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For nearly two decades Cary Collier and Doug Chambers, the innovators behind international spa management and consultancy firm Blu Spas, Inc., have been involved with scores of spa projects for the likes of Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Bulgari, Rosewood, and other luxury brands.
Prior to starting Blu Spas, Texas native Collier had worked in wellness and spa consulting since 1984. Chambers, trained as an attorney in Oklahoma, came into the business from the salon/day spa side of things around 1990. When asked to describe what they do today, the spa leaders stress that they are “not designers, not architects, but rather symphony conductors orchestrating teams to create sensory sanctuaries.”
Nowadays, any resort worth its mineral salt has a spa on property. Collier and Chambers offer advice on how to develop a spa that will stand out from the crowd and bring in significant revenue at the same time.
“Destination spas have to find a niche,” says Collier. “Trying to create a facility that is all things to all people is perilous. Consider your location and the market you are trying to serve.” The best way to do that, according to Collier, is to incorporate a sense of place that honors what is inherent to a location and integrates indigenous healing traditions and treatments.
The second ingredient in the secret sauce, according to the team, is programming. “Programming is a way to differentiate,” notes Chambers. He recommends spas hire dedicated directors of programming who think outside the box, almost literally. He suggests bringing spa wellness experiences into the hotel’s restaurants and public areas. Think yoga on the rooftop or meditation in a courtyard.
Better yet, he proposes, get out of the box altogether and offer fitness classes at a local museum or “forest bathing” at a nearby garden. Matching up sophisticated spa-goers with unique and fresh wellness experiences provides a “creative opportunity for properties to make their product more compelling to a luxury market,” Chambers notes.
In terms of design, Blu Spas is big on bringing the outdoors in, and incorporating outdoor space into the spa package. Collier notes “using nature solves a lot of problems” for a spa designer, including the addition of relaxation areas without significant construction costs.
Mother Nature is important, but so is Big Brother. According to Chambers, in the near future, “use of customer-facing technology is going to have a dramatic impact on the spa space at large.” For example, imagine doing downward dog as images of sunswept beaches surround you or pedaling away in a spin room as the Pyrenees loom. It can all be done with the use of technology that allows spas to program moving scenes on their walls.
Personalization through evolving technology will be another focal point of the near future. Collier says, “We are at a point where spaces can be tailored to an individual client. We can create sensory sanctuaries where the guests can decide on the scent, the sound and the color of light in a particular space.”
The team eschews what they refer to as the dour monastic silence of earlier spa iterations. “We want to get away from creating austere temples,” explains Chambers. Instead, “we are making places that are social and relaxed and interactive, with a good balance between communal and private experiences.” Adds Collier, “We want to change the personality of a spa by bringing the fun back.”
That will happen, he hints, by creating social “soaking retreats” (versus spas). The water playground concept has its genesis in traditional spa-going destinations in Korea and Eastern Europe, where the focus has always been on communal bathing and shared opportunities for wellness.