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Spameeting EMEA panel 4: are GMs stubborn or are spa managers high maintenance?

07 Dec 2015
The fourth panel at Spameeting EMEA at the Meydan Hotel in Dubai yesterday (6 December) was about the relationship between hotel general managers and spa staff. Spa directors and executives asked hospitality experts why GMs are stubborn when it comes to implementing plans for spa.

Kathryn Moore of Spa Connectors led the panel, which included Clive McNish of GOCO, Lindsay Madden-Nadeau of FRHI and Patrick Antaki – complex GM of Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort and Al Maha desert resort and Tennis & Country Club in Fujairah.

Antaki said that, as a GM, his biggest challenge is changing customer expectations, experience and spending patterns.

“Customers aren’t spending as much as they used to, even in some of the very high end resorts we’ve seen a reduction in clients’ spend,” said Antaki. “It’s therefore about keeping associates motivated and to make sure they are selling.”

Moore asked if it is the spa manager’s job to make sure that the spa team is selling products and Antaki answered that it’s everyone’s job to sell.

Madden-Nadeau countered that from a spa manager’s perspective it’s hard to get the support required from the GM, which makes getting the financial results harder.

“Building a relationship with your GM, as a spa manager, is the most important lesson I’ve learned to move forward and have my initiatives recognised and implemented,” said Madden-Nadeau.

From a corporate perspective, however, Madden-Nadeau said that GMs see their hotels as their personal empire. “When they hear the word ‘corporate’, GMs aren’t open-minded.”

Patrick said this is because the spa is part of the hotel, and that makes it the GM’s domain: “GMs are the ones who have to explain not having achieved the bottom-line.”

Amid much disagreement, Madden-Nadeau highlighted that spa is not an area most GMs are comfortable with – they don’t know about utilisation of therapists and KPIs. GMs need to trust that they have corporate teams that are specialists.

“We aren’t here to compete with GMs – we need to help them make money so we can make money too. GMs need to drop their egos at the door and allow us to come in and educate teams so we can all meet our goals,” added Madden-Nadeau.

McNish of GOCO – playing devil's advocate – noted, however, that hospitality staff and therapists seem to be from different worlds – “Spa is a high maintenance department. While hospitality staff understand they have to work 16-hour shifts, therapists have evenings planned – and when they don’t want to stay, there’s often crying and pleading. When a therapist eventually weakens and stays grudgingly to carry out the treatment, you still get a complaint anyway! Spa is the only department that gets a break room, they’re off sick, GMs don’t understand why they should pay therapists commission because they don’t pay waiters to serve food. Therapists and spas work with a salon mindset and not a hospitality attitude.”

Moore agreed that there’s some truth in this ‘high maintenance’ perspective but Madden-Nadeau insisted that being a massage therapist is a tough role.

“It takes a lot of work to teach someone how to give a treatment – not that being a waiter or delivering hospitality service isn’t hard too – but as a therapist you react to people’s energy in a spa,” said Madden-Nadeau. “As a therapist you can be dealing with a client’s negative energy for a whole hour several times a day, so it’s emotionally draining.”

“I try to explain spa to GMs like a restaurant. If I have only seven tables in my restaurant (spa) and I can only flip them once an hour – rather than a hotel restaurant that can be flipped twice an hour – I need support to make money. The support from the GM is what can enable me to create a seven treatment room Michelin spa,” added Madden-Nadeau.

Andrew Gibson, also of FRHI, spoke from the audience: “You have to bridge the gap and speak hotel talk to hotel people to get them to understand the relevance of spa. However, I think there’s a fundamental problem for GMs – most of them are trained in 10 of the top hotel schools in the world but these schools offer 11 weeks of engineering, weeks of F&B and only one week of optional spa-focused training. GMs aren’t trained in this sphere and if you aren’t comfortable about something you tend to avoid it or pass it on to someone else. This will only change for GMs when the curriculum changes, and when they are taught to become asset managers – to get all the revenue possible from a hotel’s different features.”

Antaki agreed that schools need to change their curriculum to reflect spa management but he said a GM can’t be an effective specialist in each department, so the professionals need to advise the GM.

McNish noted that spa teams need to toe the line rather than remaining part of the team that doesn’t respect the GM.

Moore, however, said that GMs tend not to spend time developing their spa managers.

Antaki said spa teams could help themselves by having spa managers come to morning briefings about the whole hotel’s progress and thus become more involved in the property’s long-term planning and strategy.

Madden-Naddeau said that perhaps GMs need to be properly motivated to look after spa, by having the spa revenue figures contribute directly to GM bonus scheme rewards.

“We also found that many spa teams are terrified of GMs, so FRHI has taught its spa staff hospitality lingo to give them more confidence – because GMs want to be approached by team members who have confidence and a plan to make money,” added Madden-Nadeau.

Antaki said: “It’s the spa manager’s role to sell the idea to the GM and GMs want spa managers to come with all the numbers – to show a quantifiable return on the idea they have for the GM to see.

McNish added: “Spa managers need to do some research into hotel spending, but they also need to learn what the right time is to pitch to a GM. For example, if a spa manager pitches an idea after budgets are completed then the idea will not be implemented.”

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