The Asia Pacific Spa & Wellness Coalition (APSWC), an umbrella organisation for spa associations and businesses across Asia, welcomed over 50 delegates to its annual round table gathering this year. Their mission? To create the region’s third spa industry white paper which pinpoints on-going sector issues and potential solutions.
Association chairs, spa managers, consultants and specialists representing 10 countries in the region all convened at the Pullman Hotel City Centre Kuala Lumpur in March to contribute their ideas. The two-day event followed its tried-and-tested format of four main presentations to frame the topics, followed by breakout discussions and solution brainstorming. Bringing a Malaysian touch to the event, days started with silat melayu (an indigenous martial art), local snacks punctuated discussions and evening events celebrated the community over feasts of Malaysian cuisine.
Topic by topic, table by table, APSWC’s 2019 White Paper gradually came to fruition and was officially released in June.
Andrew Jacka, APSWC chair, initiated the organisation’s inaugural round table event in Bangkok, 2017, with the goal of creating its first white paper. He describes the release of the paper, with input from 20 countries, as a “watershed moment – never before has it been attempted to bring industry leaders together with a singular objective of facing up to some home truths”.
Florence Jaffre, founder of Ytsara spa products, was at her second APSWC event. She said: “I attended this year to get a sense of where the wellness world is moving, for the insights and connections, and also to participate. What I really appreciated was the friendship, the lack of competition, and the common belief and wish to move in the same direction.”
Unsurprisingly, workforce issues and the lack of trained therapists has dominated previous white papers with suggested solutions focusing on career journeys and mentors. This year the topic was tackled at grassroots level, focusing specifically on recruiting and talent empowerment.
Spa consultant Barry White, founder of White Living and an APSWC board member, kicked off the first panel on Team Empowerment, discussing approaches that could be used to instil therapists with a sense of passion and pride in their job.
Panellist Patrick Wee, CEO of True Yoga in Singapore, and Healthland Family Wellness Centre in Kuala Lumpur, is widening the scope of the traditional models by collating various wellness providers under one roof. He commented about industry recruitment, “We must make changes [to the traditional spa format] to see how we can collaborate with our resources and our talents to achieve a win-win-win.”
Resulting table discussions looked at new business models such as his, which offers exciting career pathways and fairer salaries to attract and empower talent. The continuation of government-led therapist qualification requirements to ensure standards and insurance for therapists (to raise credibility) were suggested, and it was noted that all these could support turning around the still pervasive negative reputation of a therapist’s job among some countries and therapists’ families.
Faheem Ebrahim, founder of Xin Performance, which collates data for spa and wellness intelligence, attended to reconnect with the industry and understand its current needs. He said: “Team empowerment is a constant struggle but so fundamental. I believe relationship is the core value for success in this industry.”
Ayu Mudiasih, founder of spa supply company Cemara Ayu and APSWC board member, said: “The discussions increased awareness of the recruitment problems being faced by many of us and provided a useful stepping stone for future discussions.”
Additional solutions include: adhering to spa service standards outlined by pan-Asian body ASEAN; committing to minimum therapist qualifications set by government bodies, encouraging professional knowledge, self-pride and respect; and committing to open-door communications across borders to share best practices, recruitment flow and overall industry intel.
Leading on from therapist empowerment, practitioner Lisa Hare gave an overview of energy modalities, such as chiron, kinergetics and sufi. “Energy healing heals the parts hands cannot reach. It’s not about products, it’s about the healer’s relationship with the client. The essence of who you are as a healer is the core of the business, the whole foundation for success,” she said.
Her talk provided insight for the white paper about energy healing – seen as the next wave in wellness – and how it can bring added respect to therapists and value for customers. In turn this could feed into spa marketing campaigns and the bottom line. Yet, Hare warned that because of its potential power, energy healing should be properly introduced – no adding reiki to a massage without informed client consent.
Following a short talk on what influencers, micro and macro, could do to help industry businesses, Jojo Struys (@jojostruys), a renowned wellness personality and lifestyle influencer, spoke about her experience working with wellness entities. The crowd proved hesitant to embrace influencer marketing – while table reviews expressed cautious interest, discussions revealed there was a marked preference for the known quantities of traditional and direct marketing.
APSWC’s 2019 White Paper suggests influencers could be extensions to rather than replacements of traditional marketing, noting creating genuine relationships with influencers is key. For smaller businesses, micro influencers are likely to be more useful for targeted organic reach, and the influence of existing customers and their personal social media status can also bring local exposure marketing wins.
Synergies and partnerships
Lastly, partnerships and strategies for the wellness industry came under the spotlight. Jacka said his “personal highlight” was listening to insights from Centro Holistico in Manilla and the Agricultural and Food Marketing Association for Asia Pacific (AFMA) about possible endorsement for industry operators who comply with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Jacka himself has been instrumental in linking the APSWC with companies for mutual benefit. Expo company Cosmobeauté’s, sponsorship of the 2019 round table, for example, is balanced by a schedule of on-going industry education by APSWC members at seven of its events across the region, resulting in mutual exposure and goodwill.
White paper directives on the subject include suggest industry operators look to leverage mutual strengths for branding and marketing awareness, and revenue enhancement.
Discussions also suggested spas look local to create interesting partnerships across industries, while government ‘partnerships’ may offer tax incentives or funding of which companies were previously unaware.
Jacka reports scant accountability or concrete action following the 2017 and 2018 white papers. After all, volunteer-run organisations are only as proactive as their members. White has also called for more participation, especially from the bigger spa operators and suppliers.
Recent APSWC partnerships are, however, already beauty fruit including discussions with AFMA for SDG endorsement and the use of insurance providers to raise credibility of therapists throughout the region.
APSWC will also be involved at VietBeauty in August, Termatalia in Spain in September, Malaysia’s Beauty Expo in October, Cosmoprof Asia in Hong Kong in November, World Spa & Wellness Asia in Phuket next May and many more regional and global events.
“In an ever changing industry on-going education is vital, and the educational involvement of the APSWC in an increasing number of industry events is essential to ensure all segments of the industry are afforded every opportunity,” concludes Jacka.