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Leisure Management - Time for a Consultation

Global Research

Time for a Consultation

What is a spa consultant? How do you become one? What kinds of jobs do they do? Lisa Starr shares insights from the Global Wellness Institute’s Consulting Initiative, which recently conducted a survey of its members

About 75 per cent of spa consultants surveyed had previously worked in spa management shutterstock
Learning about design can help a consultant’s career shutterstock
Earning the trust and support of owners and staff is an important measure of success shutterstock
Most spa consultants get new projects based on happy clients and word-of-mouth recommendations shutterstock

With over 121,000 spas in the world, you can rest assured that many of them benefited from the guidance of a spa consultant at some point in their development and operations process. But the spa consultant is a bit of an invisible guiding force; spa consultants don’t get their name over the door of the business, and once a property is up-and-running, consultants are all but gone and forgotten, on to the next project.

Spa consulting is a highly specialised profession, and while there are several hundred full-time spa consultants in the world, they all have different capabilities and experience. Spa consultants don’t share a specific college degree or certification, or have their own association, but many of the global spa consultants have come together under the Global Wellness Institute’s Consulting Initiative. The Initiative aims to showcase the skills and abilities of spa consultants, and to give the consultants themselves a forum to share ideas and resources. While in general they are all competitors, they also tend to work alone or in very small groups, and many have appreciated the opportunity that the Initiative has provided to band together as a community. One goal of the Initiative has been to define the work that consultants do, and to provide some basic framework for these activities for those who may benefit, such as real estate developers and owners, hoteliers, and entrepreneurs.

Toward that end, the Initiative recently conducted a survey of its members in order to learn more about the size and scope of spa consulting globally, and to gain some insight into the career path that can be shared with those who are interested in the field. What are the competencies of a spa consultant to work to the best of their ability and reap the rewards? What are these rewards? How do they attain this knowledge and enjoy the process? The answers to these and other questions are among the insights that were gathered in the survey, excerpts of which follow.

Getting started
How did our consultants acquire the necessary skills to do their work? Over 70 per cent have four-year university and/or graduate degrees. Some have hospitality training with large brands, while others are licensed in massage, aesthetics or other modalities. About 60 per cent worked as therapists or in fitness, 75 per cent had spa management experience, and 44 per cent had hospitality management experience.

Was this path formalised or unstructured? Many said both; structured, in the case of large hospitality brands, and the opportunity to gain years of experience in spa operations at multiple properties. Others learned in the trenches, mentored by others, having started in the industry back when there was no formal education for spa management. Some have owned their own spa at some point before branching out to help others.

Developing skills
When asked about resources such as books or articles that helped to develop their skills, many recommended combing a broad array of news and information, not just in the topics of spa and wellness. Topics included design, art, music, drawing, hospitality, restaurant and retail publications, blogs and websites. Harvard Business Review, Forbes magazine, the Global Wellness Institute website, ISPA resources, and Malcolm Gladwell books also received mentions.

Spa consultants develop an acumen for management practices by learning on the job, corporate training programmes in hospitality, mentors, and – as one consultant put it, having “sharp eyes, open ears, reading, exchanging and being super-interested.”

Those who completed our survey recommended that others who want to take their consulting to the next level spend time gaining international exposure, attending industry events, and participating in education opportunities wherever possible. Getting an MBA was recommended for writing feasibility studies and audits, and for those currently in spa management, managing multiple types and sizes of spas is important. As one respondent said: “Understand what consultancy really is – not just a title – and you must understand spa management from owner perspective.”

Opinion on the necessary characteristics of a successful consultant were broad and varied, and included deep understanding of the industry and organisational/project management skills; multidimensional knowledge; strong communications/interpersonal skills; organisation and self-confidence; superior level of specialist knowledge; leadership and people skills; patience; the ability to listen and communicate clearly; empathy; passion; honesty; the ability to tailor clients’ dreams into an end product that is operationally practical; time management; flexibility as the process goes through lots of changes; ability to disseminate information; ethical and moral fiber; vision and continuous search for innovation; being a collaborative, creative problem solver; having strong financial acumen; and the ability to delegate. Maybe the best comment; “Have fun and don’t take it too seriously – we are solving first-world problems.”

Most importantly, it was noted that earning the trust and support of owners and staff was an important measure. The ability to tell a beautiful story and also create a solid business model is the mark of success for many. Other positive outcomes included achieving objectives, happy clients, referrals/recommendations from clients, delivering projects on-schedule and on-budget, better revenue and profit margins, and walking away with the feeling that “I finished the project, thankful that I was involved.”

On the job
Twenty-five per cent of our consultants reported working on between three and five projects per year, and 25 per cent work on more than 12. These projects are mostly hotels and resorts, followed by day spas, wellness centres, and lastly, destination spas. Over 90 per cent of consultants do project-based pricing, or a combination of project and hourly, and most payments are made on a schedule of set points throughout the project (75 per cent). Twenty-eight per cent have four or more employees.

Over 70 per cent of consultants carry professional liability insurance, although many work in markets or on smaller projects where it is not required. For hotels and other projects, it is often required by the brand or developer. Even among those who carry it, many said clients never ask about it.

Getting the job done
Almost all consultants are aware of the importance of their reputations and networks; 96 per cent noted that projects find them through client recommendations and word of mouth, and about 60 per cent said through a website. About 30 per cent of projects last between 12-18 months, which is also the average. The average capital spend on projects was US$1.5m, and 25 per cent of consultants said they are seeing annual growth rates in their businesses of 13 per cent and more.

In summary, this observation was shared: “Spa consulting is a business plain and simple. There are professionals who are ready to begin a consulting career and have knowledge and skills that will provide great value and benefits, but many people haven’t thought it through as a business and should spend more time analysing the opportunity before making such a big decision. Be optimistic but realistic, especially when it comes to your income, financial security, career goals and enjoying the work that you do.”

Graph 1:

How many spa projects, both start-ups and ongoing, do you typically work on per year?


*Source: Consulting Initiative’s 2017 survey
Graph 2:

What is the average
duration of your projects?*


Graph 3:

What is the average capital
spend per development project?


*Source: Consulting Initiative’s 2017 survey
More information

More information on the spa consulting competencies, such as concept development, financial forecasting, staff recruitment and marketing plans, and additional useful tools and information can be found at globalspaandwellnessconsultants.com

About the author:


Lisa Starr

Lisa Starr is a senior consultant at spa management training company Wynne Business, and the chair of the Global Wellness Institute’s Consulting Initiative.

email: lstarr@wynnebusiness.com

Twitter: @StarrTalk

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2018 edition

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