Only on How Your Spa Can Cash In On Increased Spa Travel

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Sallie Fraenkel, chief marketing officer of SpaFinder, Inc., offers exclusive commentary about how spas can cash in on the increase in spa travel.

SpaFinder just released its fifth annual State of Spa Travel survey of travel agents, which is designed to shed light on the health of--and trends unfolding in--the spa travel sector. One of the top findings was that people traveling to spa destinations are clocking strong gains this year, with seven in 10 travel agents reporting they’re seeing significant growth in bookings to hotel, resort and destination spas in 2011: That’s up a lot from 2010.

This important, growing opportunity, of course, applies directly to resort, hotel and destination spas. And here I want to offer just a few thoughts and tips about how “stay” spas and day spas can reach and attract even more spa travelers.

Build stronger relationships with travel agents

Given that luxury and specialty travel is often booked through travel agents, building great relationships with them is critical to grabbing a greater share of this growing market. And the best way for spas to engage the agent community is to start building awareness that you are really willing to work with them. Inviting them to visit your property is a key start. The challenge is that you want to invite those agents who do a lot of spa travel booking or have the potential to do so. There are, of course, a lot of agents out there, some working from home and some doing very low volume, so you want to cherry-pick the right, high-return ones for you. If your hotel/resort already has a travel agent program, make sure that the spa, and the other components of the spa/wellness lifestyle, such as yoga, fitness classes, hiking and healthy cooking classes, are a centerpiece of their experience during their visit.

And if a travel agent is already sending you a solid volume of customers, and that agent hasn’t been to your spa, by all means invite them. It may be worth it to comp their trip to your property, because they will then be far more likely to trumpet your spa to an even wider audience.

For agents who are mid-level producers or ones you wish to develop relationships with, you may want to offer special FAM (familiarization) trip rates, which are discounts that should include spa treatments, as well. Remember, you want the agent to experience as much of the spa (and wellness offerings) as they can so that they can sell every aspect of the property effectively.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that being listed at SpaFinder and working through the SpaFinder network is a good, unique way to reach agents. SpaFinder has a database of close to 20,000 travel agents; it trains agents to be "spa specialists," and more generally educate agents on spa travel and destinations through frequent webinars and newsletters.

Know that what typically matters most to agents is one thing: money. Offering a slightly higher commission rate than the usual 10% can really help to send more business to your spa. Another way to ensure a long-term relationship is to reward the agent for repeat customers, even if they book through the property directly. This shows them that you value the business that they've sent you, not on a one-time, but on an ongoing basis. Finally, it's important to offer commission on the spa treatments, as well as the room-booking whenever possible.

Get the basics squared away. Spas can get quite sophisticated in their marketing strategies, and forget some of the highest-impact basics. You need to be listed on the top online sites/channels that spa travelers use to research and book spa vacations, and those listings need to be up-to-date, robust and in order. According to Coyle Research’s 2011 report, the top three online resources spa-goers use to select spas are search engines (such as Google), and Groupon.

Make sure your Google Places (and Bing Business Center) listings are claimed, and totally optimized. Make sure you fill out all the info at your Google Place page, including phone number, address, link to your website, hours of operation and more--anything that puts your spa’s best face forward for the searching spa traveler. Google lets you upload 10 photos and five videos, so try to put up as much great imagery of your spa up as possible, because with travelers a picture says way more than 1,000 words. One or two videos could be a guest testimonial, because real-world recommendations are especially powerful. But you want them to be able to see, feel and understand your spa and all your wellness offerings.

Get listed at all the top search engines, travel and spa sites, and maximize and update your listing every few months. You would be surprised how many spa properties will have 10-year-old photos, or no photos or video, or incorrect contact info, at the key sites where millions of people are researching their next spa vacation or visit.

Develop an online review strategy. Having a set process in place to gather a high volume of positive reviews about your spa is utterly crucial in attracting traveling and local spa-seekers. A new study from Cone Research found that 9-in-10 consumers now turn to online reviews when they’re selecting products/services/travel, and a staggering 4-in-5 changed their mind based on negative info they found online. And now that Google puts your spa’s reviews right in a searchers face (they’re in both the organic search results and all over your Google Places page), the importance of having a positive online reputation is dramatically ramped up. Have an ongoing process to get reviews posted directly at Google Places (they have most visibility), but also at all the sites such as Yelp, Citysearch, TripAdvisor, SpaFinder and Yahoo! Local. The lynchpin to gathering reviews is pretty simple: Ask your happy spa clients nicely. If you want to make it easy for them, if they say yes, send them a simple e-mail with the links to the review sites in it, so all they have to do is click and post. You can also canvas your Facebook followers. The sheer impact of reviews on which spa destinations get chosen can’t be overstated.

Let’s make the right deal. A very surprising finding in the new State of Spa Travel survey was that 55% of agents reporting that hotel, resort and destination spas were actually more aggressive with deals this year than they were in 2010—and another 37% say they deals are just a strong. The reality is you live in the “Deal Age,” and compelling deals are big factor in attracting the spa traveler. A recent SpaFinder survey found that 34% of hotel/resort spas have now already worked with an online deal site. And more will experiment with that platform going forward, because there are more options beyond the flash-mob, generic model. For one, there are new luxury- and spa-specific deal platforms, such as a Gilt City or SpaFinder’s SpaRahRah, that specifically target high-quality and spa-going customers. And more sites in general like a LivingSocial or SpaRahRah are letting “stay” spas exert far greater control over their deal parameters, letting them routinely setting caps of, for instance, dozens of deals (not thousands), and letting them set up more realistic, brand-protecting discounts—30% not 75% off. And “stay” spas are getting smarter about structuring and managing their online deals: restricting usage to low-occupancy months or days of the week, and putting a big focus on retention to get that guest/spa-goer back for repeat visits. And at sites that let you list your deals all the time, like SpaFinder, get those deals out—and keep them fresh!

Day spas. Day spas can actually get into the “spa travel” action, and grab business from the growing numbers of people who want stress-reduction or a beauty boost on their trips, too. Think about reaching out to or partnering with hotels very near your spa (properties that don’t have a spa themselves), and setting in place special campaigns/discounts for their guests. They can communicate that offer in e-mails and at the front desk, Or partner with local businesses where tourists shop heavily. Or partner with a hotel “sans spa” to bring massages and more into their guests’ rooms that you provide. In-room spa treatments are a big trend, too.

Spa travel is up—and here’s to even bigger growth in 2012—and your spa grabbing more of the “traveling” spa dollar.

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