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Wed 29 Sep 2010 04:00 AM

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Bliss out

Liliana Matic Moore on why Bliss deserved to win Spa of the Year at the Middle East Spa Awards.

Bliss out
Director of spa Liliana Matic Moore.
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The W Doha lobby, called the Living Room.
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Birds eye view of the hotel lobby.
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The relaxation area.
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Bliss at W Doha features a spacious reception and retail area.
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Space to catch up with friends.

Louise Oakley visited W Doha to find out from director of spa Liliana Matic Moore why Bliss deserved to win Spa of the Year at the first Middle East Spa Awards.

I have never met anyone quite as full of energy and enthusiasm as Liliana Matic Moore, director of spa for Bliss at the super trendy W Doha. During our interview, which lasts close to two hours, Moore does not sit still for longer than 10 minutes, instead getting up to reveal the many different products hidden in her floor to ceiling cabinets, smearing different masks on my hands so I can "see and feel them working", explaining prototypes of new collateral and demonstrating testers of products, scrolling through photos of her latest publicity campaign and, most surprisingly, printing off her P&Ls and occupancy records to prove to me that yes, Bliss Spa is indeed the best in the Middle East.

Moore achieved this accolade for Bliss earlier this year at the first Middle East Spa Awards, which were announced at The Hotel Show in May. In addition to receiving the overall gong for Best Spa, beating Amara at Park Hyatt Dubai and the Six Senses Spa at Six Senses Zighy Bay, Bliss scooped the awards for best Spa Marketing and best Spa Design. Overall 25 spas across the region submitted 45 separate entries across five categories, and considering Bliss Spa was one of the newest, having only opened in May 2009, its domination was significant.

But for Moore, winning the awards was a necessity - she had to win on account of promises made to her GM at W Doha, Safak Guvenc, and the hotel owners, both of whom she speaks very highly of. "I have my GM's support, I have my owner's support, in how many spas does the owner come into the office?" asks Moore.

And she wouldn't have been happy with just the Marketing or Design Awards, which she humbly attributes to the Bliss branding machine based in New York. While Moore in reality plays a major role in the promotion of the spa - from taking the therapists out to cancer wards and golf courses to providing 550 goody bags at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open - it was the management, not marketing, award she had her sights on.

"When I first came here, I told him, ‘Safak I will make you the best spa ever'. Don't give me marketing or design - this is not me," says Moore, who sat nervously throughout the Awards waiting for the overall winner to be announced at the very end.

"I truly believe that management is management - my obligation is to bring customers in and make sure that my spa works and is profitable. Therapists are therapists, I don't interfere in their work, I just measure their results. They are the ones who are running inside the spa. I make sure they have everything they need and the customers are coming. I make sure that we measure whatever we do, how much we use, and I make sure we have good feedback," says Moore.

"I'm not a therapist. I strongly believe that for a successful spa you need a manager with a business background, not just a therapist. It's all about money, its all about my P&Ls. Since we opened the spa, from the first month, it's positive. And it's growing and growing. This is the secret and why I have such a support from my hotel. They know I take the money, I make the money, I pay it back. So it's just positive investment," Moore explains.

Figure of speech

And the figures speak for themselves, with overall revenue, retail, number of treatments and spa occupancy all riding high. Since opening to August 2010, Moore says the therapists have performed 17,000 treatments over 15 months, which is 1133 treatments per month. In 2009, Bliss finished with 58% spa occupancy, which Moore says "was excellent". Retail contributes on average at least 20% of revenue, expected to go up to 30% after Eid and Christmas. And this year, Moore says the spa, with just eight beds, two pedicure and three manicure chairs, is making QR 7 million, or US $2 million.

"My bottom line, that is how much money we give to the owner is around 45%, which is huge, but this is done by controlling expenses," reveals Moore. "You cannot control your expenses if you don't know them. At the same time my therapists have huge salaries So my fixed costs are high, but compared to what we make, it's not."
Paying good salaries is vital, says Moore, asserting that low pay is the biggest problem for the spa industry.

"They are very highly paid therapists, they work on commission, there is no salary less than QR 10,000 ($2747), they go up to QR 18,000 ($4944). It's more than my salary. But I have happy staff. Their basic salary is very low, QR 2000 ($550) for manicure/pedicure/massage and QR 2500 ($686) for a facial therapist, but they are very busy and they get their commission, they are fully booked. We measure them every four months and I check them. They have a quiz and reception has a test on all the treatments as well. If they don't know the answers, they have to go on the training - they cannot work. It is all about knowledge and that's why Bliss is a successful spa," says Moore.

The therapist are monitored extremely closely - if a massage therapist is not 65% occupied over their first year, they cannot continue at Bliss. For a facial therapist it's 55% occupied and for nail technicians, they must be 70% occupied.

In its money making mission, Bliss Spa adheres to strict rules where customers are concerned too, explains Moore. And she does not mince her words either - everything Moore says is to the point and from the heart.

"It is very, very competitive and you need to be professional, you need your staff to be professional. They need confidence; self esteem is what we are working on. If you don't show up for your treatment three times, you cannot book here. I lose money because someone forgot their treatment. Then they come and they shout at the receptionist - it's not allowed. I'll call security. Sometimes I think I'm very arrogant, but no, I'm not, I just want guests to behave properly, as they would be expected to in New York or London."

Certain systems are in place to maximise treatment room turnover at Bliss too. After a treatment, rather than being left to sleep, guests are taken to the relaxation room, and offered some  chocolate brownies and cheese. If they want a "half an hour shower", that's fine, says Moore, but it is to be had in the changing rooms, not in the treatment room.

Product know-how

Moore's business savvy does not mean she is not passionate about the spa industry itself though, far from it. Her background is in physical education, although she also studied economy of tourism and later combined them in launching various fitness centres, ladies medical centres and children's summer camps in Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. As a result, Moore now also oversees the pool and gym at W Doha, and hopes to introduce pilates classes for hotel guests and the residences.

She also has a firm belief in the Bliss range of spa products; along with their wonderful names and glorious scents, they achieve excellent results, says Moore. She also raises her own doubts about the whole organic spa movement.

"Many spas go organic and I have my theory about that - organic is when you make your yoghurt at home, or you mix your egg with your olive oil and you put it on your hair. Once it is in a packet it has to have a preservative, ingredients will not survive. So these organic things cannot be. It is the best they can do, but it is not without anything. What is 100% natural? This is a big question," says Moore.
Bliss offers paraben-free body butter now, however, and is continually working on product development. Supplying the face wash, body wash, shampoo and conditioner as 100ml in-room amenities also means that hotel guests have a chance to try them, which increases retail sales further, she adds.

"The face wash and triple oxygen mask and triple oxygen cream are now my best selling products," says Moore.

The efficiency of the products means that the facials at Bliss are expensive, however. The triple oxygen treatment is QR 750 (US $ 206) for 85 minutes for example, while add-ons such as an eye or collagen mask are another QR 200 ($ 55).

Pricing is designed to be in line with competitors such as Grand Hyatt, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton's Sharq Village, with Moore carefully calculating what each spa charges per minute for a treatment before setting her own pricing.

Bliss expansion

There is no doubt that Bliss at W Doha has been an instant success - in addition to the financials, 60% of the guests are Qatari and people familiar with the brand from Europe and the US are flying into Doha from across the GCC to have their favourite treatment or stock up on their products.

The demand for this New York style urban spa is widespread - it is simply for people who want to have a good treatment and go home looking good and feeling happy, says Moore.

But expansion of the Bliss concept in the region is slow, as W Doha is still the only W hotel in the Middle East. Bliss spas and amenities are exclusive to Starwood in the hotel category at W Hotels, following the sale by Starwood of Bliss Spas to Steiner for $100 million, which Moore says provided her with even more support as a spa manager. She says the next Bliss Spas will be in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and hopefully Bahrain. Bliss products will also be sold at Starwood's St Regis hotels, coming up in Doha and Abu Dhabi, and the partnership with Steiner means Bliss will also retail Elemis products, says Moore.

No doubt Bliss will lean on Moore for her expertise as and when the roll out happens, but for now, she is content in her role at W Doha and keener than ever to give back to the GM and owner who have enabled her to develop the spa so successfully - which is the attitude she expects in return from her therapists.

"When somebody takes care of you, you want to give them more," says Moore.