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Key takeaways from the Spa Education Academy online conference

Report by Lauren Heath-Jones

By David Fagan

28 May 2021

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Mental wellness and five-star service were on the menu at this year’s Spa Education Academy (SEA) Online Spa Conference. The virtual event, attended by students and spa professionals alike, offered accessible educational sessions with leading industry experts.

This year’s edition featured keynote speeches from a range of experts – including designer Alberto Apostoli, Amanda Frasier of Forbes Travel Guide, Mandarin Oriental’s Jeremy McCarthy, Oxford University Professor Gerard Bodeker, and ISPA chairman Patrick Huey, vice-president of spa and retail at Montage International – each sharing their insight on topics as diverse as mental wellness, spa design and sustainable spa careers.

Kathryn Dowthwaite-Blay, director and founder of the SEA, said: “For four years, SEA has been meeting the needs of spa leaders and managers internationally by providing degree-level qualifications in spa management. We are so honoured to bring the spa community the latest academic research, expert insight and career development from such inspiration leaders.”

European Spa shares highlights from the event.

Mental wellness in a time of pandemic

University of Oxford professor and author, Professor Gerard Bodeker examined how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted mental wellness and what spas can do to mitigate the growing mental health crisis.

 

“The pandemic has brought uncertainty, fear, isolation, financial hardship, separation from loved ones, and, in many cases one’s own illness,” he told attendees.

 

“A spa is a haven of security and warmth and a chance to decompress. Some guests will want to be pampered, while others will wish to heal from a deeply challenging time. Others may have got out of their wellness routines and want to take steps to get these back on track.”

"It’s well established that a happy workplace produces a productive workforce and leads to satisfied customers who want to come back."

Professor Gerard Bodeker

Author and professor at Oxford University

Professor Bodeker said it was crucial that spa professionals were prepared for all of these different realities and could “meet guests where they are in their own journey and to make sure that their needs are understood and met as far as is possible. Warmth, understanding and receptivity are key here.”

 

He continued: “Everything that guests have experienced during the pandemic, spa personnel have also experienced. Operators need to understand this and create an opportunity for spa workers to be able to share their experiences and feel supported. It’s well established that a happy workplace produces a productive workforce and leads to satisfied customers who want to come back.”

How to design an exciting and profitable spa

Alberto Apostoli, founder and CEO of Italian spa design and consultancy firm Studio Apostoli, which specialises in wellness architecture, has designed countless spas worldwide throughout his 25-year career. His talk explored the ways in which a spa’s design can influence a guest’s experience and how it can be utilised to create impressive spa interiors and long-lasting memories.

“Architecture plays a fundamental role in our wellness,” he said. “Architecture is a technical discipline and influences our movement in space and therefore our physical state, but it’s also art and influences our emotional and spiritual state. It’s a central element for our wellbeing.”

“The style, the colours, finishes, layout of the spaces [in a spa]; everything must contribute to making the guest experience unique."

Alberto Apostoli

Architect and founder, Studio Apostoli

He said that when entering a spa, the design is the first thing that impacts the guest: “It affects their subconscious and the memory they carry with them once their stay is over,” he explained. “It’s essential to create an innovative concept that is unique to the location of the spa and allows for specific storytelling.

“The style, the colours, finishes, layout of the spaces; everything must contribute to making the guest experience unique.”

Creating a five-star spa experience – what does it take?

Amanda Frasier, executive vice-president of standards and ratings at Forbes Travel Guide, revealed that the secret to a five-star guest experience lies between the facility and the service provided.

 

“Creating a five-star experience is a balance. You must have a stellar facility of course, but how the service makes a guest feel throughout their stay is key,” she explained.

"Product selection, testing and training and ongoing maintenance are important factors to ensure your service doesn’t fall behind."

Amanda Frasier

Executive vice-president of standards and ratings, Forbes Travel Guide

Frasier added: “The guest will expect to be treated as an individual without ever feeling ‘watched’, behind-the-scenes this is a lot of hard work but the overall experience will feel seamless and well thought out.”

 

“Attention to detail is also important; product selection, testing and training and ongoing maintenance are important factors to ensure your service doesn’t fall behind.”

Creating a successful career in spa and wellness

In a speech entitled ‘Creating a Successful Career in Spa and Wellness’, Jeremy McCarthy, author and group director of spa and wellness at Mandarin Oriental, shared three lessons he has learned during his career.

  1. “Understand the financial side of the industry. If you can drive profit into the business you will be worth more in your career.”

"The best spa is not the one that offers every new fad that comes along. The best spa is the one that does one thing better than anyone else.”

Jeremy McCarthy

Group director of spa and wellness, Mandarin Oriental

2. “Maintain a ‘beginner’s mind’ and always be learning. One mistake that people make early in their career is getting confident too quickly. Remind yourself that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and challenge yourself to bring a fresh perspective to every new project.”

3. “Do things better or differently than everyone else. The best spa is not the one that offers every new fad that comes along. The best spa is the one that does one thing better than anyone else.”

Be educated...

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