Becoming a Five-Star Spa

Have you ever wondered what steps becoming a Five-Star spa takes? For 13 consecutive years, The Spa at The Sanctuary has earned this elite recognition by Forbes Travel Guide, only one of 41 in the United States to attain this distinctive honor. Although both The Sanctuary and the spa have both garnered Forbes Five-Star recognition for each of those 13 years, the Standards by which Forbes Travel Guide judges each are very different, even while both recognize anticipatory service provided to guests at the highest possible level as the foundation.

What a paradox that putting guests at ease and in a state of ultimate relaxation requires incredible effort on behalf of spa service providers. But the trick to providing anticipatory service is to make such effort appear effortless. (During the Renaissance, Italian courtiers had a word for this masterful art of apparent effortlessness — sprezzatura.)

Sanctuary Spa Director, Jerilyn Leavell, shares her five iron-clad secrets for instilling a Five-Star mentality in a spa setting.

1. Training

You must have an iron-clad training program that you never waiver from.  As tempting as it is to get a therapist on the floor and performing treatments as soon as possible, you never know who their first client could be (including a potential Forbes inspector!) so you must train and re-train until the standards are second nature. Never skip a step for convenience.  A training program with specific modules is the first step in the quest to attain Five-Star status.

2. Know Your Story

All Forbes Five-Star spas are evaluated annually on a set of objective standards; however, it is not essential that all Five-Star spas achieve these standards the same way.  In fact, inspectors are looking for each spa experience to be unique, and fitting to their setting. They do not expect — or want — a spa experience in the middle of Manhattan to be similar to what they might find near the beach.  For example, we incorporate polished seashells, nourishing seaweed, mineral-rich mud and refreshing Undaria Algae Oil into our signature treatments. These are natural elements found along Kiawah’s vast coastline, and they inspire our services as well as our setting.  Our spa is made to feel like you are enjoying southern hospitality at its finest in a beautifully designed grand seaside mansion filled with coastal light, natural wood flooring, high ceilings and locally crafted artwork.  Know what makes sense for your property and embrace where and who you are.

3. Build a Culture of Teamwork

It is important ALL team members believe in your mission and desire to provide the best possible experience for your guests. There is not one role more important than the other. They all beautifully combine to create the ultimate in luxurious wellness and pampering.  This is why we begin talking about teamwork at the interviewing stage, to set expectations from the beginning.  Both our front desk employees and therapists must work a full shift with our spa attendant trainer upon hire to understand how the entire spa experience progresses once a guest is in-house.  It is our expectation depending on business levels and current staffing that every spa employee is cross-trained to understand how each area of the spa works seamlessly to provide a superior guest experience. This inspires anticipatory service, which lies at the heart of the Forbes Star program — anticipating what a guest needs before even they know they need it. If every member of the staff is constantly looking for ways to anticipate the needs of the guests, and the operation, every guest will have a seamless experience and leave feeling like they are floating on air.

4.  Personalize

Again, while it’s true that all Five-Star spas must meet to the standards established by Forbes Travel Guide (FTG), it is also true they are looking for unique experiences that are tailored and personalized for the guest. Robotic service and routine treatments is not the recipe for attaining Five-Star status. Yes, your spa should have standards all employees follow from the reservation call, to reception, to treatments and beyond. However, it is the way in which your employees interact with the guest that counts most. For example, asking probing questions during the reservation call about what type of spa treatment the guest is looking for without offering “blind” or “popular” recommendations sets the tone for a very personalized experience. Offering a choice of custom-blended essential oils to enhance the massage experience or a deeply hydrating peel-off mask for tired or dull skin that is not typically offered in the facial the guest happened to select, goes a long way in making a lasting impression and setting you apart from other spas. In other words, a good recipe for becoming a Five-Star spa.

5.  Paint the Picture

No detail is too small or insignificant when it comes to painting the picture about the spa experience in the guest’s mind. Every spa employee should be equipped to vividly describe every amenity you offer so the guest knows exactly what to expect and feel completely comfortable utilizing it.  From the sauna, steam room, and whirlpool areas, to the relaxation suites and food and beverage. Even the amenities in your locker areas;  signature shampoos, lotions, hair care products, wash cloths, shower caps, and razors — every detail is important and helps your guests get the most out of their spa experience.  Share the story of your spa.  What inspires your treatments?  What is your design inspiration?  What is at the heart of your spa?  Bring the theme of your spa to life and set the stage for what the guest is about to experience!  Be excited to share every detail with the guest both during the reservation call and on arrival in order to leave a lasting impression that will stay with them long after they leave.