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Mon 6 Mar 2006 04:00 AM

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Maintain balance

Since taking over management of the health club and spa at the Shangri-La hotel, Dubai in January 2005, Michael Monsod has tripled membership, streamlined the menu and added much-talked about therapies, such as his aquamarine facial. Here, he talks to Leisure Manager about his management challenges

|~|Monsod,-Michael---L.jpg|~|Michael Monsod believes in experimenting with new treatments.|~|What is the concept behind the Spa?

The health club and spa at the Shangri-La hotel, Dubai is designed to be a haven for fitness, well-being and beauty. It also has a strong Asian influence, both in the interior design and the spa treatment menu. We are featuring select signature Chi treatments, which are based on TCM and Himalayan techniques, and we also offer other traditional therapies, like Balinese massage.

Chi is the spa brand for Shangri-La. While we are not branded as a Chi spa, because our operations are not large enough, we still carry some of the signature treatments. Chi is the universal life force what is responsible for positive balance, so its free flow in the body is essential to maintain good health. While we are not a Chi spa, you can still feel the Asian touch. The spa is very modern, and a lot of the people working here are Asian. Saying that, I am considering using dates to localise the treatments in the Middle East. Our menu already incorporates a number of traditional treatments.

How does the spa offering work with the business hotel model?

The peaceful ambience and varied selection of treatments at the health club and spa make it appealing to a wide variety of people. Men and women, business travellers and vacationers can all find something that interests them and addresses their needs. The central location of the hotel also makes it an ideal stopover for people working in different areas of the city and it is like finding an oasis where one can relax and recharge within Dubai. People here don’t have much time to relax. What we offer here meets the needs of these people.

In-house guests currently only account for 10% of our business. Most of our hotel guests are business travellers, and they are running around Dubai and don’t have time for treatments. What we are seeing is an increase in female business travellers, and the spa is seeing a growth from that market.

Locally, we attract a 50/50 mix of male and female customers. We have always had a strong male market. The men here do not seem intimidated by the spa atmosphere and it is not hard for them to try out treatments.

What is the unique selling point of the spa?

The friendly staff, welcoming atmosphere and the highly effective treatments using the signature Chi products and the Biodroga range.

How successful has the spa been? What percentage of annual top line hotel profits can be attributed to the spa?

The year 2005 was tremendous for both the health club and spa and the hotel. Since January 2005 we have more than tripled out membership base and have exceeded our budget by more than 50%. The spa contributed to around 3% of overall hotel profits.

So far, 2006 has started very well and surpassed our expectations, even over the mourning period for Sheikh Maktoum we recorded business, because people had time off and were coming to the spa.

What changes have you made in the last twelve months? What has worked and what didn’t?

I have streamlined the treatment menu and introduced new treatments, such as the Balinese massage. We have also sped up the membership process and implemented operational procedures that make the gym and spa experience more appealing to the guests. We have made it as easy as possible to join and now have 350 members. That is a comfortable number, but we can take in additional members on different membership terms.

With a lot of support from the communications department, we have also done a lot of promotions to target different markets and promote different treatments. Some worked, some were not so popular but it was a very good learning experience for all.

How do you decide what treatments to offer? And how do you source treatment suppliers?

Fortunately, we have very good suppliers for both the signature Chi treatments and the Biodroga treatments. Shangri-La has strict corporate guidelines with regards to the choice of treatments, but there is also some room to be creative. I’ve chosen new treatments to add that are both traditional, like our natural facial made from egg white, orange and cucumber, and some are revolutionary, like the Royal Aquamarine facial using gemstone sticks. I feel that both these treatments are appealing to the discerning spa goer and spark interest. Although sometimes my shopping list looks more like a grocery list, and sees me spending plenty of time in the kitchens.

I am able to be more experimental than others in the chain because we are not a Chi spa. For example, the Aquamarine facial has been promoted very well, and we are getting a lot of people asking about it.

How often do you change your treatments menu?

I usually do a quarterly review just to see what’s moving and what’s not. Then I decide on whether to add or remove a treatment, or introduce one as a special offer on a limited basis. I also do a lot of competitive shopping, and I try and visit as many spas as I can. In February we carried out an intensive training on the Chi treatments with our regional spa trainer for 12 days, and made a few minor adjustments to the menu as a result.

What area of the spa/health club takes most of your time and why?

Unfortunately, I find myself in the office quite a lot answering e-mails and attending to administrative matters. I also spend quite a bit of time analysing and strategising on different ways to boost business and improve services.
Luckily, I have strong people under me, which is good.
I try to work out regularly, but ironically I don’t manage this much, even though my office is next do to the gym.

How does this spa compare to others you have worked in?

This is definitely very dynamic and exciting because of the volume of people we receive and the location. I’ve worked in two other resort properties and I find that the demands of people in Dubai are slightly different and more straightforward. It’s a good challenge.

What do you think of the current spa industry in Dubai? And how does it compare to other spa destinations?

As in many other sectors, the spa industry in Dubai is definitely booming. This can be seen from the many new spas that are opening up because of the enormous demand. There is still a lot of work to do as compared to other established spa destinations, but for Dubai is it just a matter of time.

How important is the spa component to a hotel nowadays?

Well, it’s hard to imagine any five-star property that doesn’t have a spa. I think it’s an essential to have a well-rounded establishment that aims to attract different market segments. It’s also a very important consideration when both business and leisure travellers are deciding on where to stay.

How do you see the spa industry in Dubai and the Middle East developing in the future?

If we can have a ski slope in Dubai they we have huge potential to be a spa destination. Why not? Dubai and other Middle East destinations like Muscat and Doha have huge potential in becoming preferred choices for leisure destinations.

I see the spa industry as being a major component in making this a reality for the region. There are many investors, industry professionals and spa addicts keen to jump on this bandwagon.||**||

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