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Resources & Development


Understanding the Differences Between a Day Spa and a Resort Spa

By Skip Williams

Sometimes we get caught up in the fact that we are all part of one big industry performing many of the same tasks and trying to do the best that we can within a new and burgeoning marketplace.  Sometimes we are so close to our day to day operations that we fail to see the forest through the trees.

It is easy to draw similarities between Day Spas and Resort Spas, because we all do the same type of work.  What is harder to see is how different we are through our Clients/Guests eyes, and how they have quite different expectations from each type of Spa.

As a Consultant, I find that often my Clients (future Spa Owners/Managers) do not always have a clear picture of these differences, and consequently end up offering the wrong menu of services to our Client/Guest or worse yet we build the wrong facility.  For example:

Imagine that you are a savvy traveler; you have been to some of the finest Resorts in the world.  You sometimes wish that you had such a Spa in your backyard and you figure that others wish for the same thing.  So you plan to build a Day Spa that is reminiscent of these fine Resort Spas that you have been to and enjoyed.  However, if you understood how the dynamics of why Day Spas are different and what makes them successful, you might not be so confident in your decision to build this vision of a Spa.

In a Resort Spa we call our customers “Guests” in a Day Spa we call them “Clients”, that says a lot about the difference doesn’t it?  Resorts are successful when they sell a “Spa Package” because they need to sell as much as they can during the Guest’s short stay, while Day Spas need to sell in “Series” because they need the Client to come back time after time, to create a desired habit, and the Day Spa makes its money over months and years of Client loyalty.

Because Resort Spa Guests are “getting away” often for romantic or family vacations, they go to the Spa with someone else more often than when they go to a Day Spa.  They are also more “experimental” and looking for Spa visits that are more “experiential”.

When they visit a Day Spa it is usually alone and looking for results, be they beauty or wellness, it is more about results than the experience, it is usually for maintenance, not about relaxation or pampering.

That is not to say that relaxation and pampering can’t happen in a Day Spa, or that results can’t happen in a Resort Spa.  However those are not the core reasons for the Spa Goers visit, it is a bonus they may receive.

I like to think of the Day Spa like a good Café, a place you eat at weekly.  You go there because you are hungry, they serve good food, and they deliver what you would expect.  On the other hand, the Resort Spa is like a Fine Dining restaurant, you don’t go there because you are hungry, you go there for the experience, and usually only on special occasions.

The Café counts on loyalty and many future return visits, it could not afford to offer high end Fine Dining service or experience, and you could not afford it on a regular basis if they provided it.  So it would be a mistake for a Café to try to emulate a Fine Dining restaurant, in much the same way it would be a mistake for a Day Spa to emulate either the facility or amenities of a Resort Spa as well as its menu of services.

I know we always talk about “the customer experience” and it is important indeed, however, there is a big difference in selling “an experience” vs. selling “results”.  People will buy an experience once, but it becomes harder and harder to sell the same experience over and over to the same neighborhood, and if you try you may only sell Spa services on a special occasions.

A Resort can sell “the experience” because they know that statistics say that only a very low percentage of Guests will ever return (even if the experience was perfect), and almost none will return within a 12 months period.  Conversely, a Day Spa would starve if most of its Clients never returned or only returned once a year.

So the difference between Resort and Day Spas from the consumers point of view (even if it is more intuitive than analytical) is; “give me a wide variety of services that focus less on results and more on “the experience” when I am away from home, and give me a very narrow focus of specialties that can deliver incredible results each time when I am at home.” 

Day Spas should NOT try to be everything to everybody, the most successful ones are the ones that focus on one or two specialties and become better at them than anyone else in town, that is how they build a reputation in their community, not by trying to be a “one stop shop”.

Square footage and the use of the space are important in both types of Spas.  It goes without saying that it is a common mistake for a Spa is having too much amenity space and not enough revenue space.  That mistake is even more critical in a Day Spa environment where the price points are lower and the rent and advertising expenses (unlike a Resort Spa) need to be factored in.  It is for that reason that “waterfall Jacuzzis”, Steam, Sauna, and other amenities that take copious space are often unadvisable in a Day Spa environment, while completely acceptable at a Resort Spa.  In fact, this “Amenity Creep” (as it is commonly called), of Hotels needing to provide more and more amenities to their Guest each year is affecting profitability in Resort Spas, and can be disastrous when Day Spas try to emulate that environment.

The management for Resort Spas has to be concerned with the overall Guest experience even outside the Spa, as the goal is just as much about “putting heads on beds” as it is about making budget in the Spa.

To conclude, understand what you are and who your market is.  Specialize if you’re a Day Spa, have a wide offering if you’re a Resort.  Keep the amenities to a minimum when you’re a Day Spa, and don’t get carried away with amenities when you’re a Resort Spa.  Understand the goals of your business and don’t try to be something you are not (or should not be).  Have a focused niche when you’re a Day Spa, have a broad menu of services when you’re a Resort Spa.  “Results” is the watch word for Day Spas; “Experience” is the goal for Resorts.

Therefore, think through what is appropriate for your Spa.  It isn’t always easy to stay focused on “The Mission”, it is easy to try to be more than we are, but understanding your Guests/Clients needs as well as your own strengths and weaknesses are paramount in making your Spa a success.

Best Wishes & Healthy Profits

Skip Williams


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