Interview with Mr. Jeremy McCarthy, Group Director of Spa & Wellness, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group
Mr Jeremy McCarthy joined Mandarin Oriental as Group Director of Spa & Wellness in 2014. He is responsible for leading and managing the global activities of Mandarin Oriental’s internationally-acclaimed luxury spa division.
As a well-known and respected spa professional with over twenty years of luxury and diversified hotel and leisure services experience, prior to joining Mandarin Oriental, Jeremy was the Director, Spa Development and Operations of Starwood Hotels and Resorts where he was responsible for expanding the company’s portfolio of spa brands and providing conceptual design advice and project management for new spas. From 1989 to 2006, he also held a number of senior appointments with Four Seasons hotels.
A US citizen, Jeremy has served on the board of ISPA, and participated in other spa organizations such as Wellness Tourism Worldwide, The Global Wellness Summit and The Hotel & Spa Forum. Currently, he is the chair of the Global Wellness Institute’s Digital Wellness initiative. He is the author of The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing and writes a blog at psychologyofwellbeing.com. He holds a BA in Psychology from the University of California and a Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.
With its strong and attractive spa concept and treatments, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group is the spa pioneer and leader in the hotel spa industry. SpaChina interviewed Mr. McCarthy.
How many Spas does Mandarin Oriental now have all over the world and what are the plans for the future?
We currently have 25 spas around the world including seven in greater China (Shanghai, Sanya, Guangzhou, Hong Kong (2), Macau and Taipei). We will be growing over the next few years with new projects in development in Beijing, Shenzhen, Bali, Doha, Dubai, Istanbul, Boca Raton and Honolulu.
What are the key concepts that The Spas at Mandarin Oriental deliver to guests?
Things that set us apart include our attention to service, quality and authenticity. As a Hong Kong-based company we also draw heavily on our Asian heritage which informs our philosophy of wellness that is delivered in our spas worldwide. One thing that makes us unique is the way that we cultivate the expertise of our therapists. I find that at most spas, the therapists are somewhat hidden behind the scenes and the emphasis is on “consistency” rather than on bringing out the best in the people. We look at our therapists as individuals and try to develop their specialties, which has helped us to deliver unique offerings. Examples include Mr So, who does Shanghainese Pedicure at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, Master Hu, our Shaolin kung fu master at Mandarin Oriental Sanya, Peiqin, our Chinese therapy specialist at Mandarin Oriental Milan, or Newman, our Meridian Massage expert at Mandarin Oriental Pudong.
What trends do you see in the hotel spa business over the past few years?
I think there is a return to more efficient spa models and a desire to innovate and experiment with new ways of approaching spa and wellness. In China and other parts of Asia, labor costs are rising and spas need to be more practical and efficient than they were in the past. That being said, “wellness” has become a massive trend in the hotel industry and I can’t think of a single major hotel brand that isn’t putting a significant focus in this area (something that certainly couldn’t have been said five or ten years ago). The changing values of consumers are driving some of these trends.
Another trend that we are focusing on is how we manage our relationship with technology. We have rolled out our Digital Wellness initiative to offer treatments, products, and retreat experiences to help people disconnect from technology and recover from the non-stop stream of content that we are consuming. I recently gave a talk on this issue at the Global Wellness Summit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9do_2uTnGLo.
How important is the spa role in the hotel business? Compared with other departments, spa revenue is often small and hard to manage. Your view?
Spas are expensive to build and expensive to run, so it is a difficult department to run profitably. But I think spa, wellness and leisure facilities are more important than ever to the overall bottom line of the hotel. People want experiences when they travel. They are not content to just have a bed and a roof over their head. We are selling the total experience. When you consider that we are now competing with the personal shared housing market (Airbnb, for example), leisure facilities such as swimming pool, spa and fitness are critical to bring a point of differentiation to a hotel.
Hotel spas certainly have good guest profiles, and local guests also choose to visit hotels for celebrations and leisure. How important is local capture and what kind of advantages and challenges do hotel spas have compared to local spas?
Hotel spas have a distinct advantage in terms of being able to leverage far greater resources than a day spa can. Hotel spas, for example, typically have better facilities than most day spas because the facilities add substantial value to the overall hotel stay experience. Hotel spas can also rely on shared resources in maintenance, housekeeping and marketing to make it easier to run their operation. That said, the marketing of hotel spas is often somewhat limited as the marketing resources and channels are focused on other areas of the business, such as rooms and F&B. The day spas are better able to get their messages out because they have a clear unified communication strategy and don’t have to blend in with other departments.
There are many hotel spas in China out-sourcing spa operations to partners. What do you think about this approach?
I do not see many positive aspects to outsourcing spa operations. Some hotel companies prefer to outsource to avoid having to develop their own in-house expertise in spa operations. But in my experience, outsourced operations are often not held to the same standards and levels of service as the rest of the hotel, requiring hotel management to continue to be involved to manage the service and quality issues that arise. There are times when hotel owners would prefer an outsourced spa if they can get lease terms that will make the economics favorable. But these are rare in my opinion.
Day spas in China are reaching a higher standard in terms of both hardware and spa products, with good skill in sales and treatment knowledge and effects. Do you see this as a threat to hotel spas?
I think hotel spas and day spas will continue to be very different animals. Competition is increasing for the entire segment but I don’t feel a specific threat to hotels from day spas.
What are the challenges of doing business in China? Do you have any advice to share with our readers especially in the hotel spa industry?
Like anywhere in the world, China has its unique challenges. Difficulties in China include finding qualified therapists, finding colleagues with English skills, product importation and registration, rigid and often-changing code requirements, etc. My advice for international companies is to not try to navigate these problems from outside the region. It is important to have strong people in the country who understand the culture and can navigate the system.
Please share with us some of your future plans for The Spas at Mandarin Oriental.
We have launched a lot of interesting initiatives in recent years. One that we hope to build on this year is our sustainability initiative. We have partnered with Green Spa Network and look forward to working with them to improve our sustainable practices in our spas. Beyond that our focus for the moment is really on the basics of quality, cleanliness and service. We want to be the best, and to do that we just focus on getting a little bit better every day, in as many ways as we can.