Not Just a ‘Nice to Have’


Spas are no longer just a luxury offering at hotels across Africa and have just about become a standard feature at those properties who are targeting the upper ends of the business traveller market. Melissa Douman investigates.

Gone are the days where a visit to the spa was the sole preserve of leisure guests, girlfriend getaways or bridal parties. It has become a big component of business travel, providing executives with a great way to unwind. Further to that, offering a spa at a hotel is now not only seen as a ‘nice to have’ amenity for guests, it has become a lucrative business and an important revenue-generator for hotels.

When launching their Euphoria Range in October last year, Hilton Worldwide Hotels undertook to do some research into the business viability of offering spas in their hotels, and also assessed consumer demand. “We found that 65% of guests who booked through travel agents required hotel accommodation that also offered a spa facility”, says Sharon Barcock, Hilton Hotels Director of Spa Operations for the Middle East. “This is certainly a change in the last five years, as travel agents previously never bothered with spa availability when making a booking for their clients”.

As a result, offering a spa experience at a hotel has almost become a ‘given’, rather than a luxury for certain target audiences. “Ultimately, a quality experience at a spa is about the experience you offer your clients, and it should transfer them to a different zone and offer them a feeling of wellness”, says Barcock. “That is superior service and one that ultimately sees the guest returning to the spa. Therefore, spas have become important in increasing guest retention and revenue.”

On the issue of income generation, Barcock says that based on their industry findings, spas now contribute approximately 10% of revenue for hotels, and that there is a 95% greater luxury occupancy on weekends at hotels with spas, compared with those without. Hilton are not alone in identifying the spa offering as an important part of the overall hotel experience.

“In Legacy Hotels’ leading properties, such as the Michelangelo and DaVinci hotels, business and leisure travellers carry certain expectations – one of them being that all services must be on offer – and this includes spa treatments and relaxation of their choice”, says Johannesburg-based Michelangelo Spa Manager, Theshnie Pillay. “Offering our guests and surrounding neighbours first class spa services is a very important part of our hotel experience today. At the Michelangelo, it has certainly become a ‘must have’ to welcome international travellers, especially in the five-star market, where hotel guests have become used to having a spa facility within the hotel and have now come to expect it.”

Hotels have also had to give more thought to what they include on their treatment menus, with a more targeted approach receiving better feedback, as the needs of the guest is taking into account, along with offering value-for-money treatments that don’t break the bank. There’s no doubt that a relaxing environment in which highly-stressed business travellers can escape from the world, makes for an attractive offering. Throw in the fact that technology makes us all instantly contactable, 24/7, and suddenly the spa is a haven in which to switch off from the pressures of work for a few minutes. As all employers will likely agree, a happy employee makes for a productive employee and, ultimately, that will benefit your bottom line.

Hotels have become sensitive to this and are realising the benefits of not only offering spa treatments to individual corporate travellers, but also throwing it into their overall conferencing offering, as well. “The more activities you have to offer, the better your chances are for business”, says Gillian Kureva, Spa Manager for African Pride Mount Grace Country House and Spa, in the Magaliesburg, to the north-west of Johannesburg.

Kureva backs up this point by adding that their spa has proved popular with conference delegates. It’s no surprise then that some companies find themselves choosing conference venues because of the spa offering. Across Africa, though, there are factors that inform what type of spa experience a hotel offers, and that’s not surprising, considering the multitude of cultures that are found across the continent. In many cases, there are specific traditions that need to be observed, and the manner in which therapies are performed can often depend heavily on the social practice, religious beliefs and cultures of a particular country. For example, some therapies could be seen to take on the form of ritualistic practices offering spiritual or healing properties, whilst others could be more medicinal, with a focus on tangible results, such as cellulite reduction, weight loss, pigmentation lightening, etc.

Barcock is familiar with Middle Eastern spa practices, particularly those of Cairo and Dubai, and says that most spas in that region segregate male and female clients, and that therapists only work on clients of the same sex. Stephanie Mimi of Kaya Spa – part of the African Pride Tribe Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya – says their guests are given the option of being treated by either male or female therapists. So, all preferences and cultures are catered for.

Interestingly, the majority of Southern African Spas consulted appear to favour female therapists performing treatments on both men and women. The consensus seemed to be that, generally, both Southern African men and women favoured that over being treated by a male therapist. That being said, the trend appears to be that steam rooms in Southern African hotel spas, are unisex, although nudity is not allowed and bathing suits must be worn. Another interesting cultural observation is that couples rooms are available throughout most of Africa, but not in East African countries, where men and women are treated separately.

Strangely, tipping is not as big in Southern Africa as it is in other parts of Africa, where it is expected. “Don’t get me wrong, South African therapists do like to get a 10% tip, but they don’t expect it”, says Kureva. “South African clients normally show gratuity through word of mouth and recommendations of that therapist. In other parts of Africa, tipping is expected and generally the clientele adopt the American standard of tipping generously”.

From a numbers point of view, South Africa appears to be leading the charge in Africa, although, according to Pillay, “the international hotels have already seen the benefits to having an on-site spa for their guests. In South Africa, this is still a growing industry and hotel spas are developing their own niche market”.

“South Africa is certainly at the forefront of spas in Africa”, says Barcock. “They are hosting the Annual Spa Conference this year. They offer spa training academies and also host the spa association. There are a lot of developments in South Africa, so they are definitely ahead of other countries developing their offerings”.

So, South Africa setting the pace at the moment, although clearly a competitive space, with plenty of hotel spa development expected in the near future. Dust off that bathing suit and treat yourself to some pampering, the next time you’re away on the company’s dime. It’s bound to be worth it.

Spa Etiquette

1. Keep quiet
2. No cell phones
3. Pre-book
4. Observe hygiene rules
5. Shower before using pools
6. Shower after using steam room
7. Dress appropriately – bathing suit
8. Tipping optional

Some Hotel Spas To Look Out For

1. Mount Grace Country House and Spa – Magaliesburg, South Africa – named South Africa’s Best Luxury Day Spa at the 2011 World Luxury Spa Awards – has 18 treatment rooms and offers over 15 different facials, body wraps and massage treatments.

2. Polana Serena Hotel’s ‘Maisha’ Health Club and Spa – Maputo, Mozambique – Portuguese and English-speaking therapists offer guests a sanctuary for their senses in four single treatment rooms and an exclusive intimate VIP double room suite, ideal for couples, flanking a central lap pool.

3. African Pride Tribe Hotel’s Kaya Spa – Nairobi, Kenya – listed on the Condé Nast Traveller Hot List Spas 2011 as one of the 40 hottest spas in the world – offers a variety of body treatments, scrubs and massages using the best of Spa Siam, Dermalogica and Mama Mio skincare products.

4. Vineyard Hotel’s Angsana Spa – Cape Town, South Africa – has 10 lavish spa rooms, as well as a specially equipped ‘Rainmist Room’ – the signature Ayurvedic Rainmist spa treatment is recommended.

5. Le Spa Royal Mansour – Marrakesh, Morocco – big spa pavilion, with two full hammams, a vast glass-enclosed indoor pool, Pilates studio, and treatment rooms (some with private hammams) – after treatment, relax with mint tea on a curtained daybed in the second-floor loung

6. Steigenberger Al Dau Beach Hotel’s Algotherm Red Sea Thalasso & Spa – Hurghada, Egypt – focuses on Thalasso therapy, which is based on the curative properties of sea water, sea salt, sea climate and seaweed.  

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