After years lagging behind, spas have finally joined the internet age
By their very nature, retreats are places to get away from it all – work, stress, technology. Many resorts don’t have TVs in guestrooms and ask for mobile phones to be switched off or left at home. Whether you’re there to get fit, detox or just relax, the method usually involves removing yourself from daily life, using rituals involving centuries-old methods of restoration.
But even though high-tech might seem the antithesis of the spa experience, many modern consumers don’t see it that way. Giving up computer or phone access for a week can be exceptionally stressful. It’s how we communicate with family and friends, and knowing that a week’s worth of emails will be waiting on return from a holiday can be enough to ruin all the good work done at the retreat.
Instead of fighting the move into modernity, savvy retreats are embracing it. A spa without a website is unlikely to last very long as it’s how most consumers find them, and online bookings are now the norm. But beyond the basics, some retreats are realising that technology can be a powerful tool to help guests achieve their goals.
Before the spa
Nobody wants to spend what is usually a large amount of money to visit a day spa or retreat, only to discover it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Apart from personal recommendations, online reviews – by professionals and guests – now play a huge role in the decision to book a spa.
Sites such as SpaFinder.com and GoodSpaGuide.co.uk are where potential guests look for professional reviews, as well as help finding the spa that is most suited to their needs. Both websites have sophisticated search functions to guide readers to the most suitable retreats, as well as professional, unbiased reviews.
Videos are also starting to get a look in, with retreats filming their resorts for the ultimate 3-D preview. Thailand’s Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa Resort (+66 (0) 77 429800, www.kamalaya.com) has created a sophisticated Youtube channel with videos about its retreats, guest reviews and recipes with step-by-step preparation techniques. This gives visitors a very real sense of what the experience will be like at the spa.
But it’s not just about PCs. Anyone who thinks Smartphones and tablet computers are only for teenage geeks hasn’t spent time commuting to work on public transportation. Professionals are using iPhones, Android phones and iPads to read the papers, play games and book flights.
A year ago, America’s SpaFinder website launched its free iPhone and iPad app so that people can plan their retreat holidays on the move. So far, more than 15,000 people have downloaded it, and its success has led to similar apps in other countries, such as Australia’s Spa Life Guide app. Now when a stockbroker has a hard day at work, or a parent is being driven batty by bratty kids, they can surf for their perfect retreat on the bus or when running a bath.
SpaFinder’s Susie Ellis thinks retreats are going to have to get on board with new media and technology. “Being an iPad user myself, I can now see what a great tool it is for reading online and enjoying beautiful photography, all while staying connected. That is all a huge plus for spas and consumers.
“Mobile has been on the trend radar for quite some time, and everyone predicted that it would be huge,” continues Ellis. “However, there has been a lag in companies creating mobile websites. It isn’t just a matter of taking what you have online now, flipping a switch, and having it work for mobile. You basically have to build your site all over again – and that is costly and time-consuming. Nevertheless, SpaFinder has recently taken the plunge and I can see now that the idea of life becoming almost completely mobile is beginning to look plausible.”
At the retreat
Spas and retreats usually want people to switch off, yet there’s no need to eschew technology to relax. In fact, it can be a genuine aid in helping guests achieve their goals.
The Sahra Spa (+1 702 737 2866, www.saharavegas.com) in Las Vegas provides guests with an iPad on arrival, on which they answer a series of questions about their treatment goals and personality type to determine a specific blend of aromatherapy oils suitable for their needs.
Taking it further, Anantara Phuket (+66 (0)76 336 1009, www.phuket.anantara.com) now has a library where guests can check out iPads as well as books. They use them to book spa treatments, boat trips and excursions, find out more about the local area, and read magazines and newspapers.
Beyond this, however, few retreats have explored the power of the internet, smartphones and tablets to enhance on-site experiences. As Ellis puts it, “Imagine the spa of the future as a multiuse communal space revolving around a lounge/bar/hangout area, even incorporating online social media connections.” After all, people relax in different ways, and while one person might want a back-to-basics experience, others might prefer a more high-tech approach that utilises the most modern technology available to provide an innovative retreat experience.
After the holiday
A week of bootcamp fitness, Ayurvedic healing or relaxing meditation can work wonders, but many people find it hard to maintain any of the benefits once back home. Aftercare is the buzzword in the spa world, and apart from sending guests home with their own personal therapists, there’s no better way to provide long-term support than online.
Futurologist Edie Weiner, president of Weiner Edrich Brown, a leading futurist consulting group, recently identified post-spa care as one of the most important retreat trends. “If I am going to invest my time going to a spa, I want to know that there is a pre and post phase,” said Weiner in her assessment of the spa industry.
Currently, few retreats provide much in the way of aftercare other than an email or phone number for questions, yet this is extremely limiting. Few people will call or email more than once or twice. And while some retreats now have email newsletters, more often than not, these focus on selling rather than supporting.
Some are bucking the trend, though. South Africa’s boutique Cape Active retreat (+27 282 729 723, www.capeactive.com) uses Facebook to provide aftercare to guests, with weekly Pilates tips and discussions about techniques. And Fairmont Hotel’s WillowStream spas, in 17 locations around the world, including Dubai, Beijing and Singapore, is one of the few to use Twitter to provide inspiration and ideas to followers rather than just pushing spa packages.
But one retreat has fully embraced the power of the internet to help its guests. NuBeginnings (+44 (0)1271 862 792, www.nubeginnings.co.uk) is a luxury weight-loss camp in southwest England that helps guests lose weight, increase fitness and relax with holistic therapies. Results are impressive, and Graduate Weekends are provided for former guests who want to come back for a top-up break.
But the real revolution is the retreat’s aftercare programme, NuBeginnings Inner Circle (nubeginningsinnercircle.co.uk) is an extensive online membership website that provides ongoing support for former guests. The site is free for two months, then a monthly or annual fee is paid to continue its use. It provides guests with daily meal plans, recipes, exercise videos and access to the online forum to share thoughts, goals and struggles with other members.
This kind of aftercare not only helps guests stay on track with weight-loss and fitness plans, but could equally be used for stress management, meditation and post-treatment programmes to help maintain those wonderful spa results.
The last year has seen a huge explosion in the array of technology and social media options available to consumers, and spa owners will ignore them at their peril. The luxurious new Zamani Retreat Kempinski (+255 774 444477, www.kempinski.com) in Zanzibar is taking a very tech-avoidance approach to guests while on-site. However, General Manager Christian Kurmann feels there is a real need for online aftercare,
“For most retreatants, it will be very difficult going back to their daily lives, and I see a great possibility to give support through internet, smartphone and tablet platforms,” says Kurmann. “We are looking into providing online daily or weekly rituals to former guests, perhaps suggesting yoga or meditation techniques to try. In addition, we want to give guidance and share knowledge from our indigenous practitioners, such as how different spices can enhance your wellness or methods to help you keep from feeling anxious.”
There’s a very good reason for spas to grasp technology: one of the other major trends in spas? The at-home retreat. Instead of paying for spas, just like the recent staycation trend, people who can’t afford their annual retreat tune-up are attempting to recreate the experience at home.
The stylish website iamsuperchick.com is at the forefront of this trend. For just £9.99 a month, it creates a tailored nutrition plans and provides a choice of more than 100 online training programmes for its members to do from the comfort of their living room. What’s more, it’s created a range of iPhone apps to help users count calories and do a fitness assessments to support members.
The Wii Fit Plus is also continuing to gain in popularity, offering yoga, aerobics and balance training. At this stage, it can’t begin to compete with the expertise at retreats, it won’t be that far in the future when these types of interactive tools are no longer simple games, but good-quality workouts, with the ability to measure a user’s technique and provide proper guidance.
The smartphone and tablet app area has the most potential for use by retreats, but few have even considered it. Even doctors are hailing the iPhone’s ability as a diagnostic tool. The medical app ResolutionMD Mobile has been approved for use by Health Canada (and the prestigious Mayo Clinic claims that it has helped them save lives), and Indian doctors are utilising the iPhone’s high resolution to diagnose eye disorders from patients in remote regions.
If it’s good enough for medical professionals, then surely it can be utilised by retreats. Basic heartrate, sleep pattern and eye test apps already exist on the iPhone and Android, and spas who are serious about helping guests change their lives should explore the possibilities of using these and similar tools to enhance guests’ pre- and post-care and their time at the retreat.
Guests could be shown how to practice simple post-spa reflexology via the Massage Skills Pro app, use the iSamadhi app as a mediation aid and keep track of fitness and calories with the MyFitnessPal app. And while apps are aimed at smartphones and tablet users, many offer online alternatives for guests who aren’t quite as tech-savvy.
There will always be a type of retreat guest who wants to tune out and turn off, but a growing number want to take advantage of modern advances, coming the best of the old with the new. It seems that, in the spa world, technology is finally coming of age.