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Reopening: critical insights from first ISPA Town Hall

05 Jun 2020
ISPA has kicked off its Town Hall Meeting series to share learnings from industry leaders as spas reopen across the globe.

The first event on 3 June saw 500 people sign in to hear an expert panel tackle issues from pricing to managing challenging customers.

The panel, including spa directors Tracy Harper, from Sun Valley; Dawn MacLellan, St. Andrews Country Club; Accor’s Daniel Poulin, Garrett Mersberger, ISPA chair; Daisy Tepper from Post Oak and Landry; were moderated by Patrick Huey from Montage Hotels and Resorts.

PPE breaks
The leaders unanimously agreed that spas must give therapists breaks from PPE, to support their wellbeing and also to allow for thorough cleaning to be carried out.

MacLellan and Tepper said breaks – ranging from 15 to 30 minutes – are a ‘non-negotiable’ aspect of reopening after the pandemic.

Mersberger explained that his spa is assigning two treatment rooms to each therapist, so they can rest from PPE after treatments and conduct back-to-back treatments if needed.

The conversation continued with Tepper stating that her employees are required to wear masks and gloves at all times.

However, this is a matter the industry needs to address, to establish if customers want to be massaged in this way – as Tepper said in her experience, 99 per cent of guests say they don’t want therapists to deliver massage treatments using gloves.

How much to charge?
Huey next asked whether anyone planned on changing prices. The general consensus was that these would remain the same, but Tepper revealed she’s planning to raise them in a month.

“Price isn't an issue,” she said, “we’re not planning on dropping our prices because people need us more than ever and they’re willing to pay.”

Poulin agreed: “There’s no problem with price, as the phone is ringing off the hook. People want 90-minute treatments and they’re ordering multiple treatments at a time. Maybe it’s the first wave and we’ll have to adjust in future, but at the moment people are craving our offering so we’ve no need to lower prices.”

“Be smart about your pricing,” said Huey, “being mindful of your price integrity will be key to the success of your business.”

Learnings from reopening
Huey then asked panellists what they’d do in hindsight, having reopened.

He kicked off saying: “Montage’s experience shows spas should prepare for very high call volumes and should dedicate a portion of their budget to having someone answer the phones”.

Harper recommended ordering and securing supplies of PPE and signage well in advance of re-opening while MacLellan wished she’d implemented a ‘COVID fee’ on top of treatment to help cover costs for PPE.

The group mentioned the importance and popularity of retail in reopened spas. Poulin said that retailed products are already flying off the shelves, with customers keen to buy, and that spas must be prepared for this demand.

What if guests won’t comply?
Huey then asked how they’re handling difficulties with guests accepting new rules, panellists all agreed that preparing and communicating new SOPs and hygiene practices with staff is crucial in the reopening process, as it helps empower therapists and makes them more comfortable dealing with potential questions and pushback from guests.

Poulin added: “Compliance with the rules by customers is what’s going to take time. Don’t underestimate the commitment you need from your people, identify the non-negotiables for them and guests and create a private space where they can explain why something is non-negotiable. The last thing you need is bad press.”

Huey added that having a private space with social-distancing in place is also useful if it’s ever necessary to conduct a discreet secondary screening process for customers with abnormal temperature readings.

Multiple panellists also suggested preparing a commitment document to send to guests before they arrive to provide peace of mind and prepare them in terms of what to expect.

Some panellists explained they’ve updated their intake forms with COVID-appropriate questions and Harper and Poulin said all of their clients are asked to sign an online waiver before agreeing to a treatment.

Changing the menu
Next, the question was posed about whether panellists were still offering body treatments such as scrubs and wraps. Although Mersberger shared that his spa is offering a smaller menu than usual, each respondent unanimously said they’re still offering body treatments, with therapists equipped with PPE. The only exception being Vichy showers, which are not yet back on stream.

No panellist has yet opened their wet, steam or sauna areas – Poulin explained: “This is because it’s hard to social distance and wear masks in these spaces.”

The conversation shifted to back of house and touched on whether anyone had made modifications for reopening. Changes mentioned included controlling occupancy levels, introducing clear signage, offering hand sanitiser and marking out social distancing guidelines on the floor.

To catch up on the full webinar, click here.

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