Interview with Trent Munday, Vice President for Mandara Spa and Steiner Spa Consulting
In his 25+ years’ experience in the hotel and spa industries across over 30 countries, Trent has developed a unique perspective on the business of spas. Trent’s voice resounds as one of practical business realities. He is one of the few who looks at things the way they are and asks why, and then doesn’t rest until all alternative perspectives have been considered. He is on a mission to provide bursts of reality in a sea of fluff. In addition to being Senior Vice President for Mandara Spa and Steiner Spa Consulting, Trent is also the host of the popular podcast, Inside the Spa Business, and also of a short-form daily podcast titled Trent365! SpaChina interviewed him.
What is your view on the current state of the global hotel spa industry?
I’ve been saying for some time now that the global hotel spa industry needs a wake-up call. Why do I say that? By any metric you want to use, most hotel spas in most countries around the world, are struggling.
In a little over twenty years, hotel spas have gone from being a rarity to being ubiquitous. Twenty years ago, you would have difficulty finding even a 5-star hotel with a spa. Today, you can almost guarantee that any 4-star or 5-star hotel in the world will have a spa. Most hotel ratings bodies require a hotel to have a spa if they want a 5-star rating. Many travel agents expect the hotel to have a spa. Spas are essentially ‘baked in’ to the system. This is good news for us in the spa business.
However, the spas most hotels have now are not producing great results. This means that for those who can truly innovate and come up with new concepts and versions of the hotel spa model, there is a big opportunity. When I look back on the offering of those early hotel spas and compare it to today’s hotel spas, not much has changed. Sure, we’ve had some spa product, equipment and machines innovation. However, the core offering of the hotel spa has changed little over the years.
How can hotel spa better play its role in wellness-care?
It is true that Wellness has become a hot topic of conversation, not just in spa circles, but everywhere. I think it’s important to understand that Wellness really is a lifestyle choice. So, for spas, that means if we want to go down the road of offering Wellness solutions, we need to understand our role in the total Wellness process.
Mental Wellness, for example, is something I’m hearing a lot of people talk about across many industries and walks of life. It seems like every month or two there is another story of a famous person committing suicide due to Mental Wellness issues. There are, no doubt, many more examples we do not hear about. However, when I hear people say that spas can help with this, it troubles me. Most spas do not have the professional knowledge, skills and qualifications to deal with this. Of course, spas are places of serenity and solitude. But we should not overestimate and over-promise when it comes to offering real Mental Wellness solutions.
Professor Gerry Bodeker once said to me that spas have the opportunity to become the Organizational Face of Wellness. And I think we can help guide people on their journey into Wellness. The hotel spa can be a safe place to learn about and try new Wellness concepts and modalities. But the key to the long-term sustainability of this idea is to find ways to continue the relationship with the client after they leave the spa.
How can hotel spa’s problem of low profitability be solved?
Hotel spas need to have a better understanding of their customer’s wants and needs. And importantly, the differences between wants and needs. A guest might like a massage, but they probably don’t need one. They definitely need to eat. Guests will always find a way to eat, because it’s a ‘must have’. Most hotel spas only offer ‘nice to haves’.
I strongly believe the hotel spa of tomorrow should look very different to the hotel spas we know today. We need to totally deconstruct the entire spa experience. Everything from the location of the spa, to the service offering, to the way we market to our customers, and everything in between.
The biggest marketing mistake we are making at the moment is that we keep asking our existing customers what they want. Chances are, as they are already your customers, they want what you are currently offering. What we should be doing is asking the guests who are not coming to the spa why they are not coming. That is how we can start getting some ideas about what new services and facilities we should be offering.
What kind of hotel or resort spa tend to excel in today’s market?
The most successful hotel spas I see as I travel around the world are those that have not been overbuilt and do not offer an extensive range of treatments. This is almost the exact opposite of what the vast majority of hotels seem to think is required. It’s easy to understand why hotels think like this. In the early days of hotel spas, they were very much seen as a USP (Unique Selling Proposition). As more and more hotels built spas, the easy way to stand out from all the others was to build bigger and more luxurious spas. The problem is, if that is the only differentiator, at some point, it just becomes impossible to keep up.
Extensive and exotic treatment menus may sound like a good idea, but the fact remains that the bulk of most hotel spa’s revenue comes from their more basic treatments. The standard one-hour massage is still the biggest seller. Like everything, there are always some exceptions. But we need to remember that these are the exceptions and not the norm. That’s why they are exceptional. The problem we have is that many spas use those exceptional cases to justify a similar path.
My simple advice is…
- Know who your customer is
- Know who is not your customer
- Build based on reasonable expectations, not best-case scenarios
How can hotel spas maintain sustainable operations?
It’s very difficult for a hotel spa to embrace sustainability if the hotel in which it operates does not. Nevertheless, there are always small steps a hotel spa can take towards sustainability. It can be as simple as selecting skincare companies that have sustainable practices. The same can be done in terms of selecting spa equipment. Spas can also implement a number of procedures to reduce water consumption, energy consumption, etc.
How can hotels better integrate its spa into daily hotel operations?
A good focus point for a spa that wants to help bring an element of Wellness to their hotel is sleep. Many guests report not being able to sleep well in hotels, even in the most luxurious of rooms. The spa can take the lead in educating guests on Do’s and Don’ts of getting a good night’s sleep. Spas can also help offer products, services and treatments to help guests sleep better.
Offer a Pillow Menu, with a variety of options for guests to choose from. Stock the minibar with items like a Better Sleep Kit. Such a kit could include an eye mask, lavender pillow spray, chamomile tea, etc. Create a treatment designed to enhance sleep.
Within the Food & Beverage department of a hotel there are a number of Wellness opportunities. Healthy food items could be presented as Spa Food. A healthy juice menu could be presented as Spa Juices. The opportunities are many and varied.
How do you feel about the rising number of wellness-themed luxury hotels in the world?
The rise of Wellness-themed hotels is a result of two factors. Firstly, an increased awareness by more and more consumers about Wellness. Secondly, an increasingly competitive landscape in the hotel industry. Just as hotels once looked to swimming pools, then gyms, then spas to help give them a USP, today they are looking to Wellness.
If these hotels choose to incorporate Wellness into every element of the building, the services, the systems, the processes, etc., then they will find a market. They have a big opportunity to create powerful lifestyle brands.
A number of hotel brands have added residential components to their properties in recent years. Adding a Wellness component to this real estate component also represents a big opportunity. Wellness Real Estate is an increasingly popular trend and hotels, especially branded hotels, are ideally positioned to take advantage of this.
What is your view on China’s hotel spa industry?
Whilst I do not have extensive knowledge of China’s hotel spa industry, from what I have seen, the challenges are the same as in many other countries. Namely, that we are still creating spas that are much the same as they have been for the past twenty years. This is not quite what our hotel guests want. To break the mold, we need to answer this question…If hotel spas didn’t exist today, what would we create instead?