In Conversation with Noel Asmar
In times of crisis, the spa industry in particular risks getting beaten up as nothing but “pamper palaces.” We have a responsibility to work together with one unifying message that shows what Spa is truly about—and why it matters now more than ever. I recently discussed this, and more, with Noel Asmar, President and CEO, Noel Asmar Group. Here’s what she had to say.
It’s Time for the Doers
This is the hardest time, and it’s a moving target—so there’s no timeline. It’s time for the doers to come out of the closet. You won’t get paid, but this is the time you need to do your best work. The immediate goal, in my mind, is trying to help hospitals. For the spa industry, this is our moment to bridge new relationships; in fact, put a spotlight on how relevant the spa industry is. It’s about treating the emotional and spiritual needs that don’t get addressed in the medical community. The more dialogue we can get on this now is to everyone’s benefit.
This is our moment to bridge new relationships; in fact, put a spotlight on how relevant the spa industry is.
This is the first time in our lifetime there’s been a spotlight on the medical industry and how unprepared it is, how unsustainable it is—and not just for this pandemic. For example, the army was called in to help. What if spa professionals had been called in to show the medical industry that we really need to work together. I see a lot of potential to elevate the spa profession . . .
Communication is Key
The first response from spa leadership must be to make sure we’re safe and hygienic, and to figure out how to communicate that to the public without losing the essence of the spa environment, the spa service. We’re looking at a future with masks on guests, masks on practitioners, and gloves, lots of gloves. This whole transition needs to be filtered through the lens of why people go to a spa. We need to more than ever communicate the benefits of spa. We can’t start looking or feeling medical. In this crisis, we’re the wellness response to medical. Going forward, doctors are going to find lots of depression and anxiety. What if we lived in a world where doctors referred patients to spas prior to a pharmaceutical solution? A crisis is time to think big.
Don’t wait for permission. Now is the time for the spa industry to be doers. If you do it now, you’ll have built the relationships to go back later. If I was a day spa owner with a closed spa and staff, I’d look at the skill set within my team and make an offer to my local medical community, How can we help? This is the skill set we have, where do you need us? The bottom line is that we shouldn’t be closed today. We should transfer our skills and our talents to the medical industry that needs us. This is a time to show what we can do.
Biggest Opportunity for Spa
I predict the opportunity is for the word wellness to prove its intended meaning. That means body, mind, and soul. The medical industry cannot provide that on their own. If there was ever a time for spa to be identified by the government as an essential wellness component, it’s now.
Biggest Challenge for Spa
Maintain your identity. Do all that we do. We are already trained in sanitation and safety. Communication is the challenge: how we communicate this hygiene to our guests while maintaining our identity as spa. I don’t want to see spa’s first message as clinical. Branding is really important tight now. We don’t need to pivot, we’re already in our sweet spot—what we offer as spa.
Importance of Touch
We’re not allowed to hug, and I heard a health recommendation today that we shouldn’t go back to shaking hands. So, we need to find ways to get back to touch. I don’t want a machine. I won’t go to a property for virtual reality. If all you’re looking for is a machine massage with VR, go to the airport. I pay for the human touch because only a hand can feel my body and know intuitively what I need. If we are forced to wear gloves while giving massage, that’s not the worst-case scenario. Maybe we can elevate that spa experience with different textures on those gloves. If we need to incorporate further hygienic measures to protect staff and our guests, our challenge is to find innovative ways to present them as additional perks or services. For example, if massage therapists will be forced to wear gloves, let’s make it interesting. We’ve never gone to the spa and had the option of five different kinds of gloves that would give the guest five different end results. You’ll still get the heat of the therapists’ hands, and the natural touch.
When a client books a service, will we need to ask about Covid-19? As a practitioner, will you have to say you have had Covid-19? Where’s the line? We don’t know. Should you have a thermometer in every room? Will you be allowed to check their temperature? Would that help? The level of intimacy in spa presents challenges. Facials, manicures, pedicures, we have to touch people. We need to figure this out. Again, we cannot lose our identity through the crisis. We should be proud to take over where the medical industry will let us help. We shouldn’t be separated, we should be an extension of the recovery process.
I’m working in Vancouver with a committee of healthcare supervisors for various hospitals. It’s like an extension of the government to oversee the needs of multiple hospitals. We also have a number of [Canadian] BC brands—Asmar Equestrian, Lululemon, Arc’teryx, that got together virtually to discuss sourcing materials and supplies to support the needs of medical professionals. Locally, we are running out of fabric for factories to produce PPE wear. This kind of work keeps your mind fresh. We’re going to donate about 1,000 uniforms. It feels good to be working on this. It’s tough work right now. I’m in it, and I know I’ll learn a lot. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. We have a minimum of three months, let’s figure out how we can help.
Mary Bemis is Founder & Editorial Director of InsidersGuidetoSpas.com. She is a pioneering spa journalist, most recently honored as one of the "Top 30 Influential Voices Transforming Wellness." She is an inaugural recipient of Folio's Top Women in Media Award, and was honored by ISPA with its distinguished ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award. In 1997, she launched American Spa magazine, and in 2007, Mary co-founded Organic Spa magazine. A pioneer in the sustainable spa and beauty worlds, Mary is co-curator of Cosmoprof North America's Discover Green Pavilion. She is a Global Wellness Day Advisor, and a co-founder of the Washington Spa Alliance.
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