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Mon 19 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Spa R&R

Relaxation and pampering facilities within hotels are becoming more sought after as guests lead increasingly busy lives. Hotelier Middle East asks spa managers from around the region to reveal current guest demands.

Relaxation and pampering facilities within hotels are becoming more sought after as guests lead increasingly busy lives. Hotelier Middle East asks spa managers from around the region to reveal current guest demands.

What originally attracted you to work as a spa manager?

Andrea Rollins:My ability to lead and to stay focused even when situations seem challenging. My team members always looked to me for guidance and were seeking my advice on services, treatments and how to speak to the guests about products and treatments.

Bobby Griffiths:I enjoy working with people and it was a natural progression from being a spa therapist.

A spa director must have a good attitude and genuinely be interested in the welfare of his or her guests.

Jittima Wongsiripaiboon:When I was a little girl I liked to give massages to my grandmother. She would pay me THB 50 (US $1.5) but really it just made me feel good to make her feel good, and I looked forward to giving her a massage every week.

After I graduated from university I was introduced to a book detailing the collection of spas in Thailand and I was interested.

Nicola Bush:I enjoyed working as a therapist, however, as I started to climb the career ladder, I realised there was a whole other side to spas.

I love being able to use creativity on a daily basis when coming up with new spa treatments, promotions and packages. I am one of the strange few who love to work with numbers, so I also love the business side of running a spa; the budgets, sales statistics and breakdowns etc.

Davina Patel:I joined the beauty profession at a later stage in my career so I was very keen and ambitious to gain as much experience and knowledge as I could to further myself. That paid off - within two years of qualifying as a beauty therapist I had progressed to spa manager.

Carol Fajht:I was originally trained as an aromatherapist and found my passion, which spurred me on to pursue spa management.

Ratchaneekorn Mitplong:I did not become a spa manager overnight, as I started my career as a spa therapist. What continues to attract me to this fascinating industry promoting health, wellness and lifestyle balance, is the ability to travel and meet different people from all walks of life. How did you get into the job?

Rollins:I used to work on cruise liners - Carnival Cruise line and Royal Caribbean - and wanted to return to solid ground. So I looked for the best hotel to work with and was blessed to get this great opportunity at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel here in Bahrain.

Griffiths:I studied for a beauty therapy diploma at college for two years and then worked (in what used to becalled a ‘health farm') in the UK for three years before taking my first job abroad in Jordan working for the Sanctuary.

Wongsiripaiboon:First I had to learn all the massage techniques because I was interested in the spa industry and then I applied for a position as assistant spa manager in Bangkok, Thailand.

Bush:I started as a spa therapist in 1996 with Springs Health Spa, part of the Champney's Spa Group, then to Hoar Cross Hall; a destination spa in UK, working my way to up to deputy treatment manager.

In 2002, once I had learned as much as possible about the spa industry I moved to Dubai to focus more on five-star hotels as they provide excellent training for management levels. Once in Dubai I worked in a five-star hotel for two years then went on to be a spa trainer for the Middle East, however, I missed the hustle and bustle and higher standards of hotels so I moved back into the five-star hotel environment and continued as a spa manager.

Patel: Ihave always loved being a therapist and still do. Using this passion and applying it through my ambition of wanting to achieve and further my career has brought me into spa management. Spa Al Aqah has a diverse range of treatments, including ayurveda, so it gives me a lot of scope to work with the therapists and clients.

Mitplong:I had some friends who were working as spa therapists with Banyan Tree Bangkok. In Asia and particularly in Thailand, the Banyan Tree brand is very renowned for its spa operations. Hearing my friends talk about the company and its emphasis on staff welfare and training, I became interested in finding out more. Eventually, I joined the company as a spa therapist, after undergoing training at their spa academy.

What kind of challenges do you face in your role?

Griffiths:There are many challenges - staff being homesick, purchasing issues and recruitment.

Luckily, the guest complaints in my spa are very few, so mainly challenges are just day-to-day issues that present themselves.

Wongsiripaiboon:We must deal with many types of guests, most of whom are very polite and pleasant, but sometimes some will act inappropriately, and it is my job to deal with any negative influences.

Bush:I have to be completely honest and say I do not face too many challenges in my role. I am very lucky to be supported by the hotel management. I think the most challenging aspect of my job is to understand the spa laws and legislation of the UAE. As the spa industry is still in the early stages in the Middle East, the rules and standards are also still being written. This can be frustrating at times and again, being supported by a hotel this does not affect me as much as it would be working in a private spa.

Patel:As my role doesn't require me to be hands-on anymore, I sometimes feel I've lost touch with my passion for treating and giving a client or guest an experience through our spa journey. Fortunately, in my role at Spa Al Aqah, I still have the option of being hands-on. Having gone back to being hands-on has really helped in making improvements and creating new journeys and experiences. Fajht:Staff retention and development and getting supplies on time.

Mitplong:As a spa manager, I supervise a team of male and female therapists of different nationalities. This is when communication is sometimes a challenge as each team member has their own culture and personality.

I have to be patient and respectful. As the work is physically demanding, it is important to keep the staff morale high and to motivate them. If not, they will tire easily and not perform to the best of their abilities.

What is the most unsual experience you've had working in a spa?

When I was a little girl I liked to give massages to my grandmother.

Rollins:In my first job I was working for a skin care clinic and one of the treatments I did was micro dermabrasion. I had one lady guest whose skin had not been getting the correct care for a long time and she had oily skin and had developed a lot of pustules (oily spots) on her face.

After the micro I was so amazed at how much oil came out of her skin and how different her skin looked after the treatment. That convinced me I was in the right field because I was so pleased with the results for her and felt very motivated.

Griffiths:Working in the desert in Jordan, I've dealt with infestations of various species, such as rats, snakes, scorpions and spiders! Unfortunately, the staff ate the snake!

We've also dealt with flooding, fires and an eclipse. The eclipse was quite funny, as a lot of people in Amman had not come across this before and thought that the end of the world was imminent. We had a few staff that refused to come into work on that day. They barricaded themselves into their apartments with shutters down, supplies of food, together with their families and prayed all day that they would make it out alive.

Another time we were expecting a visit to the spa from Colonel Ghadafi. He surrounds himself with only female bodyguards, so we had to hide all of our male staff, including the male spa director, in the basement.

There were armed soldiers stationed all over the resort since early morning and then a half hour before he was due to arrive we heard that he had changed his schedule and cancelled his visit. Good job, as I was the one who would have been giving the massage.

Wongsiripaiboon:There have been a lot of distinctive experiences, but among the best has been to take care of many important people, celebrities and even members of royalty in the UAE.

Patel:My most unusual experience working in a spa was when a US television actor sang to me the whole way through the massage treatment. Luckily he had a good voice so everyone enjoyed the performance!

Fajht:Having little creatures walking across the treatment room whilst a treatment was ongoing!

What makes your job easier?

Rollins:Team work among my spa team and the other departments in order to make the operation run smoothly and having very capable employees who can handle all situations even when I am away.

Griffiths:A great team. We work such long hours in the hospitality industry and it makes such a difference if you have a great team of people who are dedicated, hard working but who can have some fun when appropriate.

Wongsiripaiboon:I think you must have a good attitude towards people to do this job well and also be able to be patient when faced with challenges.

Patel:I am very lucky that my spa associates are always very organised and execute their tasks and responsibilities with efficiency.

Mitplong:Two things: training and face-to-face communication.

What sort of treatments and facilities does your spa offer?

Rollins:We offer a variety of treatments from different massage techniques to any kind of body and facial treatments. Microdermabrasion is one of our most popular treatments and is very result-focused, as well as endermologie for cellulite and improvement of the circulation.

Griffiths:The spa offers an extensive range of holistic treatments for male and female guests. We offer a full range of facials, massages, wraps, scrubs and beauty treatments.

Wongsiripaiboon:Our signature treatment is Gateway to Arabia, which includes the Moroccan hammam ritual and a 90-minute massage as well as all the luxurious accoutrements that accompany it. Bush:As a spa we are focused more along the lines of luxury and relaxation. We offer a selection of massages and facials. We carry three skin care lines, which gives diversity to our range of treatments.

Patel:At Spa Al Aqah we offer sauna, steam and Jacuzzi. There are also state-of-the-art gym facilities. The main treatments that we deliver use Elemis products.

Fajht:Snail experience showers, vitality pools, male and female relaxation lounges, treatment villas and garden relaxation facilities. CHI treatments cover massage, wraps, facials, scrubs, hammam and rasul treatments.

My most unusual experience working in a spa was when a US television actor sang to me the whole way through the massage treatment.

Mitplong:Treatments at Angsana Spas place particular emphasis on the usage of botanicals and natural ingredients. Each treatment is freshly made up of a combination of fruits, herbs, spices and plants.

How much do you value customer/guest feedback?

Rollins:Guest feedback is very important to us. We ask guests how their treatments have been to know if we have a satisfied guest or need to give them more attention.

Griffiths: Every guest is invited to complete a spa feedback form at the end of their treatments. We take guest feedback extremely seriously and we are constantly striving to improve our guest experience.

Wongsiripaiboon:We have guest satisfaction surveys which we ask guests to fill in after their treatments so we can respond accordingly.

Bush:Since the customer is the reason we are all working in this industry, their feedback is crucial.

A complaint in my spa is never looked upon as an inconvenience because feedback is the key to finding out how we can improve.

Patel:Our aim is to provide an unforgettable experience to our valued guests, therefore, their feedback is very important to us. As a manager, I also speak to the guests to ensure they are fully satisfied with their experience.

Mitplong:After every completed spa treatment, we invite and encourage guests to complete our feedback form.The information is then collected and complied into monthly reports, which I send to the Angsana head-office in Phuket. It is then analysed and used as a platform for continuously improving our services and facilities, including the development of new spa treatments and techniques.

What are the key qualities needed to be successful as a spa manager?

Griffiths:A passion for people, enthusiasm for offering the best service possible, patience, compassion and sound business acumen.

Rollins:Great initiative and leadership skills. They should be in tune with what is happening in the industry; have good vision and work well with the company's vision to help it flourish.

Wongsiripaiboon: A spa director must have a good attitude and genuinely be interested in guests' welfare. It also helps to have a progressive outlook and try and keep up to date with new treatments and development in the industry. Finally, the spa is a business as well as a healing experience, and a successful director must find ways to maximise revenue while maintaining the most important standards of the spa.

Bush:You have to be creative and innovative and have an open mind to the ever changing industry and be ready to change with the trends.

Patel:Apart from a breadth of experience as a spa therapist, the qualities that are needed to be a successful spa manager are self-motivation, which can inspire team members, confidence to gain trust, leading by example so being hands-on when needed, and to be able to listen and recognise the hard work within the team.

Fajht:Know yourself, your staff and your facility.

Mitplong:Aside from being knowledgeable in issues dealing with body wellness and emotional well-being, a spa manager should demonstrate patience and respect for guests and staff alike.

As a leader, he or she must be capable of setting a good example, so the staff can look towards them for guidance.

Is it difficult to recruit good spa staff? Is retaining them a problem?

Rollins:In this region it is easier to get therapists, especially from Asia.

They like to stay with the properties longer and this is also because they are provided very well for by the company.

Griffiths:In Dubai it is difficult as some staff are recruited from other countries, without being able to give a trade test.

It is very difficult to recruit a therapist in this way and where possible I would rather recruit someone who I can speak to and interview in person.

Wongsiripaiboon:At our Anantara Spa we don't have any difficulties recruiting or retaining staff because we have a training centre in Bangkok and it is not difficult to find people because we have good staff at many properties who want to come overseas. Bush:Recruiting a good spa team can be very challenging. I always prefer to trade test a therapist before hiring, however, in Dubai, this can be very difficult as most hoteliers are not originally from Dubai.

Retention is not really a problem for us as our therapists are continuously developing and undergoing training.

Mitplong: Not really, as Banyan Tree has a pool of talent to select from. Banyan Tree at present has four spa academies established. They train a dedicated group of therapists for both Banyan Tree and Angsana spas.

What kind of training do you offer to new staff?

Rollins:The hotel has a 21-day training plan that is delivered to all new employees. During that period they learn and grow in each area they need to and then after that they are sent to many training classes and evaluated every 30 days.

Griffiths:They undertake a four-day hotel induction and then embark on a two- to three-week spa induction. We really take them back to basics, from how to meet and greet the guest, towel control and treatment contra-indications. It is important that you are completely happy with the standard of treatment and service delivery before the new staff member starts to perform treatments on a paying guest.

Bush:As we have two dedicated spa trainers, whenever we have a new therapist come on board they are given a department introduction to give them an understanding of the whole department and who is responsible for what, then focusing on the therapies and standards.

We do not allow a therapist to conduct treatments on guests until they have completed the training programme and have passed the internal exams to ensure they are following the highest standards of hygiene, customer service and treatment procedures

Once this training is completed, follow-up training will be scheduled within three months and then training is given weekly to continuously refresh the therapists' minds

Patel:We offer a full hotel induction and service culture training sessions, as well as departmental inductions and in-house spa training.

Fajht:A period of three months training for all staff (whether practising therapists or not). Training includes anatomy and physiology followed by full treatment and product knowledge and customer service.

Mitplong:All new recruits undergo eight weeks of training and classes at either one of three academies in Phuket, Bintan or Lijiang.

What are the current trends in the spa sector? Is there demand for any particular treatments?

Rollins:The trend goes towards more results-focused treatments i.e. for cellulite and sun damage to skin.

Griffiths:One of the major trends that we are seeing is the emergence of medi spas. This is something that I feel will develop well within Dubai as people combine a relaxing holiday with minor surgeries.

As a hotel spa we deal with several different guest types; corporate guests, holiday makers and Dubai residents. Generally speaking people want to be relaxed, pampered and to feel special.

Bush:I see the spa industry dividing very rapidly at the moment. The medical spa industry is growing rapidly in the Middle East. However, with our ever demanding stressful lifestyles there is also a growing demand for a relaxing way of life that focuses on wellbeing and de-stressing.

Patel:The current trend I have noticed is for medi spas, as well as cosmaceutical and instant results products.

I feel the consumers are willing to try pretty much any new technology in order to look and feel young before opting for cosmetic surgery.

Mitplong:The usage of hot stones in body massage is one of the current trends, while the practice of using gems and other precious stones in facials is also growing in popularity.

At Angsana Dubai, the demand from guests, especially Emiratis or other GCC nationalities, is for Thai therapists or Thai-influenced spa treatments. At least 80% of them would ask for these treatments.

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