Spa demand, development up in wake of recovery

Time was, the need to create a spa space within a hotel, whether a new-build or renovation, was practically de rigueur to get the attention of guests and lenders.

But in 2022, and given the ongoing pandemic, is there still a strong desire by consumers to be swaddled in organic peat moss via a four-hands treatment and subsequently drenched under a Vichy shower?

Well, yeah.

According to Raines Co.’s Gavin Philipp, SVP of the Woven by Raines division, its Hotel Florence, a Tapestry Collection by Hilton property in South Carolina rode the ups and downs of the past several years in terms of its spa business but discovered as the intensity of the pandemic diminished, the clamoring for wellness treatments increased.

“Yes, it slowed down through much of 2020, but [the spa] never closed. Hours and days-of-week operations were drastically modified based on demand,” he said, “especially early on during the pandemic .”

Then, somewhat surprisingly, 2021 became “a banner year for the spa in terms of revenue. So, yes, pent-up demand and renewed interest,” Philipp said.

He stressed, however, that “protocols had to be modified as it relates to [personal protective equipment] and social distancing, much of which is still in place” at the 1,250-square-foot spa, which features five treatment rooms.


As might be expected, meeting clients’ expectations in terms of the spa’s overall cleanliness and easing any apprehensions have been key.

“In a spa environment, guests generally do still want to have some level of distance and comfort as it relates to their personal space, which can be challenging,” Philipp said. “Keeping our spa constantly sanitized and regularly deep cleaned is of the utmost importance as well.

“Because the hotel is part of Hilton, we were able to incorporate many of [its] mandated practices into the spa,” he added. “These are very comprehensive, from social distancing measures, PPE, frequency of sanitation, using specific products, etc.”

Currently, there are 11 associates, including a manager and receptionist, wrangling the spa and, like many industry players, Philipp has concerns regarding attracting personnel. “Staffing has been a challenge throughout our industry,” he acknowledged, and suggested it’s imperative to “maintain close and frequent contact with the various schools that can refer and supply accredited technicians.”

Mia A. Mackman, founder and principal of Mackman|ES Consulting, which specializes in spa-wellness hospitality consulting, agreed that the challenge of recruiting talent is ongoing.

“Despite strong anticipation of growth and performance, attracting and building teams that are robust and ready to serve remains difficult,” she said. “The dynamics of this are not easy to sort through. Many of the factors touching spa-business staffing and training are related to often-unproductive spa-business and hospitality ethos.”

Mackman, who spearheaded HVS’ Spa and Wellness Consulting Division as managing director for more than five years before departing in October, observed among HVS’ clients: “the most common concern was:‘How does a spa actually make money?’ This is not an uncommon question. At one time, spas were incorporated into hotels as a nice-to-have amenity. The facilities did not anticipate or expect significant revenue generation or creating a unique property pillar. Meanwhile, the rate of demand has significantly evolved, imparting confusion and shining the light on outmoded program models, emerging [key performance indicators] and performance stagnancies.”

Slow Growth

According to STR, there are 3,341 U.S. hotel properties with onsite spa facilities and full-time staff open, with an additional 189 in the pipeline. At press time, 22 had opened, with another 16 under construction. If completed, that would put openings slightly ahead of last year, which saw 37 openings, but nowhere near the six-year high of 61 in 2017.

At Hotel Florence, which Philipp said had a “record year” in 2021 in terms of occupancy, average daily rate and revenue per available room and is “on pace” to outperform those fundamentals this year, the revenue from the spa accounts for approximately 15 percent of total revenue. “However, the service providers are paid via revenue share as contract employees, so the amount is reduced,” he said.

As part of the 64-room boutique hotel, the full-service spa has a “store-front” entrance on the street, which has encouraged the community in the city’s historic district to frequent it as a day spa. 

He affirmed the spa’s clientele is decidedly local: “Probably an 85/15 mix with hotel guests.”