Relevance key to emerging spa market

SHALU CHANDRAN talks trends and spa patterns with Neil B Jacobs, senior vice president for operations, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Asia Pacific
Experience the magic of ayurveda at the Four Seasons Maldives

WHY are spas booming right now?
I think a tremendously growing global consciousness about wellness, so people are more conscious about their health and are prepared to commit more time to take care of themselves.

This is reflected in the growth of the spa industry in the last 10 years. We are seeing double digit numbers every year. This is a worldwide trend, not just specific to a region, and it carries across all segments of the industry, whether hotel, resorts, destination spas.

How much are spas a must-have facility now? Are they, in fact, a differentiator?
Four Seasons was one of the first companies to ever really embark upon serious spa developments in the hotel, in the mid 70s in Dallas, which was one of our first biggest spas. Certainly today we would not do a new hotel or resort without a spa as a critical component of the development. It is no longer just an amenity; it’s very much an integral part of the whole package a hotel offers.

What are the general spa trends right now?
Spas have gone way beyond the jam and jelly sort of pampering treatments. There is an amazing interest today in Ayurveda and we have certainly embraced that at the Landaa Spa and Ayurvedic Retreat at Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, which has been developed with experts from Kerala, offering a comprehensive approach to physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing. We are also focussing on traditional Chinese treatments and medicines. People are looking at wellness and spirituality in many ways. A relevant spa today needs to offer these kinds of modules.

So what are consumers and guests really looking for?
Ten years ago, the spa was only an addition to the gym or health club facilities in the hotel. They were usually tiny broom-closet size treatment rooms. Today, spas are distinct from fitness areas and are much bigger. Our newest hotel in Hong Kong has 17 or 18 treatment rooms, for example. What has also changed is the complexity of the treatment rooms – with their new all-encompassing function; you can change or relax in the rooms themselves. So, it becomes a total experience.

How do urban spas differ from resort spas? Or can you take a cookie-cutter approach?
Facilities vary in an urban and resort spa. In a resort environment, people have more time and indulge in full and half-day rituals. In an urban spa, the customer base is more business-driven. You need to be able to provide quick treatments, where they can come out feeling rejuvenated. The approach to the menu of services, too, might be a little different in both settings.
It is also important, we believe that spas reflect their environment, so if I am building a spa in the south west of US, I will look at drawing upon American Indian therapies and history and tradition. It is very important to be relevant to where we are. That said, it also depends a little bit on the audience – if I am in India, my foreign guest want to experience Indian rituals whereas the local Indians may be more interested in a European facial. So you need a balance. Finally, people are also particular about the quality of products used – guests are looking for natural products. The spa in Doha is using Sodashi, which is a wonderful range of all-natural products.

Some signature Four Seasons treatments?
It’s different everywhere. The Four Seasons at Nile Plaza in Cairo offers a Cleopatra’s Milk treatment, involves an enriching 20-minute milk bath filled with rose petals, honey and essential oils of rosemary which soothes, conditions and softens your skin. In Mexico, the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita has the Punta Mita Massage using a blend of Tequila and Sage Oil, both antiseptic and antibacterial, good for cleansing, detoxifying and curing infections of the skin. In Bali we have the Lulur Jimbaran which combines Javanese beauty ritual and the ultimate in pampering with a relaxing Balinese massage, followed by an exfoliation and a Javanese polish. All are very different but all have tangible benefits and reflect the history and the culture of where they are.