It’s a time of great uncertainty in the hospitality space right now. Things we took as a given are no longer reliable. Metrics are changing, everything must be tested. Many may think this to be true for spa & leisure as well, but, it turns out, in the right hands, spa & leisure can continue to drive value for guests. Look no further than what IHG’s UK Director of Spa & Leisure Finlay Anderson and his team are doing for proof. According to Anderson, now is the time for innovation in the spa space. We connected with him to learn more about his approach to managing spa & leisure for IHG’s UK operations and where things are headed for them in the near future.
SHIJI: How Did You First Get Into The Spa World, Ending Up As IHG’s UK Director For Spa & Leisure?
ANDERSON: I started out studying sport science and became a gym instructor, personal trainer, and gym manager, where I moved from standalone gyms to a hotel gym. I thought I’d try it for six months and then I absolutely fell in love with hospitality. We had a one-room gym and quickly decided to convert an office into a treatment room and within six months ended up having nine treatment rooms.
I loved it and went all in with the whole spa thing. From there, I proceeded to various group roles at QHotels Collection, which was fantastic. I then went from QHotels to Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel, originally being from Glasgow. Blythswood is this five-star hotel under IHG, and an amazing place. I spent a couple of years there and now I’m still working with IHG, but in a group role.
And in terms of where we’re going – it’s a great time now to hit reset on everything, develop, innovate, do a lot of fun things for the team and take a few more of risks.
Great. I’m glad to hear you’re using this time as a time for innovation.
Yeah, we started off with smaller teams and have taken it as an opportunity to reset and say no to volume and focus on experience and quality – a maximum of 14 people in the space at any one time. For instance, a 90-minute thermal experience with that feeling of exclusivity. It’s also great for the team because they get to spend a lot of time really getting to know their guests and giving them great experiences.
All we’re really doing is taking people that need an escape from reality and giving them a great day. So, it’s not hard to motivate yourself every day!
We’re also using it as an opportunity to watch some new technology and new products.
What is the role technology plays in the spa & leisure world today? How does that inform the guest experience?
Yes, it’s undoubtedly important and now it’s creeping more into the guest journey, but it started out with the booking process. We’re moving more and more online, trying to drive more ROI. One of the things we’re trying to do coming through the tail end of COVID is having a system that will answer guests’ questions at the time of booking – creating online and interactive experiences rather than a five to ten-minute call is great.
Having a system for pre-arrivals, reminder emails, and so on – all of these actions are gold dust for us. It makes days like Christmas Day much easier where we can offer last-minute vouchers with QR codes offering a walkthrough of the spa and highlighting what you’ll experience, who you’ll meet, et cetera.
Spas run at different levels of commercial reality and sometimes you need to dig deeper into your spa’s P&L by looking at how it contributes to the actual room rate of the hotel. FINLAY ANDERSON
One of the big projects we’ve had in the last couple of months is getting our various older systems all into one system. We’re moving all our booking online so our on-site team can focus on the guest experience while we handle the booking process. And we get all this reporting functionality on top of that. We can use that to drill into which site needs support from the central team, where we need to drive the business, and where we need to work to upsell from the hotel.
We work with ishga, one of our product partners who is about to launch some amazing skin technology that our therapists will use. They’ll not only use this on our guests, but we’ll also have products available for retail and guests can use the ishga app to analyze and track their skin hydration. We also curated a custom soundtrack for ishga treatments, signature treatments, and unique sound therapy sessions.
I want to go for a 360-degree approach, so if that’s hands-on treatment, sound therapy, CBD, aromatherapy – everything and anything to get that positive after effect, because everyone is different and has different reactions.
Considering that the spa business is not always the biggest revenue generator in a hotel, what advice would you give those who are reluctant to invest in the technology as part of the spa operations?
Spas run at different levels of commercial reality and sometimes you need to dig deeper into your spa’s P&L by looking at how it contributes to the actual room rate of the hotel.
I think, as with any technology, it’s something that you and the team need to really buy into and believe in, so you’ve got to speak to different providers and trial all those different solutions to see what fits best with your spa. Does it fit your demographic? You need something that is experiential and also gives results.
We’ve worked with cryotherapy, but then guests will say things like, “That’s great, but it’s also quite noisy, and we are aspiring to be relaxed and serene.” So, it’s really getting it right and trying to think through the customer journey and how it fits into that.
I think the number one priority is – how does it fit into your spa and does it fit the guest journey? Does the team believe in it? After that, it’s just a return on investment like anything else.
How have current market pressures impacted business and has technology helped alleviate them at all?
Getting online is massive for us. Our email inbox may have more than 300 emails for bookings alone and that’s just one channel, so getting 50% of our business online is massive. Automating our processes is also a major step as our pre-arrival reminders are still done manually. Systems that can do automated reminders are the future and where technology is heading.
How about the larger landscape? If we look at some things competitors have done, is there anything that’s inspired you?
For us, it was glaringly obvious that we were caught up in volume-driven sorts of models. It was then looking at some of the best spas and what they do in Scotland, which is usually very much rate-driven.
There are various WhatsApp groups of other Spa Directors, looking at which solutions everyone else is using. That makes a very easy sale to the people that I need to get things signed off by because it’s saying, “Here’s the competitor, here’s what they’ve got, and here’s what they do and actually they’re taking hundreds of online bookings a week.” FINLAY ANDERSON
In the UK we looked at Aqua Sana where they do some pretty amazing things, including some of their experience rooms and new thermal experiences they have with sensory technology, that’s something that we’ll look into. You don’t need a therapist for it, so you can have a better ROI on it.
We also looked at the smaller spas – the ones that do really, really well, but for me, Aqua Sana, Gleneagles, and Hoar Cross are the ones who are innovating really well.
If you want to know what’s happening in the wellness world, you look to Six Senses. We are nowhere near them and some of their therapies and the way they can take modern technology and have it sit alongside ancient rituals and wellness practices – just phenomenal the way they do that.
There are various WhatsApp groups of other Spa Directors, looking at what everyone else is using. That makes a very easy sale to the people that I need to get things signed off by because it’s saying, “Here’s the competitor, here’s what they’ve got, and here’s what they do and actually they’re taking hundreds of online bookings a week.”
As we look at 2022, are there areas of focus you’re going to be taking with you from this past year or two?
I think it’s just staying on that wellness side of the market and being results-driven. We’re reducing the number of guests we’re seeing. So actually, we’ve got more time to educate the guests on how they should be looking after themselves, treating themselves, and their whole skincare regime. It’s very much moving into that wellness sector and just making people feel better.
It’s great for our teams to weigh in and actually keep the team engaged in helping them to enjoy their work because if they’re happy and they’re enjoying it, the guests are also benefitting from that because they’re having a great day and everyone is happy.
What would your advice be for other group spa directors on how technology can help them?
Take the time to look at what’s going on inside and outside of the industry. Take the parts you like and see if they align with your client base, then challenge your team to help make them fit into your journey. Not only will you end up with a cutting-edge experience that the team has bought into, but you’ll also find a new revenue stream with a great ROI.