Late last year, the Irish Spa Association (ISA) surveyed facilities across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to get a better understanding of how COVID-19 has affected business.
Just over 100 operators shared their data. Respondents were from day spas and beauty salons, destination spas and hotel and resort spas, employing more than 3,000 people combined.
Irish spas first went into lockdown on 24 March 2020. They reopened on 29 June but faced more closures from 21 October until 1 December and then again from 24 December with no confirmed opening date for 2021 yet. This means businesses will have been shut for a total of 250 days by the end of March.
Like the majority of businesses in the hospitality industry, spas witnessed a decline in revenue in 2020, with 77 per cent of respondents reporting losses. This is something ISA was expecting. “We knew revenues would be hugely impacted because COVID-19 measures and physical distancing come at a cost,” says ISA co-founder Anita Murray.
Eighty-one businesses gave more detail on this, with 26 specifying a decrease of 40 per cent or more and 33 spas and salons reporting a 30 per cent loss (see Chart 1). Murray adds: “The ISA is urging governments to offer ongoing support to our members with liquidity and financial aid, but until we’re in a safe position to relax safety measures, occupancy will be limited and typical seasonal trading patterns will continue to be disrupted.”
When asked what treatments were performing well, massage came out on top, closely followed by facials (see Chart 2). Meanwhile, general grooming and nail services – maintenance services which were predicted by some to be in more demand, as they’re seen as more of a regular necessity – didn’t do so well. “Mass closures around hospitality and restrictions around social gatherings and travel all played a part in the impact on personal care services,” Murray thinks. “Seasonal services such as waxing and sunless tanning also experienced a decline.”
It’s notable that 22 of the 81 spas and salons surveyed had reductions in revenue of 20 per cent or less and that 20 per cent of all respondents didn’t record reductions in income during the times they were open between lockdowns.
“It’s difficult to believe there are any businesses whose revenues have not been impacted,” ventures Murray, “we do know Irish spas and salons have been disproportionately affected. Those centrally located in cities and densely populated areas have been a little more resilient in contrast to those in rural Ireland or those that would have hosted a lot of overseas customers. According to the Irish Hotel Federation, 9.5 million bed nights were lost last year as annual room occupancy dropped to 30 per cent.”
A big takeaway, says Murray, is that Ireland’s spa industry is demonstrating that it’s highly capable of taking the difficult decisions needed to avoid the spread of COVID-19 and ensure business continuity.
The ISA’s PPE recommendation include face masks and a visor if COVID-19 screens are not in place. It also suggests customers wear a face mask, have temperature checks and fill out declaration forms, plus provide contact details for track and trace.
All respondents reported compliance and – most significantly – no facilities had any confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks.
Findings also included encouraging figures around responsible self-isolation, says Murray. Thirty-five per cent of facilities said a member of staff had to self-isolate as a precaution and they all said this measure was practised without exception if a staff member or family member had any symptoms. “It’s a real testimony to our industry professionals to record such healthy outcomes,” says Murray. “This has reassured us we can continue to trade throughout the pandemic, keep people employed, take care of communities and minimise the impacts of COVID-19 on people’s wellbeing and mental health.”
She adds: “It’s suggested we’ll have another year of restrictions, but as more people are vaccinated we hope the local authorities will continue to recognise how successful our sector has been in maintaining safety for staff, guests and clients and allow us to continue to provide our services, even if some restrictions are reintroduced.”
Murray believes the key to the Irish sector’s successful reopening will be to continue working with the global community to keep up to date with COVID-19 best operating practices and understand what’s working in other markets. Combine this with working towards common goals, robust spa/supplier relationships, and strong communication she says, and the industry will be prepared to emerge stronger than ever post-lockdown and answer the anticipated public demand for health and wellness.