A fact of life today is that local, state, and federal officials of all types have been suddenly thrust into making decisions about public health, wellbeing, and people’s livelihoods—or they have taken on making such decisions themselves. The stakes are enormous—both for health and for business—and the results thus far have mostly been confusion and conflicting authorities. So, don’t feel guilty about feeling overwhelmed. Owners and operators throughout our spa industry are scrambling to figure this out. Sorting through shifting compliance requirements and figuring what is actually right for your particular business and clients is likely the most difficult set of decisions you’ve ever had to make.
How to clean, reconfigure, ease fears, market, message, evaluate data, save money, make money. These are all huge questions, and our industry isn’t fully aligned. We can’t be fully aligned. But the last thing I want—the last thing we need—is more government interference and oversight. So, what should we do?
What is Spa?
Over 30 years ago, I presented at the first national gathering of spa professionals at the New Age Spa in Neversink, New York. The gathering (the humble beginnings of ISPA) was called “What is Spa?” and we tried to answer that question because we knew we were at a threshold. And, of course, how we answered the question back then has been expanded and rewritten, and then the spa net was cast out even further until the old answers pretty much lost all meaning. Now, with the pandemic, our huge industry has been brought kicking and screaming to a much larger threshold. And once again, we need to ask, What is spa? And more specifically, Who are we? What is our purpose?
Once again, we need to ask, What is spa? And more specifically, Who are we? What is our purpose?
We are not our titles, nor our jobs. Most of us have been drawn to the spa industry for a specific reason. What was yours? Why have you chosen spa, specifically, rather than any other myriad of occupations and businesses?
Mark Wuttke, speaking on a webinar hosted by the Club Spa and Fitness Association, recently called out our approach to wellness. He said, “We’ve turned wellness into a commodity for profit.” For example, the widely praised Blue Zone project identified some simple commonalities in the lifestyles of certain groups of people around the world relating to longevity and aging. Even while praising these simple factors, a multimillion-dollar business has grown to serve up these “simple” solutions to the masses. While not begrudging them their place in the wellness industry, Blue Zones cannot do what spa can.
Read This Before You “Pivot”
What is it that we do that others don’t? What is it in our environment that is so difficult for others to replicate?
The answer is that spa provides nurturing and touch. We physically touch our guests. We identify and work on their stressed and out-of-balance bodies. And in many instances, we reach them on emotional and spiritual levels that no other industry can.
So, before you make too great a swing to “touch-less” services, consider this. Do you see the nurses and doctors totally recoiling from even the sickest people? No. We see them protecting themselves and moving towards them. Some of the most powerful moments in the spa are the ones in which we physically contact and connect with our clients.
Spas have always worked with guests along a broad continuum of wellness and health. We always have and will continue to draw a line when it comes to certain types of illness and contagious disease. To the best of our ability, we minimize exposure to and from potential transmissions. The best therapists and estheticians know when to gently decline to work on someone or to stop mid-treatment if the signs are apparent.
Communication & Participation
Best practices should already include face masks for all facials. For many parts of the world that practice is already mandatory and expected. A greeting from a safe distance with a welcoming smile and words of welcome will help make the personal connection. In this current environment, follow that greeting with slipping on the mask as you get closer so the treatment will be mutually comfortable.
As with any paradigm shift, keep in mind that there will be attrition. Some practitioners will choose to leave their profession. Some clients will limit or decide not to use these services for a time. That’s to be expected. But the healers of the spa will remain, and the guests will not disappear forever. In the meantime, what will the spa industry do to ensure that we remain the preferred place to practice?
Again, ask yourself, “What is spa?” Think hard before making decisions that may change the DNA of spa. For example, the condom-ization of services (service practitioners wearing designer gloves) that completely remove human touch have no place in a spa. Human contact is what we do! Be wary of stopgap measures and desperate and trendy practices.
Communication and participation with existing guests should also be part of the pre-opening strategy. You are doing all this for them, not at them.
As we re-enter, welcoming ours guests and clients, we must make concentrated efforts to strengthen relationships. We must re-earn deep trust with our existing guests and reach out to new market segments as we move forward. It goes without saying that spa savvy people want to be informed specifically of our protection and cleanliness policies.
Finally, we must assure and prove to them that we are still a spa. We will open with confidence and renewed sense of purpose. Touch and nurturing are our hallmark.
Do You Honestly Find Spas Kind of Boring? The New York Times, March 5, 2020
The Global Wellness Institute’s PositivelyWell resource has gathered a wealth of information and guidelines from various associations, hotels, and other resources to help spa and wellness businesses with the re-opening process.
The International Spa Association offers a comprehensive Spa Reopening Toolkit.