve today?”

Certainly, with most hotels feeling the pinch of the economy, spas are creatively working to keep existing clients and attract new ones, especially those with less disposable income. As a result, it’s becoming the norm for most spas to hire only registered massage therapists, so clients can use their employee benefits on massage services.

And, these days, who doesn’t welcome a small gesture to make guests feel welcome? It can be as simple as offering a glass of champagne upon their arrival or having the spa manager escort a repeat guest to one of their treatments — a gesture Willow Springs extends to its guests. Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton spa puts guests at ease in the lounge area with champagne and wine. It’s a small perk that shows the hotel and spa values their patronage.

Despite the rise of deal-based sites and bargain coupons, most high-end spas haven’t succumbed to the pressure of offering services at discount rates. Across the board, spa managers enthusiastically agree on one thing: stay away from online deals. It devalues your customers, says Flatt. “As soon as you drop your rates, and do a fire sale, what does that say to a guest who’s coming in and booked it two months ago, and is paying $2,000 for her spa day?” Flatt asks rhetorically. “Anyone can drop their price, and though it may attract some customers, it’s not what builds your business in the long run. There may be some businesses where it’s a perfect fit,” she adds, “but in a spa business we want to build long-term, loyal guests.”

Clearly, the spa trade is evolving and changing. A relaxing day at the spa has been redefined. Recalling her early days in the industry 18 years ago, Swenerton says, “people didn’t know what [a spa] was. It was something people had to get away to.” Today, spas are evolving to become a part of an everyday lifestyle, a place where people can decompress, even for a short time. Looking ahead, Patriquin predicts we may see more spa professionals trained to perform on-the-go services such as botox and fillers. But, perhaps, more importantly, today’s customers are hungry for education about what works best for them. “If you’re offering a product, guests want to know how it will benefit them, and how it works for them,” adds Flatt.

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