Guest Column - March 2007
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Great Expectations

Planning your spa for a successful launch

By Gary Henkin

f you're thinking about adding a spa to your facility, you must make sure that a well-thought-out plan for a successful launch is already in place. All too many developers, owners and property firms embark on the inclusion of a spa without first crafting a plan to design and open the facility appropriately. Developing a spa for operational and financial success can be a daunting task-one that requires significant investment.

Growth in the spa industry during the past five years has been dramatic. Today the spa business is the fourth largest leisure industry in the United States, with more than $11 billion in annual revenues. There are an estimated 12,000 spas in the United States, up 25 percent from only three years ago. Consumers can now find spa treatments at hotels and resorts, residential developments, doctor's offices, athletic clubs, golf clubs, airports, cruise ships and malls. Women account for slightly more than 70 percent of the market, but spa utilization by men also has been growing at a rapid rate during the past several years.

With this as a backdrop, many hotels, resorts and other facilities are seeking better ways to delineate themselves in the marketplace, while others simply want to keep up with competition. The development of a spa has become, in many projects, a required amenity.

It wasn't long ago that the typical hotel or club "spa" consisted of one or two treatment rooms offering a limited selection of services. That has changed dramatically. Spas have undergone a significant transformation. This includes design, equipment and treatment menu upgrades.

In today's extraordinarily competitive and stressful environment, travelers are often weary when they arrive at their destination and have come to expect a certain level of sophistication in leisure facilities. The inclusion of a spa can assist in achieving these expectations.

Should you add a spa?

How can you best determine whether to add a spa? What size and scope represent the most viable financial and operational modality? Putting it another way, how can you prepare a spa for operational and financial success?

It all starts with the planning process.

Before taking a "dart throw" approach, consider the potential benefits that can be derived from a needs analysis or feasibility study. This step should receive due consideration prior to expending significant capital on design, equipment procurement and construction.

A needs-analysis study will typically offer valuable information upon which the owner, developer or board can best decide whether to build the spa and what size, scope of services and location would be most viable. The report should include a market study, a competitive analysis, recommended space allocation and a preliminary operating pro forma. If a decision is made to proceed, the spa planning and design process can then move forward.

Concept development

A spa is qualitatively different from other property development amenities. In the end, what is delivered to the patron is more than a service-it is an "experience." As such, design aesthetics will play an all-important role in the consumer's mind and in how the spa will eventually perform from a financial and operational perspective.

Before the design process has begun, it is beneficial to develop a concept or "theme" for the spa. Remember that a successful spa appeals first and foremost to the senses. Research should be done to develop the spa theme with regard to unique features in the surrounding locale, including possible use of indigenous products in the creation of signature treatments and what the most appropriate "story" for the spa might be.