After nearly four frustrating months, spas across the UK were legally allowed to reopen on 13 July – a positive move for the nation’s 3,500-plus facilities that make up the seventh largest spa market in the world (according to the 2018 Global Wellness Economy Monitor).
As operators prepare to embrace customers once more, they do so in a much different landscape. In anticipation of this, two respected organisations – the UK Spa Association (UKSA) and spa-goer-focused Good Spa Guide (see p46) – co-ordinated efforts to canvass both industry and consumer expectations to get a clearer idea of the lay of the land. Spa Business has analysed the findings to pinpoint the potential challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Returning to spas
The good news is that there are strong indications that the UK will experience the same trend for pent-up spa demand that’s happening elsewhere in the world where phones are ringing off the hook. In its CV-19 Spa Report, based on a survey of 5,000 spa-goers in May, the Good Spa Guide found that people said they’ll go back to spas as soon as they reopen (48 per cent) or within a couple of months (36 per cent).
The core market, aged 46-60, are reportedly the most confident to return and overall 6 per cent of respondents plan to visit more regularly than before. Furthermore, 80 per cent of people expect to spend the same amount of money or more, than they did before the pandemic.
Daphne Metland, Good Spa Guide director and behavioural specialist, says: “Expect a spa boom once lockdown eases; people haven’t been able to treat themselves for a long time and now more than ever we’re reminded that we must look after our own wellbeing.
“After 9/11, spa bookings increased dramatically. Many people who thought they would get around to booking a spa trip ‘some time’ suddenly realised the future was uncertain. I think we’re seeing the same effect here and will see spa bookings increase later in the year.”
Taking heed of these findings, 54 per cent of spas were looking to open as soon as government guidelines allowed, according to the UKSA’s What’s Next for Wellness? survey which was based on the views of 380 operators, consultants, therapists and suppliers in May.
However, only 13 per cent of all industry respondents anticipated opening in full and were expecting lower occupancy levels. Twenty-two per cent of spas felt they’d run at 26-50 per cent occupancy, 14 per cent predicted 51-75 per cent occupancy, 12 per cent expected 0-25 per cent occupancy, while only 2 per cent predicted 76-100 per cent occupancy.
With nation-wide social distancing measures in place, the majority of UK spa-goers believe spas offer a safe environment and only 13 per cent of Good Spa Guide survey respondents were apprehensive about going to a spa. Yet, they did expect adequate protocols and 82 per cent of people said they want to know about a spa’s hygiene policy in advance. Many expect that policy to include regular testing of staff and a limit on the number of guests in the spa.
Metland says: “Following the pandemic, we’ll all need more privacy. Timed use of facilities, screens in relaxation rooms, and more private areas will become the norm, so spas with private areas will win customers, as will smaller spas that can be booked by friends and families who want a private experience.”
Overall, consumers want therapists to wear PPE such as a mask, gloves and a disposable apron, while a smaller group suggested therapists should wear full-face protection such as a visor. Nearly every spa-goer surveyed (98 per cent) would be happy to have their temperature checked on arrival, followed by some respondents explaining they’d expect to re-book their spa day at no cost if they were barred entry.
The UKSA survey shows that spas are putting a number of measures in place (see Graph 1). When asked ‘What actions should spas be considering in light of COVID-19?’ the most popular suggestions were contactless payments, updated terms and conditions in relation to COVID-19, restricted use of communal spaces, visible hygiene signage, limiting footfall and phased reopening.
After an urgent call for official reopening rules, the UK government finally published its recommendations – ‘Keeping workers and clients safe during COVID19 in close contact services’ – on 23 June. To view the document see here: http://lei.sr/y5D1F
The UKSA, which was involved with governmental conversations during the process, published its own more spa-specific COVID-19 Reopening Guidelines a day after that and can be read in detail using this link: http://lei.sr/5b2x9 . They feature advice about managing risk of infection, returning to the workplace, PPE, social-distancing, cleaning and equipment, as well as information on how to approach treatments and handling treatment room sanitisation. There’s also guidance on reopening pools and thermal areas, managing retail, laundry procedures, bookings and handling marketing and communication during reopening.
At the time of going to press, facials are allowed but therapists must wear a visor and face mask. Pools can also reopen, but saunas and steamrooms must remain closed until further notice.
UKSA chair Adam Chatterley says: “We all know spas already have rigorous hygiene procedures and ever since lockdown, they’ve been working hard to prepare as best they can to start welcoming people back. But they’ve been ‘flying blind’ to some degree.
“Finally having guidelines from the government allows spas to assess their own efforts and make any adjustments where necessary – and in most cases their preparations far exceed what’s been laid down in the government’s document.”
What’s on the menu?
So, as spas in the UK begin to reopen, how will they adapt their offerings? According to the Good Spa Guide, only half of spa-goers say they will be happy having a facial or eye treatment, while 60 per cent would be comfortable with a massage and 69 per cent would opt for beauty services like manicures.
Moreover, the UKSA survey shows that 38 per cent of operators plan to restrict the use of thermal facilities once they are allowed to reopen and 22 per cent are planning a phased reopening of pool areas, with restricted usage also. This again aligns with spa-goer feelings, as only 44 per cent said they’d feel happy using thermal facilities after the pandemic.
In response to the findings, the UKSA says the spa industry may have to get creative in how they encourage clients to spend the same money as before. The organisation sees huge potential for the industry to establish itself as a platform from which to educate the consumer with regard to their physical and mental health and wellbeing and is encouraging members to embrace this opportunity. Yet, spa consumers do not agree – no respondents from the Good Spa Guide survey said they would want mental wellbeing sessions (see Graph 2).
Instead, when the Good Spa Guide asked spa-goers what new offerings they’d like to see, the most popular suggestion was a ramping up of outdoor spa facilities, as nearly two-thirds of the sample set said they’d feel happier using spa areas outside.
Metland says: “We’re going to see more use of outdoor space at spas because meeting others outside has become the norm during lockdown, and due to scientific evidence supporting that the outdoors is safer, in terms of risking COVID transmission.
“The survey shows that spas have got to consider making more use of the outdoors with new facilities such as gardens, rooftop spas, woodland walks and even treatments in private cabins outside.”
Other popular requests included two- to three-night wellness breaks especially those focusing on sleep retreats and nutrition, ‘connection classes’ to help people reconnect after lockdown and online follow-up consultations.
Chatterley concludes: “Spa usage is going to shift fundamentally when we start to reopen and people understand the relaxing possibilities spas offer in a controlled, safe, hygienic environment.
“No longer will a visit to a spa be seen only as a special treat or something to do with friends. People will start to use them more frequently, with friends and also on their own as working from home and flexible working hours, set to increase post lockdown, allow them more time to focus on themselves.”