17 May 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Spa Business
2020 issue 2

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Leisure Management - First responders


First responders

ISPA’s COVID-19 response survey offers insights into the spa world’s in-the-moment reaction to coronavirus. Josh Corman explains the significance of the data

More than half of spas had changed the traditional handshake greeting before lockdown Kristina Kokhanova/SHUTTERSTOCK
Spas were quick to communicate new policies with guests gpointstudio/SHUTTERSTOCK

Alongside the rest of the world, the spa industry has spent much of the last several weeks responding to the rapid changes caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Attempts to mitigate the virus’s impact on public health through social distancing and other measures have forced a vast number of spas to close.

As these rapid developments occurred, the International Spa Association (ISPA) surveyed stakeholders from across the industry – including owners and managers, vendors, consultants and educational institutions – to better understand the pandemic’s impact on the businesses within it. Specifically, ISPA sought feedback about the ways in which coronavirus (and COVID-19, the disease it causes) affected policies and practices, communications, revenues and more for spas and their resource partners. More than 500 spa industry professionals responded to the two-part survey, which was conducted from 13-23 March. The majority of respondents (80 per cent) were based in the US.

Though the situation facing the industry has evolved a great deal even since the survey was conducted, its timing offers insights into the spa world’s in-the-moment coronavirus response. “This ISPA survey captures an industry in the middle of an enormous transition as they reacted to daily changes in the public health landscape,” says Crystal Ducker, ISPA’s vice president of research and communications.

Operational changes
By the dates on which they responded, 99 per cent of spas reported an increase in their cleaning and sanitation efforts, and 82 per cent had implemented other policies or procedures specifically related to COVID-19. Largely, these new policies reflected the early guidance provided by the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control. For example, just over half of spas visibly promoted hand washing within the spa, nearly 70 per cent displayed employee hygiene standards and more than 90 per cent made hand sanitiser widely available to guests (see Graph 1).

In addition, more than half of all spas responded that their guest greeting policies had been amended to eliminate shaking hands, 38 per cent offered guests the opportunity to sanitise their hands prior to receiving treatment and 35 per cent required service providers to verbally confirm that their hands had been sanitised prior to providing treatment.

Guest communications
These steps were also the focal point of most COVID-19-related communications from spas to guests as shown in Graph 2 (see p48). More than 90 per cent of spas informed guests of sanitation efforts within their facilities in communications. Interestingly, day spas also encouraged guests not to visit if they were sick (96 per cent) and informed them about staff hygiene standards (92 per cent) at higher rates than resort/hotel spas (71 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively).

These figures suggest that, by mid-March, most spas were taking at least basic precautions against the transmission of coronavirus. However, it also seems clear that many spas had not yet expanded their policies to include even more robust protections. More than a quarter of spas, for example, noted that their guest communications encouraged visiting the spa to reduce stress. Also, a relatively low percentage of spas noted that they had stopped employees from travelling (25 per cent of resort/hotel spas), stopped facial applications like neck wraps and eye pillows (19 per cent) or stopped treatments that involved touching the face altogether (8 per cent).

From our vantage point in mid April, those figures may seem shockingly low. However, by the time ISPA’s survey was concluded, 80 per cent of spas reported closing to guests at least temporarily in response to COVID-19. Once again, the timing of the survey is key, as it likely explains the rapid transition from crafting new policies in hopes of remaining open to closing altogether within such a short time.

Financial wellbeing
It’s worth noting that, on 23 March, only nine US states had issued statewide “shelter in place” or “stay at home” directives. By 30 March, the number of states was up to 30. As of 3 April, 41 states and the District of Columbia have issued such orders. The UK, meanwhile, announced an enforced lockdown on 23 March, and many European nations harder hit at that time by the virus had put similar lockdowns in place only in the week or two prior. This suggests that, like the world at large, the spa industry attempted to maintain some safe level of normal operations before reaching the point where public health concerns required them to take sudden, more drastic measures.

Of course, those drastic measures have brought with them a high degree of fear and uncertainty regarding the spa industry’s financial wellbeing. When ISPA asked spas to anticipate the difference in revenues between March 2020 and the same month in 2019, more than 90 per cent estimated at least a 20 per cent drop in revenue, with a full two-thirds anticipating a drop of more than 50 per cent. Those figures track closely with respondents’ estimates about the change in number of guest visits in March compared to the previous year, with 64 per cent of spas anticipating that number to be cut at least in half due to the pandemic.

Naturally, those steep declines led to workforce changes as well. A quarter of spas had laid off employees at the time of the survey and 35 per cent had a hiring freeze. Given the high rate of closures indicated in the survey, it’s highly likely that those numbers have risen dramatically in the weeks since it was concluded.

Spas themselves are not, however, facing these industry wide challenges in isolation. Of the resource partners who responded to the survey, more than two-thirds anticipated their March gross revenues to be at least 20 per cent lower than last year, while just under a third anticipated a drop of more than 50 per cent. Resource partners differed from spas, though, in at least one key way: just 16 per cent of resource partners reported having closed their businesses. That figure is likely explained by the high number of respondents (71 per cent) who transitioned employees to work remotely in the pandemic and the (often) less hands-on nature of their jobs compared to spas. Still, 41 per cent of resource partners had already reduced employee hours, 31 per cent had a hiring freeze and 17 per cent had laid off employees.

Lasting impact?
The numbers don’t lie. The coronavirus pandemic has left no corner of the spa industry untouched. But what the numbers can’t yet tell us is how long its most immediate effects will be felt. ISPA’s survey reveals that more than half of spas anticipated that the length of their closure would be four weeks or less, while just 6 per cent believed it would last more than six weeks. Perhaps those numbers reflect the optimism and positive thinking the spa industry is known for. Perhaps they simply illustrate that, in mid-March, people weren’t yet aware of the pandemic’s possible scope or the measures required to combat it.

In any case, that picture will likely become clearer as more data is collected. To help with this, ISPA conducted another survey late in April to more fully measure the effects of COVID-19 on the industry as it continues to respond to these unprecedented events.

Over 500 spa professionals responded to the survey between 13-23 March
Josh Corman is director of education and research at ISPA | ispa@ispastaff.com

Originally published in Spa Business 2020 issue 2

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