The village of San Lawrenz in Gozo, the idyllic sister island to Malta, is an alluring spot for a holiday getaway. It’s home to the 131-bed Kempinski hotel, one of the main resorts on the small island which attracts up to 1.7 million tourists a year.
But while the setting is a peaceful one, there’s a buzz in the spa following a recent award. Kempinski The Spa at San Lawrenz is managed by international spa company Resense, which bestowed the Highest Employee Satisfaction Survey Award to the Gozo property at its 2015 bi-annual Global Spa Managers’ Forum in Jordan this July. Every year, Kempinski asks employees across its global portfolio how happy they are with their working conditions, managers and development opportunities. Resense based its spa award on this, with staff in Gozo coming top out of the many spas it manages for Kempinski. But what gave it a winning edge?
“I’m fortunate to have a very strong team,” says spa manager Hana Daoud, who won Resense’s CEO Award for Excellence in 2013. “The fact our guests are highly satisfied helps with motivation too”.
Daoud’s route into spas was as a cruise ship therapist in 2000 but she’s been a spa manager for Kempinski for nearly 10 years. She started out in the UAE before moving onto properties in Europe, China and now Malta where she has family.
She joined the Gozo team in 2012, a year after Resense took over and introduced Kempinski The Spa – the official in-house concept. While half of the 2,400sq m (25,833sq ft) facility and its 27 treatment rooms runs as an ayurvedic centre outsourced to Softouch (see opposite), the other half had been managed in-house for 10 years and it was time for a refresh. Resense was an obvious choice, as it manages 26 other Kempinski spas and also developed its in-house spa concept which launched five years ago.
Kempinski The Spa, inspired by the European seasons, has spring treatments focused on detox; summer therapies based on rebalancing; autumnal offerings for relaxation; and winter ones for energising. Customers can choose any treatment at any time based on how they want to feel. “Other spas use Balinese or Thai concepts, or elements such as earth, wind and fire, but I’ve never seen a seasonal approach,” says Daoud. “It’s unique, very effective and guests find it easy to understand.”
Recruitment and training
Having a fresh concept helped build team momentum says Daoud, who oversees 10 staff in total including five full-time therapists. But it’s just one of several elements that she feels led to the award.
“It’s about having the right team in place,” she says, explaining that recruitment is handled by the hotel’s HR department which posts jobs locally and on the Kempinski global website. Resense assists with sourcing staff too. “I look for people who are down to earth and who can adapt to change – they need to be flexible in this industry,” says Daoud. “And it’s about being passionate about the job and having a sense of pride in what they do.”
Staff aren’t all local – while one therapist is Maltese, two are from Poland, one from France and one from Lithuania. Although it does help to have women from the island manning reception she says: “they’re angles, they know how to book a [treatment] sheet and make it perfect”.
As spa manager, Daoud sees it as her responsibility to give therapists the tools and opportunity to grow. “Empowerment is a key aspect,” she says. “They must feel able to be themselves with guests and know that they can make a difference.” And this all comes down to training.
Resense sets an official education programme for the year, covering treatment standards, guest experience/services, ‘conscious connections’ and specific receptionist/therapist/attendant training. Once a year it also delivers a 10-day intensive course onsite. Daoud supplements this with her own treatment spot checks and additional guidance where needed. In addition, product houses Elemental Herbology and Charme d’Orient offer training and the hotel has its own weekly or monthly updates on Kempinski brand/guest standards.
“If a therapist is new, then the first one or two weeks are dedicated to training depending on their level,” she says.
Staff at the spa are employed on a one-year contract and according to Daoud turnover is low with “many renewing most of the time”. And while it would be forgivable to want to keep employees which are up to speed, she recognises that a good manager also encourages career development – which sometimes means fledglings fly the nest. “[Career development] is very important for motivation. There are many spas in the Resense portfolio and new ones are opening all the time so it’s important to identify talents early on and to help them grow. It gives them an opportunity to develop their careers, to transfer to a new property to discover something different and travel the world.”
Although Daoud won’t take much credit for her role in the employee satisfaction award, her own management style has undoubtedly helped. She’s clearly a driven individual who has tight control over what happens in the spa, closely watching the average customer spend to make sure the spa’s on budget, as well as scrutinising therapist utilisation.
“I don’t want my therapists to burn out and it’s the weekends and holidays, especially Christmas, that you have to pay attention to,” she says. “We do around 150-200 treatments a month and therapist utilisation is 68 per cent on average. If it goes beyond 75 per cent then I step in. I have some local therapists on-call if I need, or, if it’s really busy I can perform treatments myself too.”
Firm but fair is another way to describe her approach. “When therapists join, they’re excited to be in Gozo near the beaches and of course they get to go to them, but they need to know what the hotel expects from them first. It’s important that they have an understanding of this and are on board with it because we have high standards.
“I’m very straightforward with them, but they prefer it that way. They can be like that with me too. From the beginning, I tell them to come to me with anything they need, or with any problem and that we’ll always find a way to work around it. I’m very fair. Of course, staff can be challenging, but we have no drama and we all get on well and want to help each other.
She concludes: “It’s important that they’re happy. Because if they’re happy, then so am I and, ultimately, so it the guest. I love my job with a passion and to hear guests come out and say ‘oh that was wonderful’ is what it’s all about.”