One of the largest trends in the wellness movement is the emergence of spas around the globe. Today’s evolved spa offers a plethora of self-care modalities, including body treatments, nutritional approaches to wholesome eating, educational platforms ranging from guided meditation to stress management, and fitness components. More often than not, the fitness components prove distinctively different from their counterparts at traditional facilities.

By learning about unique aspects of spa-based fitness that you can apply to nonspa environments, you can differentiate your fitness facility from the competition.

What Makes Spa Fitness Special?

As a spa consultant, I like to suggest that clients think of “SPA” as an acronym: S for “school,” P for “palace” and A for “abode.”

School. Spas serve as places to “school” guests in locations such as classrooms, kitchens and outdoor spaces. The programming is designed to engage the mind in learning something life-changing in addition to working the physical body.

Palace. Spas create an opulent experience. Staff treat guests as royalty by paying outstanding attention to detail—for example, by offering water, decaffeinated green tea and/or sliced fruit after exercise. This royal experience extends to fitness classes and private exercise sessions; candles, lighting, aromatherapy and carefully chosen background music create an elegant environment.

Abode. Spas help guests feel that they are in a comfortable abode. There is an effort to create a “homey” feeling in lots of little ways, from offering robes and comforters in waiting rooms to scenting all spa areas (including the gym floor!) with hints of aromatherapy, to providing hospitable amenities like fruit bowls, newspapers, and toiletries in the locker rooms.

Karla Overturf is a group fitness instructor with both spa and traditional fitness experience. “At Sierra Fitness [a fitness facility] . . . I teach ‘classes,’ but at Canyon Ranch [a spa] I create ‘experiences.’ We don’t welcome ‘members,’ but ‘guests.’ We greet them like in a palace with a slight bow, hands folded in prayer position, a movement reserved in the traditional environment only for yoga. The choreography at both places may be the same, but the whole approach at the spa encompasses total wellness.”

Spa Mission and Vision Statements

Like traditional fitness facilities, spas create both mission and vision statements. However, spas go a step further by generating statements for each department. A mission statement explains what the facility is about today in terms of wellness, and a vision statement shows where it wants to move toward tomorrow.

One of the spa director’s missions is to coordinate the statements of different departments so that they all flow together instead of merely coexisting. “Our spa’s group fitness, personal training, movement therapy and nutrition departments not only possess their own mission statements, but these complement the missions of our treatment, retail, and food and beverage departments as well,” says Blake Feeney, spa director for Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian Las Vegas. “We reflect our mission in all areas, including music, aromatherapy, equipment, uniforms and terminology. [We also] standardize class and personal training introductions.”

Introductions and conclusions to classes and personal training sessions are key to the success of the spa. (See the sidebar “Sample Spa Introduction and Conclusion.”) Instructors and trainers use memorized scripts that support the spa’s mission and vision statements. Furthermore, using the scripts boosts revenue by promoting complementary wellness services, including food, treatments and products. After a particularly intense core-training experience, an instructor may recommend a complementary (but not complimentary!) “core massage,” or a trainer may conclude a mind-body personal training session by using aromatherapy facial spray that is sold in the retail outlets. Cross-promoting the mission is the spa norm.

Interconnecting the missions of different departments starts at hiring. Managers hire staff members for their versatility. Consequently, spas usually have more cross-trained and cross-utilized staff than at traditional fitness facilities. This strategy can boost sales. “I get my guests from massages to join me in fitness classes, and from there I usually get personal training clients as well,” says Deanna Saraceni, massage therapist, yoga instructor and certified personal trainer at the Golden Door Spa in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

The overall effect of the interconnectedness of departments at a spa is that every department assists other departments with promotion and sales. This rarely occurs in traditional fitness facilities, where departments seem to run independently.

Incorporating Spa Offerings

Spa guests usually have one expectation: expect something different. Generally, since guests almost completely disrobe for most treatments, their guard has to be down. “The resulting advantage to spa group exercise and personal training is that guests are open to . . . experiences they may not try outside of our sanctuary, so they really cross-train and learn things that help them change their lives in a positive way,” says Deborah Puskarich, group exercise director for the Cooper Fitness Center and Spa at Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas. “Regular fitness clubs can simulate this environment if they change their creative programming often so the students come to expect exciting change.”

Even without all spa amenities, you can explore some of the specific aspects of school/palace/abode fitness in an effort to make your own environment feel a bit more like a spa. You ultimately have the potential to cross-promote, cross-utilize and cross-sell all programs within your fitness facility, creating a more holistic wellness center.