Emlyn Brown, global vice-president of wellbeing at Accor – one of the largest hotel groups in the world – is both realistic and optimistic about the future. He attributes this, in part, to Accor’s quick response to COVID-19 and the launch in May 2020 of Allsafe, a stringent cleanliness and prevention label which properties must adhere to.
At the time of our interview, the vast majority of the group’s 5,000 hotels were open again, along with 70 per cent of its 500 spas.
“Anecdotally, we’ve seen a more noticeable rebound in China with demand for top-end hotel, spa and wellbeing as Chinese customers have more trust in luxury brands, even though there are some fantastic days spas in the local market,” says Brown. “We’ve had a big spa resurgence in the Middle East/Dubai market since November, due to an uptick in occupancy.
In Europe, there was a strong bounce in the summer of 2020, particularly within resorts – which included our spas – and in the Americas we saw strong demand in locations such as Banff, Canada and Scottsdale, Arizona.
“There’s some exceptional pent-up demand for hospitality and luxury travel, which is a great driver for wellness, wellbeing and spa, and COVID-19 is a super accelerator for broader wellness adoption,” he says. Yet in spite of this growing need, Brown believes that spas must re-evaluate their business model.
Travel restrictions the world over have shone a light on the need for hotel spas to tap into local custom. “Because of the increased competitiveness right now, much more vigour is needed from our spas commercially,” says Brown. “Properties are looking for ways to drive business from local clientele, therefore, the focus has moved away from a focus on room income towards auxiliary incomes such as food and beverage and spa and wellbeing.”
Before the pandemic, the hotel/local customer split in Accor’s spas was 75/25. Brown wants to move towards a 50/50 balance and has a number of ideas on how to do this. “The way we market and sell our spas will become more sophisticated. Promotions have to be digital and 100 per cent of your marketing should be geared towards generating external [local] business, because your internal clients also engage with the same social media accounts.”
It’s also about leveraging on-site leisure facilities to give hotels an advantage over their new biggest rivals – “in an urban setting, our competitors are the day spa and high street market like never before.” Brown sees this leading to a marked increase in demand for day spa packages. “Pampering is going to make a comeback. I want to leave my house for a half a day or a full day of pampering, where I get to use the pool and thermal facilities, have a light salad and enjoy some wonderful treatments. We can capitalise on this simple need.”
Fitness is another key feature for local engagement. “We have wonderful facilities and there’s a big potential market opportunity in memberships that we’re not yet capitalising on,” he says. “In the fitness industry, there are high value, lower price models where the quality of equipment is high, spaces aren’t staffed and you book flexible memberships online – five or 10 visits a month – and there’s definitely an opportunity for us to adopt that same principle and compete.”
The beauty of day spa packages is that Accor can add value by bundling amenities and certain services together, without discounting, but still be hyper-aware of cost. “We’re going to need to be very price-sensitive post-COVID because there’s going to be an economic impact that we’re not feeling right now,” Brown reasons. “The days of charging £125 for a manicure in a hotel, when you can get an equally high-quality manicure in a great day spa down the road for £25 are gone. It comes back to where can we have the biggest value? What’s our greatest level of attraction and competitive advantage?”
To this end, Brown sees a much more simplified spa offering. “We’re paring our menus down to their absolute core, offering services that generate the most revenue in terms of demand and profitability. Some spas have up to 50 treatments and menu engineering is critical. It makes sense to focus on your top 15 treatments as that allows us to focus on delivery and service excellence.” Massage, he says, will always be “vitally important” as it accounts for 75 per cent of business, and he foresees tremendous value in high-yielding advanced facials, as customers demand more results for their money.
This focus on spa dovetails neatly into Brown’s area of expertise, having worked with some of the industry’s top names, such as Jumeirah, Six Senses, GOCO and Resense over the past 17 years, as well as having a background in luxury health club management.
Making his spa foray back in 2004, he says the sector was attractive to him for a number of reasons. “The ability to travel and see the world was pretty strong in me and the industry gave me an opportunity to do that,” he says. “Secondly, wellness is an industry that enables you to really engage with and support people. Thirdly, spa was only just taking off so there was a lot of growth potential for me career wise.”
Yet spa is not the whole wellness story for Accor nor Brown, who joined the company nearly three years ago to lead wellbeing across the entire hotel experience – including spa, but also fitness, food and beverage, meetings, guestrooms, design and programmes. He’s supported by Aldina Duarte-Ramos who’s based in Paris and Ritz Napial in Dubai.
Accor officially staked its claim as a wellness provider in 2016 by launching a dedicated wellbeing division for its six main luxury and premium brands – Raffles, Fairmont, Sofitel, Swissôtel, Pullman and MGallery – headed up by Andrew Gibson (see SB17/1 p76, www.spabusiness.com/accor). Since then, the group has acquired companies such as Mövenpick and bought a 50 per cent stake in Orient Express (previously part of the Belmond group), which fall into this division. General wellness guidance is given on specific projects or to other brands in the portfolio as needed.
While initially there was lower awareness across the organisation about the significance of wellness, Brown says it’s now very much on the radar and general managers, as well as the branding, design and marketing teams, all understand how important it is. “Now people are more aware of the importance of wellness, it makes my role much easier,” he says. “Instead of convincing them, I can explain what we’re doing, how we’re going to make it better and amplify it to our guests.”
There are two principal facets to Brown’s role at Accor. The first is to offer spa design support in terms of market feasibility, concept and design that focuses on ROI, because it’s a very specialised and technical area within hotel development. The second is working in tandem with Accor’s brand leadership team to define and determine what wellbeing means to each offering in the luxury and premium sector and deliver appropriate facilities, concepts and programmes. “It’s quite simple,” says Brown, “everything we do focuses on the health, happiness and vitality of our guests.”
Accor has identified core pillars of wellbeing which Brown has built on since coming on board. These include nutrition; holistic design; spa; movement, which has expanded beyond the original focus on fitness to be more inclusive; and mindfulness, the newest addition. The pillars are epitomised by Swissôtel’s Vitality programme, which was one of the first wellness hotel concepts to launch nine years ago (see SB15/4 p78, www.spabusiness.com/Roten). It includes healthy cuisine, conferences, the in-house Püorvel spa brand, indoor and outdoor fitness as well as its Vitality Room guestroom concept designed by Wallpaper magazine which debuted in 2016.
Brown is perhaps most proud, however, of Pullman Power Fitness which is currently being rolled out worldwide with a view to creating a ‘game-changing social fitness concept’. In collaboration with London-based Bergman Interiors and LA-based specialists Fitness Design Group, Pullman gyms are being turned into bold, artful, contemporary spaces. And thanks to an exclusive partnership with group class experts and digital content provider Les Mills, it’s able to offer a mix of live and virtual workouts around the clock, in bedrooms or the gym, and free 30-day access to Les Mills On-Demand exercise classes after guests leave. “Our ambition is to blur the line between a boutique fitness experience and a more conventional hotel gym,” says Brown. “Fitness in hotels is a vital part of what guests want and there is lots we can do to elevate that experience.”
The digital aspect of Pullman Power Fitness is key and builds on other online, mobile and video content wellbeing initiatives at Accor. Examples include a tie-up between Novotel and sleep, meditation and relaxation app Calm, plus joining forces with nature-based virtual experience provider Three Sages to deliver complimentary yoga, stretching, breathwork, mindfulness and sleep practices via in-room entertainment systems at Fairmont, Sofitel and Swissôtel properties in North America.
In fact, Brown says ‘digital’ will be a sixth wellbeing pillar that Accor will announce later this year. “That was naturally going to happen,” he says, “and it’s been accelerated because of COVID. Working with world-class partners, building that digital landscape and combining it with wellbeing for guests is a great way for us to progress.”
Accor uses the five pillars of wellbeing to ensure it has a consistent approach to wellness across such a huge organisation. These pillars are then turned up or down in volume depending on the hotel brand to create different intentions, Brown explains. “Pullman has a younger, more dynamic demographic so fitness is top of the agenda,” he says. “Whereas design is the primary focus of Raffles since it’s an ultra-luxury brand, that elegance of spa delivery and nutrition is vitally important to guests.”
In October 2020, Raffles launched Emotional Wellbeing by Raffles, a global blueprint to take wellness to another level – where feng shui and biophilia are at the heart of ‘harmonious design’; where food supports sleep, travel recovery and the digestive system; and where subtle Aromatherapy Associates in-room rituals, facilitated by a butler, promote serenity, peace and revitalisation. “It’s an 18-month piece of work, a really detailed approach that bring wellness to the fore in everything – even the lobby experience and landscaping. I don’t see any other luxury hotel group taking such a sophisticated approach to wellness and I’m really proud of that,” says Brown. The blueprint has already been adopted by recent additions such as Raffles Bali as well as projects in development in Udaipur and Moscow.
Other Accor brands which a have strong affiliation with spa include Sofitel, Fairmont and Orient Express. “I’m pleased with the partnership between Guerlain and Orient Express – Guerlain is a byword for French luxury beauty and is a perfect fit for our brand, with historical depth,” says Brown. He explains that Accor will be rolling out Guerlain Spas in new Orient Express hotels – it’s aiming for 10 properties by 2030 – as well as looking at “unique retail concepts” such as a bespoke perfumery.
“Wellbeing is a strong part of the DNA at Fairmont and this dates back to the 90s when spa was only really emerging in hospitality and Fairmont was at the forefront of that,” Brown says. But it’s time to refresh the Willow Stream Spa and Fairmont Spa concepts he reveals, explaining that active wellbeing, self-empowerment and connecting with nature will come to the fore. New branding, photography, video content, menu and design guides are to be unveiled at the upcoming Los Angeles, Windsor and Taghazout sites (see p43).
An essential element
While wellness may now not be the sole domain of spas in hotels, Brown still sees them as essential elements. “If our customers are saying spa is important, then it’s really important. Massage is really important. Facials are really important. Thermal experiences are really important.”
Secondly, the expertise on wider wellness comes from the spa leadership team, he feels. They’ll naturally have experience in healthy eating, forest bathing, mindful movement. “Those are the sorts of things you can have resonating out of your spa and wellbeing brand – it’s just how you market it and sell it.”
And if the facilities can adapt their business model to be hypersensitive to cost and local competitors, then all the better.