23 May 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Spa Business
2023 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Theory of evolution

Jeremy McCarthy

Theory of evolution

Experiences in the hospitality industry have grown from spa, to wellness and to something far more powerful. Jeremy McCarthy explains what this means for the decades ahead

The mission is to convert guests’ time into memorable moments photo: mandarin oriental hotel group

Having worked in hospitality for more than three decades, I’m in an interesting position to look at the evolution of its experiential offerings.

At the beginning of my career, there was a lot of debate about whether spa was important at all. Is it profitable? Is it necessary? Can it be outsourced? Should it be outsourced? The dialogue about spa was filled with uncertainty and scepticism for a long time.

Although there are still naysayers today, spa has become a de facto standard in any luxury or full-service hotel. It’s seen as a necessary component because it generates revenues (sometimes out of undesirable spaces), attracts affluent travellers, generates publicity, connects our hotels to the local community and builds loyalty, by providing guests with impactful and meaningful experiences that go far deeper than other typical hospitality interactions.

From wellness to leisure
Once spa was accepted, the industry began to ask what else it could offer guests. “How can we generate more revenues? How can we impact our guests even more? How do we meet the growing demand from affluent customers to not just provide services, but also support their lifestyle?”

We’re living in the age of the #wellnesseverywhere consumer. These customers are not content to carve out limited time in their life for wellness, they want it everywhere they go. They want it at work, at home and when they travel. Hotels have had to adapt to help guests maintain their healthy lifestyle while on the road, with cutting-edge fitness offerings, flexible culinary plans that respect a broad range of dietary interests and sleep programmes to ensure guests are well rested. 'Directors of spa’ became ‘directors of spa and wellness’ and they moved beyond the spa and fitness areas having a hand in guestroom amenities, sleep rituals, healthy menus, employee wellbeing programmes, wellness retreats, meetings and events and more. I like to tell my team: “We're not here to take part, we're here to take over.”

Today hospitality experiences are evolving and expanding once again – from spa to wellness, to leisure. Because just as spa is only one component of wellness, so wellness is only one component of the kind of experiences that travellers are seeking. The hotel industry is no longer selling beds and meals, it’s selling experiences. Some of those might be spa and wellness-focused, but they can extend far beyond this into a plethora of other domains such as social, family, culture, shopping, history, art, adventure and more.

What’s next?
The hotel of the future doesn’t just provide accommodations, it provides and facilitates experiences. The hospitality industry has to once again rethink how it does business in a way that transcends traditional department structures such as concierge, guest services, F&B, wellness, activities, etc. Guests don't care if the experience takes place in or outside the hotel. They don’t care if it’s offered by the hotel or by a third party. And they don’t care what department is in charge of the experience. The guest only cares about their time. “I’m here until Thursday, what should I do?”. Our ability to guide a guest to the best answer to that question will determine our success for the decade ahead.

What hospitality has learned from spa is that if it can convert our guests’ leisure time into something impactful, this will grow loyalty and drive revenues. The mission for the decade ahead is to convert more of our guests’ time into meaningful and memorable experiences.

As group director of spa, wellness and leisure for Mandarin Oriental, Jeremy McCarthy works across 35 luxury hotels globally. Contact him with your views on Twitter @jeremymcc

Originally published in Spa Business 2023 issue 3

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