As more and more spas, be they stand-alone or located within hotels, come online everywhere from Bahrain to Dubai, Oman to Abu Dhabi, spa managers in the Middle East are finding it increasingly important to think beyond traditional offerings to grow their wellness business. Whether that means teaming up with travel agents and tour operators, minimising treatment times to fit within the hectic schedules of today’s spa-goers or bringing in licensed professionals to offer non-invasive medical therapies, thinking creatively about how to retain existing customers and draw in new ones has become an absolute must for operators that want to expand their share of the region’s fast-growing spa market.

Yet introducing any new concept requires more than just a good idea; operators also need to be asking themselves not only whether introducing a new sort of treatment, package or strategy is likely to offer a healthy return on investment, but whether it’s right for their particular property and clientele.

As Hannah Dowd, spa director of Emirate Palace Spa in luxury Abu Dhabi hotel Emirates Palace, summarises: "Being creative with your wellness offerings starts by knowing what you aim to deliver and to whom you aim to deliver it. For example, offering advanced therapies will help a spa to boost revenues if it chooses an option that is fitting with its clientele. However, over the years I have seen many spas ‘copy and paste’ the same machines as their competitors because it worked for them. They did the same thing expecting the same result, which isn’t always the outcome."


Team up with travel agents

One relatively simple strategy spa operators can use to grow their customer base in the face of growing competition is partnering with tour operators and travel agents, something Dowd sees as "a great tool for spas to gain additional business".

At Emirates Palace Spa, the team offers tour operators special rates for treatments each year to offer as add-on experiences when selling a room, and also gives them the freedom to create their own packages that are suited to their market, or to a particular client or group.

"Depending on your hotel’s financial structures, you can offer incentives or commissions to tour operators for treatments they promote and sell, which keeps footfall coming through your business," she advises. "This also means there are more sales people selling your services outside your own spa and hotel."


Reduce stress, increase profits

Capitalising on companies’ growing need to create corporate wellness programmes for their employees is another way hotel spas can bring in more business – whether that’s through retreats, exercise and lifestyle coaching, open spa days or even suggesting that companies use spa treatments to reward top-performing staff.

"Evidence over the past five years has proven the need for corporate wellness programmes to ensure that employees remain healthy and able to perform their work duties given the increase in workload and stress," Dowd notes.

But it’s crucial that these programmes are managed correctly. "The return can be a little less, but as an operator, you should only be running programmes with a minimum profit percentage preserved," Dowd emphasises. "Look at activities that you are already running at your property and how you can incorporate these for a minimal cost. Be resourceful with what you already have at your fingertips. Use your therapists if they are skilled in certain wellness areas, or hire practitioners who will work on a per-person fee for the programme."

Once an employee has experienced what a spa has to offer, the chances are they’ll want to again. "We have even seen people from companies returning and paying for their additional treatments themselves as they noticed the benefits immediately," Dowd confirms, adding that Emirates Palace Spa will be placing a bigger focus on corporate wellness reward programmes in the coming years.

It’s also something Aneesa Sharief, manager at the Heart & Soul Spa in Dubai’s out-of-town luxury Al Barari residential development, is considering, particularly once the project’s planned six-star boutique hotel is completed. "There is great potential in the corporate wellness market within the UAE. More and more corporations are offering their employees a weekend away to escape so they return to the office fresh and relaxed," she notes.

"With Al Barari’s vast greenery and soothing ambiance, it is the ideal spa getaway, far from the city and noise. We have received numerous enquiries from clients about the launch of Al Barari’s boutique hotel, as many of them would like to spend a weekend in the green oasis."


Medi-therapies: results for clients and operators

As spa-goers become increasingly results-oriented, non-invasive medical therapies are also rising in popularity in hotel spas – but they won’t be revenue boosters for every property.

"There’s a need for a certain level of advanced treatments to be available in spas so people can have their advanced facial or body treatment combined with their mani and pedi," Dowd believes. "However, operators need to look at their clientele for the best fit, otherwise it will be an expense rather than a profit generator."

In some cases, these sorts of therapies simply won’t be viable. "The Spa at the Chedi Muscat concept is based on the holistic principles of aromatherapy, Ayurveda and herbalism, and the spa’s philosophy adheres to the holistic approach that beauty is more than skin deep. Medical treatments are in complete contradiction to our spa philosophy," explains spa director Nazley Mohamed.

On the other side of the coin, Heart & Soul Spa already offers treatments such as the Forlle’d non-invasive Biofiller, which lifts skin, reduces wrinkles and enhances shallow contours, to meet customer demand; while Emirates Palace Spa will be introducing face and body machines in the near future.

"I don’t believe it is wrong to offer Botox and fillers in a spa environment if you have a licensed medical professional that you are partnering with, but you need to work out if you have the clientele looking for this service and whether it makes financial sense for the business to have a room occupied just for these treatments," Dowd remarks.


Minimise treatment time, maximise revenue

When it comes to treatment time, less really is turning out to be more for many Middle East spa operators as their clients’ schedules become increasingly hectic. "We all have less time to do more, so we decided to design packages that have the option of a long duration of time if the guest has the time to spend, or can be minimised by having multiple therapists performing different treatments simultaneously," Dowd says.

Emirates Palace Spa’s most popular ‘minimised’ treatment includes a 75-minute facial, manicure and pedicure performed by three therapists at the same time, while at Al Barari’s Heart & Soul Spa, customers can get their hair and nails done by two or three therapists, or receive simultaneous facial and foot-reflexology treatments.

"It’s about being efficient without comprising on quality," Sharief notes. "The drawbacks, however, include insufficient time to completely relax and disconnect, and often the treatments that have the most therapeutic effects are longer than 60 minutes."

For Dowd, the pros of express treatments outweigh the cons, though. "You can maximise spend per guest revenue, and rooms are occupied for less time, which frees up additional rooms if your spa runs with more therapists than spa rooms, as ours does. The key is to create packages that you know your guests will want to experience, with a small add-on to increase revenue and overall guest satisfaction."


The masculine touch

Treatments, treatment rooms and entire establishments exclusively for men have been gaining popularity in Middle East-based spas for several years, and this trend shows no sign of declining.

Indeed, to ensure that the operation capitalises on the fact that its male clients are now almost as comfortable with massages and mani-pedis as its female ones, Emirates Palace Spa last year introduced a men’s grooming establishment called Gentlemen’s Tonic, a brand that was originally founded in London’s Mayfair in 2004, as well as two mani and pedi studios catering to men and women alike.

"Gentlemen’s Tonic features its very own product line inclusive of facial products, haircare and bespoke perfumes. It has also introduced the Gentlemen’s Tonic Exclusive Club, where members receive personalised grooming kits complete with scissors, blades, brushes, combs and other accessories that are an essential part of male grooming," says Dowd.

In Oman, too, Mohamed has noticed a significant increase in regular male customers – local Omanis and expat businessmen alike – and has been pleasantly surprised at the sorts of treatments they’ve been booking.

"Men are looking to purchase long packages for deep cleansing, such as the 120-minute Moroccan Rhassoul and even our longer four or five-day spa packages," she explains. "To maximise revenue, we have created more treatments to attract this sort of customer."