Interview with Mr. Trent Munday, Vice President of Steiner Spa Consulting and Regional Vice President of Mandara Spa
Trent joined Steiner Leisure in January 2005 after 14 years in the hotel business, with Six Senses Hotels & Resorts, where he opened the company’s first Evason property in Hua Hin, Thailand as Resident Manager and with COMO Hotels & Resorts where he was the opening General Manager of Uma Ubud, Bali.
During the past three decades in the hotel and spa industry, Trent has seen innumberable hotels and spas in different cultures during traveling, working or living in over 30 countries. With rich experience, keen insights and discernment, Trent dares to sharply point out the problems existing in the spa business, covering aspects from design and layout, treatments and programs, to operations and management, when others just blindly applaud the industry. Thankfully, he is always willing to share his inspiring ideas with spa people with the goal of true industry growth. SpaChina is happy to interview Trent again and hear his latest thoughts on hotel and day spas.
What changes have taken place in the global spa industry in recent years? Will they lead to new spa trends in the future? What will these trends be according to your predictions?
As I mentioned a while back in my article Spa Trends vs Spa Fads, I take issue with our obsession with Spa Trends. My concern is that every year we seem to create an entirely new list of supposed trends. In reality, much of these are really Fads, not Trends. The danger with this is that when a business makes an investment in new products, services or equipment that is based on a Fad, the ROI may not be there.
To me, real Trends are those which apply across multiple industries. Moving towards living a healthier and more wellness oriented life is an obvious Trend that is impacting multiple industries. So too with Mental Wellness, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and VR (Virtual Reality) are other examples of cross-industry Trends. For these two technology trends, however, the mass consumer applications are not yet mature.
If we want to look at one macro Trend that clearly will impact on the spa business in the coming years – it is Time. Time is the consistent theme that runs through some of the most successful businesses in recent years. If you can save the consumer time, chances are, you will win. Think Amazon, Uber, etc.
How should spas adapt themselves to meet these trends and thus stand out in the market?
The key to being able to thrive in the competitive, commodity-type business that spas have now become is to not focus on the trends themselves. Rather, we should look at the essence behind the Trend. For me, at the core of all of these Trends is providing a functional benefit or utility to the consumer. Spas that continue to focus on pampering and luxurious experiences alone will struggle in the new world of spa.
At this year’s SpaChina Summit, you talked about “numbers”, and how to comprehensively and accurately measure the profits spas really make. What are the main factors that hinder spas from making more profit?
Profit is perhaps the simplest of all business concepts. Make sure you bring in more money than you spend and you’ll make a profit. It seems like a silly thing to say, but way too often I see spa managers getting themselves all tangled up in how they can generate more revenue and save more costs simultaneously. In my experience, it’s hard to focus on both at the same time. Labour cost is usually the biggest cost centre for most spas. Avoiding inefficiencies in labour should be the main focus on the cost front.
On the revenue front, it’s important to realise that we have reached the limit of how much we can charge for a standard one-hour treatment. There was a time, not so long ago, when each year we could continue to raise our prices. Those days are gone. Thus, the only options available to us to generate more revenue is to create new and truly innovative experiences or just sell more of what we have. The former is the key to long-term success.
Global hotel spas are continually launching new programs and concepts to attract more guests, such as building new facilities, introducing hi-tech experience and professional medical support, and cooperating with other departments for creative activities. What is your opinion on such trials? Will they fundamentally change the situation and generate more revenue?
Hotel spas need to evolve. Of that, there is no question. My personal belief is that the hotel spa of tomorrow will be very different from the hotel spa of today. Maybe only 20% of the types of services that we offer at a spa today, will be needed in the spa of tomorrow. The big question is, what will make up the other 80%. The answer will be different from one spa to the next. It will depend on location, market mix, guest profile, etc. For me, the key to future success for hotel spas will be in providing some type of meaningful functional benefit. In some spas, that may mean some medical-type services. In other spas it may mean offering healthy food and beverages. I like to challenge people to imagine that the whole concept of the hotel spa did not exist. If there was no such thing as a hotel spa, if you’ve never seen anything like today’s hotel spas, and you had some empty space in your hotel, what would you build there? Would it be what we know today as a hotel spa? Would it have all the same facilities, features and services? Or would it be different? I think the truthful answer is, it would be different.
What is the relationship between hotel spas and day spas?
For many city hotel spas, the local day spas are their direct competitor. In the past, this has been from the hotel guests going outside the hotel to get a cheaper massage or spa treatment. Over the years, many day spas have improved their facilities so the gap between the hotel spa and the day spa in this respect is rapidly closing. What has been most interesting to watch is that now it is the day spas that are facing competition from the hotel spas. As hotel spas struggle to attract the in-house hotel guests, they are actively turning to local customers for business. This now puts them in direct competition with the local day spas.
Have you had any thoughts about China’s day spas? They have really done well in recent years.
Day spas in China have one big advantage over hotel spas. They only have to satisfy their customers. Hotel spas, on the other hand, often have to cater to the demands of the hotel guests, even if they may not necessarily be spa customers. A hotel spa, for example, may need to be open from 10am till 10 pm every day because that’s what the hotel feels they need to offer to the guests. Even if 98% of the spa bookings are in the evening, the hotel spa may still be compelled to open at 10am. An independent day spa, by contrast, is free to open and close according to the demands of the customers. The hotel spa is forced to carry additional labour cost which is not really being used, while the day spa can be much more efficient.
What do you want to say to the developers of a new spa?
Do not over-build your spa. So often I see hotel spas that have far more treatment rooms than they will ever need. Think more about needs, not wants. Don’t be tempted to build based on trends – for they may turn out to be simply fads. Above all, ask yourself this question… If the entire concept of the hotel spa did not exist today, what would you create instead?