Round table: Spa sector must shape up
The spa and wellness sector is a huge opportunity for the trade but not one they are able to tap into yet.
Amanda Matthews of Designer Travel said it is frustrating because she feels there are plenty of clients who would be keen but there is no easy way to book these breaks.
“The process for agents to transact that business is nonexistent,” she said.
“At the moment we send clients on holiday and they may well have a spa treatment, but it’s a hassle to book and we make no money.
“We have customers – a bit like with cruise a few years ago when we had to convince them to cruise for the first time – who might go on a wellness trip.
“But we need to make it easier to sell and have support from someone like a tour operator who has the expertise.”
Colin O’Neill of Advantage said wellness breaks weren’t really on agents’ radars but he believes the opportunity is huge.
He added: “It’s right for independent agents but they do need education and they do need clear processes for booking. And the products themselves need to be clearly defined.”
John Bevan of Spafinder Wellness 365 believes it is hard for agents to look at a hotel and understand what type of wellness it offers.
“You’ve got a huge range of quality – some hotels say they have a spa, but it’s just a Jacuzzi; others, like Café Royal, for example, have much more.
“The extreme in the UK is Center Parcs, which has two floors of wet and dry experiences with scents, fire and ice and more. You could spend three hours in there and not have done everything.
“And the industry hasn’t clearly defined wellness either, which has probably confused things, as that includes fitness, walking, even forest bathing which, believe it or not, is a trend. People are going to the New Forest to walk around – some barefoot – and with meditation.”
TIME FOR A TOUR OP?
Amanda Matthews believes a tour operator needs to set up a spa and wellness section to make it sellable.
“Travel agents cannot be all things to all men,” she said. “If I’m sending a client to Vietnam I speak to an operator and get the expertise to give the client confidence. But there’s nobody I can call for spa and wellness expertise.”
Amanda Darrington of Kuoni believes her company has the potential to have a spa and wellness specialist.
“A third of our clients are honeymooners and they tend to expect a spa experience on their trip,” she said.
“But when I see a hotel and look at the spa, I see some beds, some stones and the like, but it doesn’t resonate with me and I don’t know what exactly a customer will get out of that.
“I, and the guys that work at Kuoni, can talk with passion about destinations we have visited, but when it comes to spa we cannot put our hands on our hearts and say this spa is great and talk about how it compares to others.
“I also feel I need a clear definition of wellness, because for us a safari is wellness, scuba diving is wellness – and we do a lot of those sorts of experiences already.”
Anne Bromley of Travel Bureau talked about the Change Me retreats the agency has been running in a hotel in Turkey during which they take out groups who are keen to change their body and mind positively.
“We are the travel provider for these trips and can talk in general terms, but the clients have one-on-ones with trainers before they go to get more details and discuss what they want,” she said.
“But we had a client recently who came in looking for a wellness retreat in India and the agent who served her didn’t have the expertise and lost that client. Our plan is to expand our Change Me offering and create Chill Me and Challenge Me products too.”
Amy Sharpe of eWaterways believes there is a big opportunity in fitness related breaks.
“Boot camps are huge now, with British Military Fitness doing particularly well,” she said.
“These clients are desperate to go on holidays that reflect their demographic and meet other fit single people on a break that isn’t the traditional Club 18 30 type of trip with sleeping till 2pm and getting sunburnt.”
John Bevan suggested that tour operators probably have a lot of decent spa and wellness product already.
“It’s a question of pulling those out and highlighting them together,” he said. “And also, when the product team is negotiating, they could ask for holidays to have three treatments packaged up with them and the light menu options included.”
Christina Kalogera of the GNTO admitted the spa and wellness sector is one the Greece tourist board needs to look at more closely.
“In Greece we have a huge amount to offer,” she said. “It is the home of the very first spas. One of the blue zones [zones on earth where average age and health is abnormally high] is in Greece and we have some amazing natural hot springs and hotels with good spas.
“We need to educate the private sector about authenticity and sales points so have a lot of work to do.”
Jordan representative Debbie Flynn said there’s a need to go back to basics in providing definitions of wellness.
She added: “In Jordan we have a natural spa in the Dead Sea and that is an important part of the market. The Dead Sea is classified as medical tourism due to its health benefits but really it’s not invasive so should probably be classified as wellness tourism.”
Alison Cryer of the Oman Ministry of Tourism felt it wouldn’t make sense for Oman to promote wellness tourism as it may confuse people.
“Oman has promoted adventure and until the wellness sector defines itself and packages the product I would recommend Oman stick with that message,” she said.
“We offer things like walking, trekking and cycling and are trying to get that message across, so another message, when we don’t necessarily have the right product, would be a mistake. There are six hotels in Oman with spas and, while they are very good spas focused on relaxation and utilising local produce and methods, it is an add-on to a hotel stay.”
All members of the advisory board felt the flight is an important part of any wellness break as a bad experience can undo lots of good work.
Etihad Airways’ Jeremy Pollock said spa and wellness has been a feature of the airline’s product for a while and would grow.
“We have a Six Senses spa at Heathrow and Abu Dhabi, with more planned,” he said.
“The treatments have been chosen deliberately as quick ones for particular parts of the body and to de-stress before flights. This attitude extends to things like the on-board menus, which? highlight healthy options; the planes are designed to be more like hotels with lobby areas and the like; and soon every passenger will get a blow up neck pillow to add to their comfort. We need to persuade people that it is worth paying a little bit extra for this q