We’re putting a flag in the ground saying that we’ll have the world’s best luxury spas – that’s our goal and we’re claiming that space,” says Kenneth Ryan, senior director of global spa operations for Marriott International. The US-based hotel group manages approximately 175 spas worldwide amounting to a US$200m (€183.5m, £140.1m) portfolio. And in 2016 we can expect even more success from its spa division as it faces a catalyst for change.
In November, Marriott announced a bid to buy rivals Starwood Hotels & Resorts for US$12.2bn (€11.2bn, £8.4bn) to create the world’s largest hotel company with more than one million rooms. Just last month, it also revealed a spa concept for the Ritz-Carlton brand which will roll out across 60 existing properties and 25-plus pipeline projects. This follows the launch of its first in-house wellness brand Spa by JW for JW Marriott hotels in 2014.
“What we’re doing will be game-changing for the industry,” says Ryan who’s spent four years getting Marriott’s spa arm to this point and who has even higher aspirations for the future.
Global Leadership Team
Ryan’s career has been dedicated to running hotel spas and he actually started out with Marriott 17 years ago before a 10-year stint at Fairmont working alongside well-known industry figure Anne McCall Wilson. He returned to his roots in 2011 when he says “it seemed Marriott was looking to re-energise its spa division”. Ryan was brought in by Sharilyn Abbajay who’d been charged with shaping the group’s global spa strategy (see SB11/1 p24), but when she left just months later, Ryan stepped up to the task and inherited the responsibility for online retail and fitness for the group too.
Over four years Ryan put a structure in place for the spa division with John Hopp supporting him at head office to set the vision and four essential regional heads to deploy it and oversee daily operations. Together, they make up Marriott’s Spa Global Leadership Team (GLT) and we take a closer look at their work on p50.
How this team will all be affected if the Starwood deal goes through later this year remains to be seen. Both hotel groups have strong, high-end brands. Marriott has Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, JW Marriott, Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Bulgari and Edition in its portfolio. Meanwhile, Starwood owns St Regis, W, Westin, Sheraton and Le Méridien – all of which already have their own in-house spa concept or preferred third-party operator (see SB10/3 p24). It’s early days for Ryan to say too much about the merger, but what he tells Spa Business sounds promising: “Arne Sorensen, our CEO, has said that we will be the largest travel company worldwide, we believe this will hold true for our spa division as well.”
The Ritz-Carlton Spa
For now, Ryan and his team are focusing on the job at hand – the rollout of the brand new Ritz-Carlton Spa concept across 85 sites. “We have some of the most renowned and successful spas in the world at Ritz-Carlton,” he says. “But we hadn’t gotten our arms around them in a really long time and we wanted to take them from excellent to exceptional.”
The aim is to build on Ritz-Carlton’s legendary service to put the emphasis back on the customer, doing everything from redesigning the menu to developing a global collection of exclusive treatments and oils. Perhaps most significant, however, is its pledge to raise therapists’ skillsets so they can deliver tailored treatments and more meaningful experiences. Ryan explains: “We do 2 million treatments globally each year and 65 per cent are massage, yet this is the one area that has the least amount of focus in the industry. So we’ve created a training programme called Masters of Massage to put the energy back into our therapists to take their craft up several levels.”
The programme will be delivered by ‘spa ambassador trainers’, a newly-created position for up to 12 specialists. In addition, Ritz-Carlton will introduce up to eight ‘spa ambassadors’ globally. This is another fresh role that’s been put in place to help drive consistency and results in the spa business. Spa ambassadors, explains Ryan, will visit each site every six months to conduct a full evaluation and audit of the business, including everything from front of house training to helping spa managers with revenue and yields.
“We have the best spa directors, but when you have a fresh pair of eyes it’s easier to find more ways to enhance the business,” says Ryan. “Putting in spa ambassadors with a set of expectations and guidelines to follow – there are over 400 documents on the concept – absolutely does that. It supports our directors and adds an additional layer that’s not currently found in the industry and that’s a big differentiator for us.”
Unlike Spa by JW which is purely for new projects, all 60 existing Ritz-Carlton spas will be revamped, phasing out third-party operators when contracts expire. There are also over 25 new-builds in the pipeline. “Spa by JW is phenomenal but a huge project which required a tremendous amount of effort,” says Ryan, “with Ritz-Carlton it’s twice as complex.”
A 70-page brochure, tool kit and video introducing the concept has already hit the desks of Ritz-Carlton GMs and Ryan expects nine conversions to be completed by February. He’s aiming to finish them all in the next 18 months to two years. “This is our biggest, most revenue-driving brand, so we’ll keep very close to it,” he says. “Since sharing the news with GMs, there’s been a big pull from the market, confirming the pent-up demand for refreshing our spas.”
Spa by JW
While Marriott had previously trialled concepts such as Quan Spa in Asia (see SB06/4 p22) and Saray in the Middle East (see SB11/1 p24), the Spa GLT wanted consistency worldwide. “For years our [Marriott] spas have been fragmented,” says Ryan. “So working with brand and consumer insights and our customer base, we’ve defined our spa positioning.” Spa by JW, which was unveiled in August 2014, was the first to global brand to launch.
Created for JW Marriott hotels, the aim was to ‘demystify and re-imagine the spa experience’ and to make wellbeing less of an indulgence and more of a necessity. In an innovative twist, it promised to address a common spa hurdle: underutilisation. “We have a huge responsibility to deliver a return on investment for our [hotel] owners,” says Ryan. “Our first point is to always put [spa] customers first, but in order for us to gain credibility in the spa space we also have to make sure we deliver spas that are successful.”
Spa by JW has many elements in place to achieve this. Accessibility is key – literally having no door at the entrance, a circular information hub rather than big reception desk and having a social, inviting lounge where guests can hang out regardless of whether they’ve booked a treatment. The menu is simple and focuses on four areas – calm, indulge, invigorate and renew – based on what a customer wants to feel. And each spa has one to three walk-in, express pods for customers to try out 15-25-minute services without having to take their clothes off.
“By demystifying spa, we’ve opened it up to the masses,” says Ryan. “I’ve been watching the trend of express treatments in malls and airports for several years and they’re always full. They’re convenient and appeal to time-strapped people and it’s very much a foray into spa.
“The great thing is seeing a customer who’s willing, able and comfortable in coming to get an express treatment. Once our therapists gets their hands on them, they automatically start to build that relationship and then it’s an easy transition to get them to come back or to try a more advanced treatment.”
With only four Spa by JWs open so far, Ryan says it’s not possible to tell what the impact on utilisation is but he’s “really pleased” with the concept, not least with how it appeals to hotel owners. To date there are 26 under development and they’re due to open in the next four years.
Small but mighty
As well as working with the Spa GLT, part of Ryan’s role is to develop partnerships with suppliers, although always with Marriott taking the lead. “We are a small but mighty team,” he says, “but the reason we’ve been so successful is because we’ve developed these strategic, innovative partnerships outside of ourselves. There may be only two [spa] people [at head office] but if you look at the extension of people, my team is in the hundreds.”
It’s a tactic that worked well with Spa by JW where Marriott teamed up with consultancy Spa Strategy, product house Aromatherapy Associates (see p48) and Living Earth Crafts which made a customised massage chair for its express services (see above). Other preferred partners include spa consultancy WTS, SpaEquip and SpaSoft and Life Fitness, Matrix and Technogym for fitness.
Perhaps the most elaborate example of this, however, is its collaboration with ESPA on The Ritz-Carlton Spa brand (see opposite). With ESPA working behind the scenes, the two companies have joined forces over the last 18 months to develop the new treatments, SOPs and training programmes for the spa ambassadors and spa ambassador trainers. These personnel are ESPA employees working on behalf of Ritz-Carlton, effectively creating a company within a company and significantly boosting ESPA’s global portfolio. The project lead for ESPA was its CEO Michael Harmsworth, son of the founder Sue Harmsworth.
Ryan says: “There were a few reasons [for picking ESPA]. We have a seven-year past relationship with them [as suppliers to many Ritz-Carlton spas] and they are renowned leaders in the luxury space. A lot of people don’t know that the E in ESPA stands for education and the whole crux of what I was trying to do with 60 spas in existence was going to be around training and education. Michael is a visionary in that space and he saw the value of coming on that journey with us.”
In the four years that Ryan and the Spa GLT have been on board, he feels they’ve achieved a huge amount. “We’ve introduced professionalism and discipline [into the spa division at Marriott] and organised a lot of things,” he says. But he still feels there’s also much to do.
In conjunction with SpaSoft an online spa booking system has been in development over the last two years for Marriott spas. The platform is live in all of its managed spas in North America and in the pilot stages in Asia and the Middle East. Something similar is underway in Europe in collaboration with Concept Software Systems. “With our first full year in operation of online booking, I’m projecting that we’ll take between US$7m-US$10m [€6.4m-€9.2m, £4.8m-£6.9m] of business in North America through that channel,” says Ryan.
He believes fitness is another area to focus on: “It’s becoming a hot topic in our hotels… pools are being filled in and we’re getting up to 3,000sq ft of fitness space. So we’re looking at how to bring advanced fitness to our customers who are demanding much better facilities: not just equipment but spaces in general.”
In the long-term, Ryan says the goal is to work through all hotel brands to create dedicated spa concepts.
“I love driving results and creation in all shapes and forms, and I feel super fortunate to work for a company that’s allowed us to make impactful changes,” Ryan concludes. “From an industry standpoint, when we do something at Marriott it has ripple effects throughout the sector, so that’s pretty exciting.
“Within our company itself we are actually leading with spa for the first time which means we have huge value from a branding perspective and they [the owners] can see huge value in having a world-class, first-class spa.”