SpaFest 2022: Reconnecting with passions and strengths

Wendy Golledge reports from this year’s Spafest, where new ideas were shared, heartfelt leadership was celebrated and attendees experienced a unique atmosphere [Photography by Paul Collier]


By European Spa

14 October 2022

Gathered in the beautiful Gwel an Mor Resort in Portreath, Cornwall, more than 120 senior spa professionals and wellness leaders embraced sustainable change and took time explore the ‘new’ bottom line – planet, people and prosperity – at this year’s SpaFest.

The conference opened with an introduction from SpaFest founder Amanda Winwood before sound artist Justin Wiggan ( shared his mind-blowing explorations into the sounds made by plants. Wiggan showed how sound lasers, by measuring changes in electrical impulses, can allow plants to ‘sing’ and connect people with nature to enhance wellbeing via a haptic jacket.

Spa industry pioneer Sue Harmsworth MBE with Jean-Paul Blissett, Well Architects & Design

“The potential for spa is endless,” said director of spa and leisure at Cameron House Resort, Loch Lomond, Brian Hunter. “I’m envisaging living walls in thermal suites, with all the plants connected up to Justin’s haptic jacket and guests able to connect with nature in a way we’ve never been able to offer before.”

Spas must embrace technology

ESPA founder and celebrated business leader Sue Harmsworth MBE then challenged her audience in a striking keynote.

“I think the spa industry is stuck. We must embrace tech – if we don’t it will become a threat – while at the same time not losing our intuition, our holistic roots,” she said.

Iain Bell, Paul Gerrard, Brian Hunter, Mark Smith, Tori Mountford and Wendy Golledge take a mindful moment at SpaFest 2022

“You’re catering to a much more educated guest that knows spa and is looking for more. But you can’t be all things to all people so work out who are your guests? What do they need? Then match your staff and your training so you service that need exceptionally. Spa managers … ignore trends. Get back into the treatment room, meet your guests and find out what’s best for your clients.”

Delivering spa authentically

In a later panel session entitled ‘Shifts Not Trends’, chaired by European Spa founding editor Sarah Camilleri, Kirsty McCormick from The Spa Consultancy backed up Harmsworth, adding: “There’s a shift towards delivering authenticity again. Spas need to tailor treatments to meet guests’ expectations and do so authentically. To do that you need to reinspire your staff to love spa again. They’re burnt out, they’re bored, they feel undervalued.”

McCormick suggested introducing a service charge that goes straight to therapist, as a way to increase pay in a way that doesn’t impact the bottom line and give therapists more ownership of their role.

European Spa's Sarah Camilleri talked spa shifts not trends Kirsty MacCormick, The Spa Consultancy; Teresa O'Farrell, Dorchester Collection; and Nigel Franklyn, The Spa Whisperer

Digitising spa

Of the myriad of topics touched on during the first day, there were several stand out thoughts and opinions to reflect upon.

Teresa O’Farrell, global spa director, Dorchester Collection said: “We need to educate senior management that workplace wellness isn’t just a tick box exercise.”

Spa Whisperer Nigel Franklyn urged spas to reconnect with their therapists’ passions and strengths, both for staff retention and guest satisfaction. “Your teams’ behaviour mirrors their beliefs. Work on what your people believe in, give them ownership, and their behaviour will change. Therapists are emotional people; get to know them and put their passions on your treatment menu.”

Amanda Winwood with Jean-Paul Blissett, Well Architects & Design; Dr Neil Carpenter, NMC2; Emma Pridding, The Spa at Carden Park; and Beverley Bayes, Sparcstudio discuss sustainability

Sarah Camilleri urged all delegates to take a fresh perspective from their time at SpaFest. “People are doing more searches on TikTok than Google! Where can we play a part to help the digitalised next generation? And how can we get better at communicating? So many people still don’t know enough about spa. We need to project a different image and, to do that, our future needs heartfelt leadership,” she said.

Recruitment and retention

Always at the forefront of delegates minds, debate turned to the issues of recruitment and retention, and how as an industry spa can empower and educate staff.

Diane Hey from Armonia Training, who is spearheading spa apprenticeships across the UK, urged operators to consider ‘growing your own’. “The standards are there; the future of the industry is in your hands. Get involved in curriculum design for apprentices, tailor it to your needs, help us create thinking therapists,” she said. “With the right protocols and support, apprentices can be your answer.”

Mehmet Er, Gharieni Group tries out Internal Garden's new plant technology created by sound artist Justin Wiggan. The haprtic jacket and sensors allow the plant to connect, communciate and massage the wearer through sound

Inclusivity for cancer sufferers

A highlight of the second day was a panel session about inclusivity chaired by Amanda Winwood, founder Made for Life Organics Touch Therapy. Polly King, consultant oncoplastic breast and skin cancer surgeon, RCHT, challenged the assembled spa professionals to ask ‘how can I help cancer patients embrace their new normal?’

In an often moving session, King said that “patients with cancer still have the same wellbeing and holistic needs – therapeutic interventions shouldn’t be a bolt-on; if they want to go to a spa, they should be able to. We’re entering a new era of cancer survivorship and fear of recurrence is huge. There’s no evidence spa can do any harm; but you can offer the mindful, holistic care that the NHS struggles to provide. Train up your therapists, help them trust that they can do cancer patients some good.”

The empowerment and education panel led by Emma Williams with Leslie Bacon, HandPicked Hotels; Diane Hey, Armonia Training; and Sue Harmsworth, MBE

A thought-provoking panel chaired by Mark Smith in conversation with Ian Bell, wellness consultant, Paul Gerrard, Happy Paul and Brian Hunter, focused on Crossing Horizons: mental health and men’s wellbeing. Other speakers included Beverley Bayes, SparcStudio, Emma Pridding, spa director, Carden Park, Jean-Paul Blisset, Well Architecture and Design, Ian Bell, wellness consultant, Dr Neil Carpenter, NMC2 and Lesley Bacon, HandPicked Hotels.

Mark Smith leads a Kalm Horizons session on the Cornish coast

As a final wellness boost, a Kick Start to Wellbeing workshop, led by Iain Bell, Executive Fitness Foundation, gave delegates tools for resilience including energy boosters and daily wellness hacks to help them to make real change in the year ahead.

“Since its inception in 2017, SpaFest has drawn the spa and wellbeing industry together in an open and authentic way. SpaFest 2022 was, I believe, the best event yet. It was heart-warming to witness the amazing connections and pledges made. For me, SpaFest is like witnessing a vision become a reality,” said Amanda Winwood.

SpaFest downtime: Clare Dickens, Germaine de Capuccini; Holly Webster, Oskia; and Teresa O'Farrell and Sally Peddar of Dorchester Collection

Forest bathing and sound therapy

As always SpaFest also provided opportunities to enjoy conversations with like-minded colleagues alongside wellbeing workshops including sea swimming and meditation led by Kalm Horizons’ Mark Smith and mindful forest bathing and sound therapy in the ancient Tehidy woods with the Gong Whisperer Jill Russell; Ann-Marie Hurst, founder of Floreat on the power of herbs and wellbeing; and Maria King from Junius on gut health.

Relaxation therapies were available from sponsors Gaia, Murad, Hydrafacial, Gharieni and Made for Life Organics.

The event was drawn to a close with heartfelt pledges summed up by closing words from Germaine de Cappucini’s Clare Dickens: “The do is always better than the don’t. It’s about having the strength to do things differently.”

SpaFest treasurer Fran Hayter talks about the importance of mental health and looking after family, friends and work colleagues

“Well over £5,000 was raised thanks to the fine efforts of our treasurer Fran Hayter. This will all be invested in SpaFest Gives Back. A huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who came, supported, engaged and celebrated who we are. You all make it the insightful event that it is.”

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