As restrictions limiting travel and gatherings slowly ease, businesses – including spas – are beginning to reopen, and consumers are returning to the routines that COVID-19 disrupted. However, to what extent and at what pace consumers will return to spas is less certain. After all, many reopened facilities will only be able to serve a limited number of guests, and stringent sanitation and physical distancing protocols will likely remain in place for a while. Will at-home treatments replace the spa-going experience for some? Will guests baulk at the idea of receiving treatments where distancing isn’t possible? How attentive will they be to spa sanitation and hygiene policies?
Those are just a few of the questions that a recent International Spa Association (ISPA) Consumer Snapshot study attempted to answer. Conducted in tandem with PricewaterhouseCoopers, the study, which surveyed more than a thousand people in the US, highlights consumer attitudes toward visiting reopened spas (75 per cent of respondents were spa-goers and 25 per cent were non-spa-goers). The survey also looked at their broader expectations for and concerns about returning to “normal life” after pandemic-related restrictions are lifted.
When the study was conducted in April, 2020, 90 per cent of respondents said they were only leaving the house to perform vital tasks such as grocery shopping. During this period of isolation, substantial portions of those surveyed said they were eating more healthily (41 per cent), getting more exercise (40 per cent) and doing more to look after their mental wellbeing (55 per cent). Given the many stresses of life during the COVID-19 crisis, it may be unsurprising that respondents reported increased attention to their own wellbeing.
When it came to approximating their spa routines at home, however, spa-goers revealed a mix of habits. While 58 per cent claimed that they were maintaining at-home skincare regimens and 50 per cent were performing nail services themselves, only 22 per cent were attempting massage (74 per cent said they were going without). Just 31 per cent were undertaking their own hair services (63 per cent said they were going without). For some consumers, purchasing habits related to personal care also shifted during the pandemic. Twenty-two per cent of respondents, for example, said they were spending less money on skincare products and 31 per cent were spending less on nail polish.
This combination of a heightened attention to physical and mental wellbeing and some attempts to keep up with spa routines suggests that these services remained in high demand, regardless of whether respondents had access to professional service providers. As spas in the US have begun to reopen in recent months, the suspicion that this pent-up demand would result in a bookings boom has been borne out, at least anecdotally. Respondents to ISPA’s June Snapshot Survey (a more informal trends survey collecting real-time feedback) noted that consumer response to their reopening efforts has been positive. Ninety-three per cent of those questioned labelled guest response to reopening as “favourable” or “highly favourable,” while 76 per cent reported that the volume of bookings at their spas had fallen into one of those two categories.
Concerns remain, however, that this high demand for services could give way to more modest demand following an initial surge of especially eager guests. When respondents were asked how nervous they would be to visit a spa once they reopen, 28 per cent said they would not be nervous at all and nearly half (47 per cent) said they would be a little nervous (see Graph 1). A quarter of respondents, meanwhile, claimed that they would be very nervous to visit a spa. These totals compare favourably to the nervousness respondents expressed regarding other public activities. For example, 38 per cent of respondents said they would be very nervous to take a flight, 27 per cent would be very nervous to go to a shopping mall and 23 per cent very nervous to eat at a restaurant.
Though it’s impossible to know exactly how those attitudes will translate to real-world behaviours, the balanced responses suggest that lingering concerns about COVID-19 may delay the return of a significant portion of spa-goers beyond the earliest stages of reopening. However, because of occupancy restrictions and the resultant reduction of available appointments at many spas, such a delay may not be readily apparent for some time, if it occurs at all.
Unfortunately for spas attempting to forecast revenues and set budgets, this sort of uncertainty may well linger for the foreseeable future. In part, that’s because the behaviours that consumers anticipate adopting and the behaviours that they ultimately exhibit are not likely to align perfectly. The extraordinary steps – including heightened sanitation standards and extensive use of PPE – that many spas have taken to reassure their guests may prove key in reducing the nervousness mentioned above. To that end, spas should be prepared to educate their guests on any new policies or operating procedures and to answer their questions.
According to ISPA’s study, this information will almost certainly be in high demand: only 15 per cent of spa-goers said they would be unlikely to ask about or seek out a spa’s sanitation and hygiene practices, while 60 per cent said they would be likely to do so. During a series of virtual Town Hall events hosted by ISPA in June and July 2020, Katlyn Hatcher of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Pennsylvania noted that reservation calls often “became an education session on COVID-19 and [our] new processes.” While other operators said “average call times went from three to nine minutes”, suggesting spas should consider hiring or assigning additional staff to field calls.
The Town Hall series also highlighted the benefits of technology partners and some key advice on getting creative to keep up revenues. Mario Tricoci salons took pressure off its call systems, for example, by first guiding guests towards its app developed by Zenoti, while Shane Bird from Turning Stone says online forms, created in collaboration with Book4time, helped ease physical check-in pressures.
To help keep revenues up while operating at reduced capacity, Yvonne Smith from Northern Quest Resort used ResortSuite’s yielding tool to work out which treatments offered the highest profits – by only offering those services the spa has managed 80 per cent of revenues for the same period a year ago. Garrett Mersberger at Blue Harbor Resort said a number of its therapists have been more flexible with working hours, which has helped it to treat more guests than expected in its restrictive Thursday to Sunday opening period.
In other advice, Brennan Evans of Trilogy Spa Holdings says it’s had good results with group deal sites such as Groupon (while paying strict attention to yield) and by leveraging relationships with vendors such as Naturopathica, FarmHouse Fresh, NuFace and Babor, which enabled it to make retail sales even when those spas were closed.
Also encouraging for spas is this final piece of data from ISPA’s Consumer Snapshot: when spa-goers return, about two-thirds say they plan to spend at least the same amount of money as usual on spa services, while 16 per cent actually expect to spend more than they did prior to the pandemic’s arrival (see Graph 2). For an industry eager to rebound from such a financially uncertain and trying time, hopes will be high that those figures do indeed bear out once the doors are open more regularly again.