SpotLight: Retreat into Spa Culture - An interview at "The Dome".
By Sarah Muxlow ~ exclusive for 4Hoteliers.com
Wednesday, 31st May 2006
The general clutter of today's world is creating a need for simplicity and peace of mind. In response to customer demand for retreat experiences, the past decade has seen a dramatic growth in luxury hotel spas and spa resorts.  

Worldwide the spa resort industry is considered to still be in its infancy. To ensure continual growth for years to come, however, the advice from market leaders is to create a balanced operation with authentic design and principals. The Award winning Dome retreat, named one of the world's top 10 urban day spas, is an example of a luxury boutique spa striving to maintain high standards and balance in their approach.

The original concepts behind the Dome came from the creator's awareness that more people are living stressful lives. There is an increased number of people juggling family and work commitments, and mobile phones are never out of reach. For some time now, holiday retreats have been a great escape once a year, now however there is a need for more than ‘once a year' relaxation times. People are choosing on-going health programmes and are keen to be able to escape to a spa that is conveniently located.

Located within Brisbane's Marriot hotel in the heart of the city, the views from the Dome Spa are spectacular. The environment is everything you would expect of a 5 star setting; spotless facilities (a sauna, spa and swimming pool), a range of services, friendly individually selected staff and thoughtfully chosen products.

Alison Lester, Manager of The Dome Retreat, notes that since she started work in the beauty and health industry there have been some dramatic changes. "When I first started working in the health and beauty industry, no one knew really what a beauty therapist was." Over recent years, however, there has been a great change and overtime people have become more aware. "we have been working for many years to break down social barriers that have, in the past made people reluctant to embrace time out for themselves in a spa setting."

Now when taking a quick assessment of who their customers are today, Alison is quick to say that there has been a change. … "about a 20% of our customer base is male and 80% females. The men mainly have massages, but some are willing to try waxing and facials. Facials, massage and aqua therapy are probably the most popular with the ladies at the moment, particularly for example the Vichy shower."

The Dome, whilst very much part of the host Hotel is privately owned and run independently. "We have a very strong and good relationship with the Marriot. This is probably one of the challenges of such an arrangement; the relationship can make or break both or either business. We also have cross advertising opportunities. Approximately 80% of our customers are local and 20% are from the hotel." Says Alison.

Whilst independent in many ways, there is a noticeable collaboration between the Dome Spa and the Marriot, particularly when it comes to 5 star touches, service, the aim to offer an experience and of course the spa cuisine.

For example the Spa menu has incorporated the expertise of dieticians and nutritionists and the Executive Chef at the Marriot has had an influence in the offered cuisine. Drawing on experts in the field the menu reflects increased awareness in food allergies and intolerances as well as the need for healthy meals to be appetizing and satisfying.

Corporate clientsLocation in a city, a spa such as the Dome, attracts a range of customers. Tapping into the local corporate client is proving to be the area of growth. Companies are beginning to think about maintaining a healthy work force of workers. Wellness Programs include information about creating and developing a healthy balance lifestyle on a daily and long term basis.

When working with their corporate clients, Alison says that, "We offer a range of services. For example, when a group comes to the hotel for a conference, we have been asked to provide guest speakers on health, nutrition or lifestyle management. On other occasions we provide massages and relaxation sessions as part of their planned seminar day. In this case, for example, after lunch when listeners are feeling a little tired we provide a moment of relaxation which gives a boost for the afternoon seminar session."

As Alison comments, "there are many businesses now that will have masseurs come into their offices to give a massage at their desk, which is nice, but this doesn't really take the person away from work mentally."

Choice of ProductWhen choosing their products, Alison is keen to emphasis that they choose carefully. "There are many products on the market. We look at products that are results orientated, so not just creams that will feel good. Our products are naturally-based. We also favour products where producers have the ethic of continually trying to improve each product." The key to success here is to steer clear of fads, but to choose form producers who are continuously looking to improve upon what they already do. In the case of The Dome, the range is also up-market and exclusive, as their customers would expect.

StaffLike many areas of the hospitality industry Spas are struggling to find the right kind of staff. Alison comments that, "Our industry notoriously has a high turn over of staff. Whilst the Dome has a reputation that attracts staff, there is still a skills shortage. We look for staff with a good level of education and experience, it is essential to this environment. We recruit from specific recruitment consultancies that specialise in Spa staff. Many of our staff come from cruise ships, they like to work in a luxurious environment."

PricingWhilst it is known that margins on spa operations are among the largest in the hotel industry, the Dome manages to keep its prices reasonable. The main reason being; "We work with the market regarding pricing which is difficult because our overheads are large".

The future for Spas

Human resources is an on going issue for Spa managers. Poorly trained therapists will turn off customers who are seeking both a luxury and authentic experience. Customers want treatment that is carried out by a professional therapists who ideally will care for them each time they visit. Similarly to visiting the doctors, dentist or hair dressers, customers like familiarity and appreciate continuity in customer service. The aim for many a spa manger remains clear: There is the need to find staff with highest qualifications and experience as well as being suited to the specific spa environment and willing to commit.

SpotLight is the weekly column exclusively written for 4Hoteliers.com by Sarah Muxlow, it is highlighting the challenges and issues which the global hospitality is facing today.

Sarah is writing for hotel and restaurant owners, hotel chain managers, producers/growers/sellers of food & beverage, restaurant associations, governing bodies and hotel schools. She is looking at the problems they face...competition, trends of branding, staff shortages, unskilled staff, turning out students who are looking for good in-house management training schemes with hotel chains, what makes a good quality training course at a hotel school and more... 

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