By Louise Oakley
Sofitel has recently launched LeSpa at The Palace in Dubai. Director of spa for Sofitel Alain Masazza tells Louise Oakley of his commitment to opening at least one spa per month this year.
Five years ago, as director of marketing, tourism and leisure products for French hospitality group Accor, Alain Masazza introduced the first spa concept into the Group's Sofitel hotel chain at its resort properties in Marrakech, Morocco and in Mauritius.
"When you have a resort, you have to have a spa," says Masazza, who is based in Paris, France. "We had a lot of success with the first spas, and from there we started to develop an urban spa for the hotel business, setting up a special spa department three years ago."
LeSpa will work in Dubai the way it works in other places. We have a specialism in beauty and I believe this is where we make the difference.
Masazza has since developed the concept to create the LeSpa brand, and as Sofitel has grown so too has LeSpa, with spa becoming more and more crucial to the overall hotel offer.
Around 60% of Sofitels have a spa and there are now 32 LeSpas worldwide, including the recently-opened LeSpa at The Palace, The Old Town, in Dubai, UAE - the first LeSpa in the Middle East.
"There are also spas managed by the owner or outsourced," says Masazza.
Now as director of spa for Sofitel, Masazza is committed to opening one spa a month as the chain embarks on a global brand relaunch and expansion. This involves the repositioning of the hotels under three new premium brands: Sofitel Legend, Sofitel and So.
"We have more than 50 spas in renovation or construction within the Sofitel network worldwide. They will be open between now and the end of 2009. Almost every week we get a new project; we are just opening so many Sofitels," says Masazza.
The expansion will increase Sofitel's presence in the Middle East, with openings planned for Zallaq in Bahrain, Doha in Qatar, Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia and Muscat in Oman, as well as a second Dubai property on The Palm, Jumeirah.
So, how will the LeSpa brand fit into this new market?
"We have a very simple philosophy. We are not there to cure or resolve any sort of problem. What we want to give you, when you come into our spa, is one or two hours of relaxation; a chance to let down all your problems and enjoy yourself.
"So for one or two hours, you are not in charge; we are in charge. We just want to give pleasure and make people feel much better," explains Masazza.
"We also have a very simple positioning. When people go on holiday, their desire is to discover the tradition of that country.
"So, we want to bring the tradition of the country we are operating in through to each spa," says Masazza.
"And of course, beauty is a key. French beauty and elegance is part of the idiom of Sofitel," he adds.
As a result of the incorporation of national traditions, each LeSpa is very different.
Los Angles Sofitel is very luxurious for example and the spa in Paris is more contemporary, while in French Polynesia there is a spa on the beach and a spa over water, explains Masazza.
LeSpa at The Palace in Dubai, which is located on two levels of the west wing of the hotel to enable it to cater separately to male and female guests, has a luxurious and contemporary feel with Arabic influences.
Decorated in beige and brown tones, the print of the spa brand worldwide, LeSpa features a dedicated consultation space, changing rooms, an oriental bath house with hammam slab, monsoon showers, steamrooms and hydrobath, treatment rooms with private changing areas, relaxation lounge and retail counter - all contributing to a real journey for the spa guest.
Despite the different style of the spas, all LeSpas share a focus on beauty treatments and use the Décléor and/or Lancôme product houses as a minimum, with an exclusive concept developed with Lancôme for urban city hotel-based spas. LeSpa at The Palace also offers Carita products.
At each LeSpa, an assistant spa manger, usually recruited from France, is in charge of quality and training, which Masazza says is very important.
It is the focus on beauty, however, that will be a key to LeSpa's success in the Middle East region, he adds.
"I believe LeSpa will work in Dubai the way it works in other places. It certainly has the best beauty treatments in the city.
"We have a specialism in beauty and I believe that is where we make the difference," says Masazza.
"It takes time to train people and time to achieve things the way we want to do them, but if we are successful it's because we try to give the best quality in terms of service and treatment - before treatment, during treatment and after treatment. A lot of people trust us because of this."
A fitness facility - branded as SoFit, a fitness concept with relaxation facilities - is also an essential service that should be offered close to the spa, adds Masazza.
"If you go on business or vacation, you really want to get some exercise."
"If you are a business man, for example, you wake up at 7am, run for 45 minutes, take a bath and go to work."
"So you need to offer fitness activity; it's something that is even more important than the spa," he asserts.
As part of Sofitel's global rebranding, LeSpa - which was originally branded to reflect the French heritage of the parent company and be easily recognisable as a spa worldwide - will be renamed.
Masazza says: "We will be changing the name at the end of this year or next year."
"LeSpa will become SoSpa. We had to make a choice, and this reinforces the hotel brand along with SoFit. It's not very important - what is more important is Sofitel as a brand and SoFit and SoSpa will bring value to the brand."
For example, the Sofitel Muscat & Spa, which is not scheduled to open until January 2011, will feature SoSpa.
In the meantime, Masazza is focused on his target of opening at least 12 new spas this year, as Sofitel grows towards a 250-strong portfolio of hotels in 2010/2011. Over the next few months, he is due to launch spas in: Bangkok, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Shanghai, China.
"We need to open more than one spa a month. This is our big challenge and we are completely dedicated to achieving this," says Masazza.