Wellness Dimension in Hospitality

Hotel developers and owners having their operations in India, in the not so distant past, were reluctant to offer their guests in India spa facilities due to the significant investment needed for a spa and also because majority of those guests did not demand spa in the package. About two decades ago, spa was considered as a luxury in India’s hospitality industry, even for high-end hotels and resorts.

Today many tourists in India, whether they be leisure or business tourists, whether they be inbound or domestic tourists, believe that spa is a prerequisite for a hotel. Of course, this consumer demand is reflected in mushrooming of spas across hospitality properties in the country. Moreover, spas these days are expected to be holistic wellness havens.

The extremely hectic and tension filled lifestyles of these days have enhanced the need for spas in many well-heeled guests’ lifestyle space. Ashok Malkani explores the spa culture in India’s hospitality industry to find that most star-rated hotels in the country now deem it essential to have a spa. In the feature, the comparison between the specialised Ayurvedic spa resorts with the regular hotel spas is also being done.   

Spas in hospitality properties in India, which once upon a time were rare features, have become  common havens of rejuvenation in several star hotels operating in the country. This is mainly due to the fact that well-being is becoming the norm today for leisure as well as business travellers. Spas are at the forefront of holistic health and wellness movement in the country. 

Though the spa culture has gained momentum in the recent years, spas do have a rich legacy. If one looks back in history, one finds that ancient Greeks were the first to use spas for therapeutic purposes, not just for hygiene and cleanliness. The Romans took this line of thinking of the Greeks one step further and built thermal baths at natural mineral and hot springs. They loved their baths, and wherever they went the steam baths and healing massage were sure to follow.

As the Roman Empire expanded, spas began springing up all over Europe and beyond and became places to socialise, relax and receive medical treatment. The fall of the Roman Empire might have taken place about 1,600 years ago but the Europeans never lost their love for spas.

Hotels Need Spas

This love has now flowed to India too. As far as India’s hospitality industry is concerned, over two decades ago, spas were found only at the most exclusive resorts. Today, however, they are found in hospitality properties of all sizes, across the country. The management of many of the hotels and resorts have now realised that adding a spa to their offerings would draw more guests easily.

Laltlanpari Varte, Spa Manager, Conrad Pune, averred, “All leading luxury hotels in India these days house a spa. Today’s savvy travellers like to relax and unwind in style while being pampered at the spa. A spa adds an element of luxury to the modern travellers and hence can play an important role in hotels’ and resorts’ identity. Nowadays, a spa is also indirectly responsible for the success of a hotel business, through revenue generation and upping the satisfaction score for guests looking for a wholesome experience.”

“Latest report on spas indicates that modern day travellers consider wellness facilities as one of the most important factors when booking a hotel. Spa is a key differentiator to us in both the leisure and business travel segments today. Additionally, 69 percent of the travellers, according to the report, said they were most likely to visit the spa at the hotel during stay,” revealed  Migmar Lhamo, Spa Manager, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway.

“Earlier, the spa menu used to come with one expansive list of offerings that led to significant operational problems, especially in the education of therapists, other staff and in marketing too. However, all these complexities have been addressed by contemporary spas of today with simplified, refined and targeted treatment menus,” she elaborated. 

“With the advance in development of wellness facilities across hotels under the luxury segment, many professionals now believe that spa is an essential element in luxury hotels,” expressed Jyoti Rathod, Spa Manager, JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa.

“At Cedar Spa by L’Occitane, at JW Mariott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort & Spa, we offer an array of specialised treatments, customised for complete rejuvenation. Nestled against a vertical drop on the hillside, the spa is a haven for Mediterranean wellness,” Jyoti conveyed.

Vijay Kanojia, Health Club Manager, The Suryaa New Delhi, believes that whether one is on a business trip, or on leisure or social travel, one “needs some time to relax, rejuvenate and unwind. That is where spa comes into picture.  After a tiring hectic schedule, one needs time to refresh and re-energise oneself.”

Sagar Gaonkar, Director of Rooms, DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pune-Chinchwad is of the opinion that star hotels must have a spa. “These days travellers expect a star hotel to have all the facilities like swimming pool, gym and multiple restaurants. A spa is an advantage to help meet the guest expectations of a good star hotel,” he pointed out.

Dr. Maneesh Damodharan, Spa Manager, Radisson Blu Resort Goa Cavelossim Beach, added, “Nowadays wellness has become the most inevitable part of many tourists’ vacation as it helps in relaxing tired muscles and rejuvenation.”

“Wellness has captured the imagination of consumers. Consumers have grown more conscious and focused towards taking care of themselves. Whether it is for travelling for work or leisure, a professional spa facility at the hotel is often a criterion for selecting a hotel. Spa facility is an increasingly important differentiator as room amenities and hotel infrastructure are more or less at par across the same star band of hotels,” opined Amit Kumar, General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott Pune Chakan.

Global or Indian

In the luxury hotel segment of India’s hospitality industry, the role of the spa has been elevated to a position of being an expected amenity. But how do hotel spas in India compare with the spas of global standard?

“When we go for comparison, one should notice that most of the star hotels in India are franchised or managed by some international brand or other which has its own set of operational procedures to run hotels at an international level. Thus the spas of these star hotels in the country reflect global standards. The other hotels with spas in India, which run their own brands, also do follow the global spa standard to make sure they are neck to neck with other international brands and don’t fall out of race,” explained Vijay.

Amit however, is of the opinion that spas housed in hotels in India are, on an average, superior to the global ones. “Hotel spas in India, on an average, are way ahead of their counterparts globally. This is in-line with the overall hospitality sector of India being far ahead over its global counterparts in terms of service and amenities offered for the price charged. Globally, spas in hotels are either larger than life or very basic in design. Globally, spa services are very steeply priced – upwards of 150 USD for a sixty minutes spa therapy that will be typically priced under 50 USD in India. Global spa consumers, on an average, are also far ahead of their Indian counterpart when it comes to valuing the benefits of wellness therapies,” he elaborated.

Maneesh has a different opinion. “Indian spas have to improve a lot to compete with global spa standards,” he asserted.  

“Experiences f r o m spas in India have improved with more focus on hygiene and standards maintained, at par with those of the spas globally,” Sagar asserted.

“India is a key part of the global luxury spa market,” declared Laltlanpari. “The new economic boom and the economic multi-use packages have facilitated in the growth of India’s spa market,” she added. 

According to Abbas Painattu, Spa Manager, The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace, spa treatments in India include various Indian and exotic massages done with herbal and aromatic oils.

“The spa industry came into eminence in India during the last five-ten years. India has about 2,300 spa centers, which are concentrated majorly in South India, where people in the age-group of 25-45 are their biggest consumer segment. A major portion of the business of spa centers in India these days comes f r o m health tourists f r o m America, Europe and East Asia,” he added. 

Ayurvedic Resorts and Hotel Spas

In India’s fast evolving wellness industry, we are seeing specialised Ayurvedic spa resorts, which are different f r o m general hotel spas. Which should be preferred is a question that often arises in the minds of the clients.

“Ayurvedic spa hotels and resorts are like wellness retreats for guests looking to eat healthy and detox. A stay at an Ayurvedic resort may extend for a long duration, such as 15 days, depending on the issues and the line of treatment. An Ayurvedic doctor at the resort may diagnose and recommend corrective nutrition plans, activities and treatments which are holistic in nature,” explained Laltlanpari.

“In luxury hotels however, a guest can schedule an appointment with the spa for deluxe spa facilities such as signature spa treatments using natural and exotic ingredients, which helps guests to soothe their nerves and unwind,” she maintained.

“When we talk about Ayurvedic spa hotels & resorts it is understood that they are primarily meant for treatment related to healing of some chronic diseases and ailments through Ayurveda oil and ointments, which have some therapeutic benefits for some fixed session apart f r o m relaxation. When we talk about the general hotel spas, they generally offer an array of different therapies, which are basically meant for relaxation and rejuvenation, be it Ayurveda, European, Chinese or the South-East Asian therapies,” elaborated Vijay.

“Ayurvedic spa resorts are very different f r o m regular hotel spas. At an Ayurvedic spa resort, the respective guest is generally first consulted by a professional Ayurveda doctor and following that begins a tailor-made treatment, usually for a period of two weeks, depending on the guest’s health,” explained Jyoti.

On the other hand, in regular hotel spas, the emphasis is more on relaxation and rejuvenation in an opulent setting, rather than on cure f r o m chronic ailments.

“A regular hotel spa offers luxurious spa facilities with signature spa treatments such as massages, facials and body treatments, which are specific to that hotel. The amenities at these types of spas could be in the form of luxury branded spa products, personal service along with steam, sauna, gym and swimming pool facilities. The ambience in a high-end hotel spa spells luxury and relaxation,” elaborated Jyoti.

“The Ayurvedic spas, also known as medi spas, offer traditional spa therapies as well as authentic Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments in a relaxing environment. The treatments on a medical spa holiday generally focus on one of the two areas — aesthetic enhancement or wellness. The medical spas have become more popular in recent years for both men and women. An Ayurvedic doctor overseas these type of spa resorts and typically provides a health consultation at the beginning of your stay, whilst other medical professionals, such as physiotherapists and Panchakarma therapists, handle the daily treatments and therapies,” Abbas elaborated.

“On the other hand, hotels offer a relaxing and pampering spa that allows guests to escape f r o m the stresses of everyday life. With a selection of beauty and rejuvenating treatments such as personalsed massages, body scrubs and hydrotherapy treatments, hotel spas aim to give their patrons a healthy glow and a renewed sense of energy,” he added.

“Ayurvedic spa resorts would only focus on traditional Indian treatments whereas other hotel spas generally have both western treatments as well as Ayurveda offerings,” maintained Migmar.

“Ayurvedic spa resorts mainly provide health related treatment programs with long-term effects and they focus on long stay guests, whereas regular hotel spas mainly focus on one time relaxation and pampering of the guests,” added Maneesh.

“Typically, the Ayurvedic spa resorts are destinations away f r o m the city where guests can enroll themselves for therapies and treatments spread across a minimum of seven days and going up to two months. The treatments are targeted towards specific benefits which could range across detoxification, weight-loss, etc. The therapies revolve around Ayurvedic panchkarma and yogic kriyas. City hotels that have spas are more equipped for day-to-day relaxation therapies and because they are easily accessible, regular guests there enroll for annual memberships to enjoy special benefits. The hotel spas have the advantage of offering the full array of wellness therapies and undertake innovative wellness initiatives. Tattva Spa, at our Courtyard by Marriott Pune Chakan  and some other places, has launched wellness detox F&B menu across select hotel spas and it is becoming a popular choice of dining post a rejuvenating spa session,” articulated Amit.

Spa Chain Models

The spa culture has so enveloped the hotels in India that some hotel chains have created their own spa brands. ITC has Kaya Kalp, Taj has Jiva, Shangri-La has Chi. At the same time, some hotel chains boast about external spa brands housed by them. The Leela has Espa. Tattva, one of the largest chains of spa is housed in Radisson Mumbai, Holiday Inn Mumbai, Conrad Pune and several other places.  So which of this model is more beneficial? 

“Nowadays many a hotel has its own set of spa brand and it is beneficial as you have your own set of standard procedure to be followed. This can give these spas unique positioning f r o m other hotel spas, and facilitate them to garner good reputation in the market,” explained Vijay.

“The idea behind hotel brands having their own signature spa is that when guests travel f r o m one city to another, they can carry their wellness experience with them. Most hotel chain spas have their own set of therapies and treatments. Signature therapies are standardised across all Westin’s Heavenly Spa spas, which can be a source of assurance for the guests,” affirmed Abbas.

Migmar iterates that having the same spa brand across several hotel chains is beneficial for the hotels. “Guests who have already experienced a certain class of services and facilities at a given branded spa, would prefer to get the same or similar wellness solutions at other places too,” Migmar pointed out.

“One of the most significant reasons for housing the same spa brand for various  hotel chains is the credibility the spa brand brings for the guests at the hotel. A guest is keener to try the spa services of a well-known and established spa brand, which can add footfalls at the spa for the hotel. Also, loyalists of the spa brand may be easily converted into using the spa and it becomes easier for the hotel to latch on the brand value of the concerned spa brand,” stated Laltlanpari.

Sagar believes several hotel chains having the same spa brand would be beneficial to these hotels as it would help maintain a wellness standard across all these hotel chains. 

Maneesh also maintains that several hotel chains having the same spa brand is beneficial as it would enable hotel chains to maintain the same brand standards & spa techniques across all hotels of the chain. “And guest will not feel any difference in the spa experience during their different stays with different hotel chains, who are having the same spa brand,” he pointed out.

“It is indeed an advantage if a hotel chain can work with a single spa brand or a maximum of two, depending upon the positioning of their specific sub-brands. It goes a long way in developing focus and increases the ability to do joint marketing initiatives at a larger scale. There are however, very few professional spa brands with a national footprint, resulting in hotels in India’s dependency on local spa operators,” averred Amit.

In conclusion, we may state that whatever may be the model of their operations, spas have today become an integral part of India’s hospitality industry. Increasingly, hotels are offering spa and wellness services as a customer incentive. This trend is only likely to gain momentum in  India’s hospitality industry, in the years to come.

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