Preparing for the 'new normal'

By Sarah Camilleri

Hong Kong

By Sarah Camilleri

08 September 2020

Niamh O’Connell, group vice president of wellness and brand experience for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, reveals how a positive focus helped preparations to reopen Asaya Hong Kong in May

As the world locked down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many battened down the hatches to wait for the storm to pass. Others, like Niamh O’Connell, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts’ group vice-president of wellness and brand experience, decided to face the challenge head-on.

Applying 26 years of hospitality wisdom and leadership, O’Connell viewed the unfolding crisis as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to press the reset button” and brought together her dedicated wellness team to supercharge Rosewood’s newly launched Asaya wellness concept.

Rosewood Hotels & Resorts currently manages an ultra-luxurious portfolio of 28 properties in 15 countries, with 19 further new hotels under development. Its ground-breaking wellness concept, Asaya, debuted in October 2019 with the opening of Asaya Hong Kong at the Rosewood Hong Kong. Set over two floors and offering 3,716sqm of dedicated indoor-outdoor space, this urban haven offers a wealth of curated wellness experiences delivered by expert practitioners to residents, day guests and an exclusive city membership.

Asaya Hong Kong reopened in May to provide post-lockdown sanctuary for guests

How have you used your time during lockdown to reset your business?

We were determined to re-strategise – to unpack our business and its identity, which had been so successful previously – acknowledging that, when we did reopen, it would not be ‘business as usual.’

Collectively, our teams worldwide have established the building blocks to reopen with confidence, enthusiasm and clear direction.

What are the biggest changes spa and hospitality leaders will need to embrace?

It is crucial to stay positive and focus on motivating your team. It is up to us to provide them with a roadmap for reopening. It’s possibly the only time we will have a global reset.

An agile, flexible and transparent approach is key. You will need the agility to constantly adjust and tweak your businesses as the environment continues to shift. What we see working today for reopening markets may not be the correct approach in four or six months’ time.

A clear and engaging line of communication with your teams is also essential, so that everyone is collectively moving towards the same goals with the understanding that change will be constant until we can establish some patterns over the next 12-18 months.

“What is key is to stay positive and focus on motivating our teams. It is up to us to provide them with a roadmap for reopening. It’s the only time we will have a global reset.”

Niamh O’Connell

Group vice-president, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts

Congratulations on reopening Asaya Hong Kong in May. How did that go?

We were eagerly anticipating the reopening of Asaya Hong Kong. Our director of wellness, Erin MacNeil, has led the team with confidence and was a key contributor to our reactivation strategies

Recognising that our business would be 80% supported by the local market, we had some key target marketing initiatives prepared in order to encourage guests to pre-book and/or pay for appointments when we reopened.

The first couple of days were predominately bookings from regular guests who were eager to resume their wellness routines: from body mechanics, corrective massage and aesthetics to personal training. The confidence of the Asaya team has resulted in reservations growing daily.

Bespoke wellness classes are part of the Asaya offering

How have you recalibrated and adapted the guest journey post-Covid-19?

We studied guest flow in great detail and walked the spaces. Erin and I wanted to identify the high-touch points, the ‘nice-to-haves’ and the essentials, so we conducted a High Touch Audit to determine what needed to be changed. The outcome was that pretty much everything had to be altered. We wanted to ensure we maintained a luxurious experience while assuring people of our elevated hygiene practices.

When guests arrive they are welcomed and invited to wash their hands and apply hand sanitiser. Once they are seated, they can see that the arrival area and the set-up has changed considerably to accommodate the sanitation equipment, gloves, masks, automated hand sanitiser, etc

Our welcoming amenities are focused on immunity-boosting elixirs that are individually served and accompanied by an Oshibori towel dipped in essential oils with antiseptic properties.

The guest flow at Asaya Hong Kong has been recalibrated post-Covid-19

Hygiene is clearly of the utmost importance

Hygiene has always been paramount for us but we have taken extra precautions thoughout our properties. Our spa teams have face masks, disposable gloves, shoe covers, aprons and protective eye goggles. The levels of PPE are dependant on each role, however, we do not wear gloves for massage services or facial services.

Our guest journeys have also been revisited extensively and every touchpoint now has an associated elevated hygiene practice. From an operations perspective, we have extended treatment suite turnover time to one hour. This allows the housekeeping team to deep-clean the entire suite.

How have you met the challenges of social distancing elsewhere in the spa?

Being transparent and sharing your new practices with guests will greatly benefit your operation and encourage social distancing, which has been respected throughout our spa and wellness areas. This is managed by controlled reservation times and facility utilisation.

We are fortunate to have fully equipped treatment suites, so some guests can go directly to their destination. We also have various relaxation areas that guests can enjoy before and after services.

Top 5 takeaways for reopening

1. Remain agile, flexible and transparent

Spa leaders need to demonstrate mental agility to constantly adjust and tweak the business model as the environment continues to shift.

2. Create a reactivation plan

Your spa operations team needs to have the necessary guidance and tools. Analyse your business to identify where there are opportunities to reopen.

3. Walk your guest journey

Consider the essentials versus the nice-to-have touchpoints. Address your team’s concerns and really listen – this is critical as they are the ones on the ground daily with the guests.

4. Start slowly

Reduce operating hours until business grows. Review your staffing, cross-train where possible to maximise the utilisation, and ask yourself what you may be able to expand going forward.

5. Think ‘digital engagement’ and build trust

Online sales can present new revenue opportuntities. Be mindful of any shift in spend to lifestyle merchandise purchases, such as active wear, wellness tools and self-care ready-made kits, as well as gift cards.

What new opportunities do you foresee arising in the future?

It is very evident that Lockdown gave people a greater sense of their individual wellbeing. We have all have had an opportunity to reprioritise and ‘self-check’ what is meaningful, and who and what adds value to our lives. This self-actualisation is the first step for people on their own journey to an improved lifestyle.

During the lockdown we have seen our guests engage with us for lifestyle tips and respond positively to workshops or classes we host via social media. Online sales have demonstrated a sharp growth in lifestyle merchandise purchases, from active wear, wellness tools and self-care kits to a strong growth in gift card sales.

The short-term solution for operators is ‘staycations’. As part of our Reactivation Plan, we have created several staycation packages with wellness components and some with a very strong family theme. Also we have a specific Reset Staycation that is purely focused on the individual’s holistic wellbeing – both mental and physical.

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