With all indications that the spa industry is booming, travel agents should expect—if you're not already getting them—a lot of requests for spa-related vacations. As with any trip, your goals in planning spa travel should be to send clients on a memorable, enjoyable trip that meets their desires and budget and to ensure that they have new experiences while still feeling comfortable during their stay. We asked spa experts for their best tips on how to achieve this, and how to make certain—especially for first-time spa visitors—that no surprises occur.
Ask the Right Questions
The hallmark of any good travel agent is getting to know your clients well: their likes, dislikes, interests, level of fitness, budget—in general, what type of traveler they are.
"You have got to ask questions," says Karen Benson, a luxury travel planner and spa specialist for Camelback Odyssey Travel in Phoenix, who has been selling spas for 24 years. "What do they want to get out of their spa experience? Do they want strictly to be pampered? Or are they hoping to learn something and take something away from the experience? How active is this traveler? Are they adventurous? Also, what is their timing like—how long do they want to spend at the spa?"
Benson points out that some spas, usually destination spas, have a minimum length of stay (from three days to a week). "These questions can help you rule out certain spas right away."
The getting-to-know-you portion of the planning is, of course, easier if you're dealing with repeat clients. But don't assume anything, adds Benson. Open communication, as always, is key to planning a great trip.
Benson also points out that you've got to help clients understand the various options in today's spa market.
Serve Different Interests
"You have to make them understand the different types of spas that are out there," Benson says. "Everyone has a different interpretation of the word 'spa.' Some travelers could say they're interested in spa, and they just mean having a treatment or two. Others might want that all-encompassing, lifestyle-changing experience, and for those people, a destination spa is the right choice. Or you may have a case where the wife wants spa and the husband has no interest." In that case, she says, a resort spa is best, so that there are other activities to keep everyone happy and entertained.
Be prepared to answer basic questions about spas. Clients may never have heard of ayurvedic (ancient Indian) treatments or may have no idea what a thermal pool is. As a good travel advisor, you'll be able to offer that knowledge.
Do Site Inspections
How best to become an expert on the various spas out there? The best way is to visit them as often as possible. After all, how else can you give your clients the insider knowledge, such as which therapist is best or what dish to try on the spa cuisine menu?
"I know that in order to sell spa vacations the right way, I have to see and experience the spas myself," says Randy Maged, a home agent and owner of Ask the Travel Maven, based in Potomac, MD. "Otherwise, I can't implement the proper matchmaking techniques. There truly is a lid for each pot when it comes to the spa experience, and I know my clients well enough to know who is going to love what."
Introduce yourself to the spa directors and ask for treatment menus and fact sheets to have on hand. Suzanne Holbrook, spa director at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, notes that agents should know specifics about each spa.
"Little details, such as signature treatments, scents, products, design elements and therapists, are very important to the travel agents, and ultimately the end consumer," says Holbrook. "The agent should take into account the unique details when recommending a spa, and tailor them to best accommodate what each consumer is seeking.
"The tiny details that the agent provides help paint the picture and illustrate the experience," Holbrook continues. "Sometimes your description can be so alluring that the consumer just has to experience it."
Find out from the spa if your clients can book their treatments ahead of time, or if it's better to wait until they arrive. You also want to know if they'll be able to change their treatment schedule if they so desire.
"In most cases," cautions Benson, "it is absolutely advantageous to book ahead, and the spas encourage it. Chances are, you're not going to get the time slot or the therapist you want if you wait to book."
Stay in the Know
Finally, keep an eye on spa trends. Non-traditional spa programs designed for men, teens and kids are popular nowadays, as are couples' and group spa experiences, mother-daughter retreats, organic spas and even eco-friendly "green" spas.
"Everybody is different," says Benson. "And spas have really evolved. Matching clients to spas is really about getting to know the individual client and determining what they want to get out of the experience." —DS