Marriott’s Alison Ainsworth Talks Spa

How She’s Growing the Luxury Spa and Wellness Business Across Europe

We Interviewed Alison Ainsworth, Senior Director of Golf, Leisure & Spa Operations Europe for Marriott Hotels.  Alison oversees about 36 Health and Beauty centers located within their membership-based fitness centers in Marriott Hotels across Europe. Alison is currently rolling out SpaSoft Online Booking at several spas in Europe. We talked to Alison about what makes an incredible spa experience and other spa topics.

On What Makes a Great Spa Visit

The first thing is the actual experience. The experience of how you’re welcomed into the spa. There’s an expectation that you’re going to go there and you’re going to get a great feeling about being at the spa. That people are going to understand what you need and going to be able to tailor the service to you.

“It’s no use having great services and great treatments if you don’t tell anyone about them.”

But to make a great spa business, it’s no use having great services and great treatments if you don’t tell anyone about them. You have got to have great marketing, PR, and sales plan activity, because if you don’t have that foundation, then it’s all for nothing.

To enable you to do that, you’ve got to have business acumen behind you and you have to understand the data and have a good knowledge of what your business is telling you.  Where your treatments are coming from, what margins you’re making, what you need to be promoting, what’s happening locally.

On the Role of a Spa Manager

You can give great treatments, but if you have nobody coming through the door or you’re not marketing yourselves you become the best kept secret going. Or if you’re giving great treatments but actually it’s costing you because you’re not making any money it doesn’t make a great successful business. It’s a bit like restaurants as well, you can provide some phenomenal food but if nobody knows about it or you’re not controlling the cost or the menu that you’re putting out there, you’re not going to make a lot of money.

So that’s the role of the spa manager to make sure that kind of all happens. You’ve got to have that balance, you’ve got to have the data you’ve got to have that business acumen, the marketing plan behind it but you’ve also then got to be able to deliver on the experience when the person comes to your spa. And then that experience becomes self-fulfilling and those people will recommend and come back again.

On Hotel and Resort Spas

Spa can have a reputation of not being a strong contributor to the bottom line of the hotel. I think those of us in the spa industry suffered under this belief over the years, because often hotel management doesn’t have as much understanding of what makes a good spa business.

But I think now, within our spas at Marriott, we’ve placed a lot of scrutiny on the bottom line of the spa. What is it making? How are managing our service time? How we’re scheduling? How are we managing our costs? The hotel owners especially are absolutely zeroed in on that. Spas have to make money.

On Incorporating Local Culture Into Spa

We have to broaden our spa offerings, especially in Europe,. Most of our spas will now have a very local flavor to them. We’ve just opened a hotel in Macedonia and we’ve got three different types of sauna, various experience showers, and great heated relaxation areas because that’s an expectation of the culture. Local customs, backgrounds, histories and cultures have changed the way that we build our spas and what we put into them, as well as just offering traditional massage and facial.

For savvy spa goers it’s a great experience. Also for people who are not so used to having spa treatments. The fact that it’s in the hotel gives them that security that they’re not having to go out. They’re within the comfort of the hotel, the security of the Marriott or Ritz-Carlton name across the door makes sure it’s going to be okay.

“I love the freedom and creativity that spa brings.”

What She Loves About Spa

I love the fact that with spa, because we sit a little bit out of the mainstream of the hotel, we absolutely have the freedom to innovate and change and really shape and make our business what we want it to be. I love the freedom and creativity that spa brings.