Spa’cations are becoming a reality in Asia, but do hotels have spa management teams at hand with a holistic approach to the challenges and opportunities facing this new sector? Donald Gasper asks some of the operators about the latest trends.

Spas have been around since humans first discovered the curative properties of hot springs. So-called ‘spa’cations’ (spa vacations) and fitness boot camps are a more recent phenomenon that have given rise to personalised health getaways under a ‘wellness tourism’ banner that is now the focus in Asia, especially Thailand.

By any measure, wellness is doing well, both in Asia and worldwide. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the wellness industry is now valued at US$ 4.2 trillion. In 2018, immersive and holistic spa’cations experiences continued to gain appeal, with travellers looking for more than the standard massage or quick facial.

“People are working harder than ever and are increasingly stressed out. But they are also making lots of money so that they have disposable income to invest in new ways to recover, rest and rejuvenate,” says Michael Nurbatlian, director of marketing at the Phuket-based Infinite Luxury Spa chain.

“Just offering traditional Thai massage or standard spa treatments isn’t enough anymore,” he says. “Wellness practitioners need to think outside the box with programmes that embrace a combination of nutrition, wellness, fitness and recovery.”

Clients are looking towards longevity treatments to look younger longer. Anti-ageing retreats that claim to actually make you look younger are all the rage now, offering ozone therapy, radio frequency facials and microderm abrasion treatments to slow down the signs of ageing and give a healthy boost to wellbeing.

“We are looking to incorporate and add new technologies, techniques and treatments as we look to open new spas,” says Nurbatlian. “What is clear is that the industry continues to evolve swiftly. We see a future need to invest in these new tools and solutions to stay ahead of the curve and exceed guest expectations.”

Spa’ctacular rise

“We are certainly experiencing a rise in ‘spa-cations’”, says Gerd Kotlorz, General Manager of Phuket Marriott Resort and Spa, Nai Yang Beach. The secluded beachfront resort includes the exclusive Quan Spa that won the Luxury Beach Resort Spa award for Thailand in the 2019 World Luxury Spa Awards.

“We have noticed a significant shift in this market in recent years; only a few years ago it was quite rare to see men in a spa, and even then it was usually just for a back massage.

“This has changed a lot. It seems that many men now embrace the spa concept. They understand that it is not only about facials and cosmetic treatments; they come to relieve pressure and re-energise their bodies. Many male visitors now ask for specialised treatments that go beyond the traditional foot or back massage.

“That said, the majority of our spa guests are still female, aged 20-45. But we are seeing a rising number of male customers, especially from our Asian source markets. At present our top five markets are China, the USA, Singapore, Japan and Korea.

To cater directly for the spa-cation sector, we have created the ‘Lazy Breakfast’ wellness package. A wide range of therapies are available, including massages, aromatherapy, body wraps, facials and more, plus couples’ treatments and combination packages.

“Guests can rest assured that our therapists are all fully qualified. They undergo at least 150 hours of massage training before they start work, and each therapist must be certified by the Health Ministry of Thailand. We also conduct our own in-house training with our specialist Spa Trainer, to ensure that we can offer a consistent quality of service.”

Just a breeze?

Onyx Hospitality Group operates Breeze Spa across Amari properties in both urban and resort locations across the Asia-Pacific region. The brand started off in Thailand and has over the years expanded into Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

“We have a collection of six Breeze Spa locations in Thailand, five locations across the region and several more in the development pipeline as Amari continues its expansion towards new locations like Colombo, Vientiane, Kuala Lumpur and Penang,” says Sangngoen Thampradit, Director, Spa Operations, Onyx Hospitality Group.

Hotel-operated spas in city and resort locations often face the challenge of choice and competition, where guests have access to a wide variety of treatments, from locally operated massage parlours and chain spas to wellness facilities at neighbouring hotels. “It is essential that our Breeze Spa offerings are known for unique highlights, and for their ability to deliver experiences that stand out from the nearby offerings at the right price point,” says Thampradit.

Asked what specific skills and expertise are needed, he replies: “Each Breeze Spa is staffed by a dedicated team who are there to guide guests along their wellness journey, offer recommended treatments and even suggestions on fitness and nutrition. We attract team members who have experience operating in spa environments in well-known hotels and resorts across Asia.”

To ensure consistency in product and service delivery, the Bangkok-based corporate spa operations team works closely with each hotel to finetune its offerings, provide ongoing training and audits, and launch new treatments.