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Post-pandemic pluses

Changing times bring changing needs. Are you ready?

“If what we learn is no more than what we expect to learn, then we have learned nothing at all.”

That quote from John H. Lienhard, the American engineer, broadcaster and public speaker, is in itself a learning opportunity. It tells me that if we think we’ll be going back to business as usual after the pandemic is over, then we’ll be no further ahead.

So what will we have learned? How many of our “temporary” fixes need to become permanent?

From an ecological and sustainability point of view, one temporary fix I’d like to see disappear completely is the disposal of tons of protective clothing, masks and wipes. New technologies in infection control already emerging and being tested include the Belgian ultraviolet light supermarket “zapper” that cleans a trolley in 10 seconds, eliminating the need for gallons of sanitizer and caseloads of wiping materials, while making things safer by removing the element of human error. The handheld spa industry/office/home version, ASPA Surface Purifier (aspa-uvc.com), just launched in November, claims it can kill viruses and COVID-19 in six seconds.

I believe we’re at the beginning of nothing less than a paradigm shift in healthcare. Government-run healthcare is running out of breath. Something or someone will have to fill the void.

Why not us? The spa industry can supply a whole whack of treatments and therapies that can boost people’s physical and mental well-being. Some we know how to do already, others we will have to learn. But there’s no doubt that we can do well by doing good. The issue is where to begin.

For the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) Mental Wellness Initiative (of which I’m a member), mental health is top of mind. Its 2020 annual Summit in November in Florida focused on topics relating to mental health and wellness. Evidence of the pandemic’s huge toll on most people’s emotional health during the past eight months, the GWI reports, is venture capital funding for start-ups in two basic mental health areas – companies that connect people with therapists and mental wellness platforms – hitting a record $1.37 billion by the third quarter of 2020.

“The investment dollars in digital mental health and wellness platforms will only increase in the coming years, as larger global companies realize they have to do much more to support the mental well-being of their employees via easy-access digital tools,” says the GWI.

Think about that for a second. What kinds of health-related services can your business supply to improve your clients’ mental and emotional health?
Remember, single-occupancy households were already at an all-time high in this country even before the advent of COVID and its loathsome social distancing. During this pandemic and even long after it ends, people will continue to yearn for face-to-face interaction and human touch.

To reinforce the point, the Goldsmiths’ University of London/BBC study – the largest ever on touch – found that 72 percent of subjects reported a positive attitude to touch and 54 percent said they got “too little” touch day-to-day. The study’s lead researcher summed it up by saying, “Touch is not a luxury. It plays a key role in life, cutting across aspects including benefits for mental health, general health and our immune system, as well as social benefits – how we form bonds and how we maintain them.”

The Mintel Consumer Trends 2030 Report says people are searching for more fulfilling experiences, placing “greater value on inner journeys [how they feel while interacting with your business] than on outer appearances.”
This is why your customer’s journey is so important – because cumulatively, it becomes the perception of your spa.

In a Commonwealth Fund Survey comparing the mental states of 10 wealthy nations during COVID-19, 26 percent of Canadians reported that the pandemic caused “great stress, anxiety or sadness that was difficult to cope with.” In this regard, we Canucks were equal to Brits and second only to Americans.

So clearly there is pretty solid evidence of a mental/physical/emotional vacuum needing to be filled. Kudos to businesses that have already begun the task, many by offering online treatments. I have personally benefited from the online counseling of a New York–based colleague (Elizabeth Alanis of Love Into Wholeness: loveintowholeness.com), who’s both a registered professional psychotherapist and a practitioner in the ancient healing art of shamanism. Hosting the sessions via Zoom instead of in person did nothing to diminish her vast knowledge and expert guidance – nor the many benefits I gained. Many other therapies can be effectively delivered online as well, such as online skin analysis or even menopause support (offered by my sister, Catherine O’Keeffe: wellnesswarrior.ie).

The happy recipient of your online experiences could become a regular client of your spa – virtually, physically or both. Why not take the first step?
According to a 2018 national survey by S&P 500-member and health services giant Cigna, loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. I’ve always thought that humans need to belong to a tribe or community, and spas can help build community around wellness. With certain groups being increasingly unable to meet up physically, replacement communities will step in.

The website Trendwatching.com talks about the “15-minute city,” where most needs can be found within a short walk or bicycle ride. A startup called Reef is transforming a real estate network of more than 4,500 parking lots and garages into neighbourhood hubs and partnering with other players for micro-fulfillment, e-bikes, pop-up clinics and urban farming.

“We’re steadily moving towards people-first, car-free urban environments that prioritize well-being,” reports the site.

Even prior to last March, society’s interest in well-being was already on the rise. COVID has made us value our health like never before. One piece of proof comes from Microsoft’s new partnership with the app Headspace, which dubs itself the global leader in mindfulness and meditation. The alliance sprang from the need for home-based Microsoft workers struggling to cope with the isolation. Among Microsoft’s additions to the platform will be a “virtual commute” feature that allows users to virtually punch in and out of work, thus creating mental bookends for their remote workday.

If a company the size of Microsoft getting involved in things like mindfulness and meditation isn’t a sign that concern for emotional health has gone mainstream, I don’t know what is. “The era of ignoring mental and emotional health is coming to an end. In 2021, increasingly mindful people will look for products and services that seamlessly boost their mental well-being,” says Trendwatching.com.

Another opening for our industry, and something we’ve always been good at, is the field of esthetics. The aptly named “Zoom Boom” – the vast adoption of online virtual meetings – has users suddenly scrambling to look and feel their best for the cameras, evidenced by long lineups at medi-spas and cosmetic medicine surgery clinics across North America.

The opportunities for the spa industry are almost as unlimited as the imagination. Here, in no particular order, is a summary of things I think every spa needs to consider in a post-pandemic world.

  1. Home services. Having become accustomed to working and shopping from home, people will be looking for more online health-related services. As you go digital or increase your digital presence, which ones will you be able to offer?
  2. Wellness. Many consumers nowadays want to be sure your business is authentically concerned for their wellness and they look for clues to confirm this in your branding and marketing. The Ogilvy Wellness Gap study in October 2020 surveyed wellness attitudes of 7,000 consumers from 14 countries and found
    73 percent of them wanted a brand to have a wellness strategy as part of its core mission; 60 percent said a wellness brand should give them a sense of purpose; and 53 percent want a brand to help them feel connected.
  3. Emotional support. In an increasingly isolated society, people will be requiring more experiences that address mental health. Are you holding a space of compassion for yourself, your team and your clients? Online and in person?
  4. Neat freaks. The pandemic has made us cleanliness-obsessed. Many spas can barely cope with the huge tasks of cleanups, infection control and laundry. Clients will be expecting no less a level of hygiene going forward. Will you be ready? Communicate your commitment to high infection control and sanitization standards on your website.
  5. Support for local businesses. The trend towards doing business locally is an opportunity for you to draw new business from within your community – say, a 10 km radius. Why not start promoting your business there?
  6. Out, damn spot! People wanting to look and feel good in Zoom meetings has boosted the demand for cosmetic and plastic surgery interventions. Are you aware of how you can communicate the value of what you offer to address this need?
  7. Keep in touch! If you haven’t set up a proper customer database yet, better get on it. The software is smarter and more capable than ever, and not hard to learn. This is one of the essential steps to going digital.
  8. Set up e-commerce. People are shopping online like crazy and will continue to do so. Look into products you can easily sell online and ship.
  9. Employee support. Chances are that during the pandemic, you’ve had to reach out to your valuable employees to help them with their struggles. Don’t stop after it ends.

Vivienne O’Keeffe

Vivienne O’Keeffe, AAD, PEA, CIBTAC, is President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., and an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She is also an international consultant in developing product lines, treatment plans and training programs, a member of ISPA and Spa Industry Association of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012), and a member of International Management Consultants Inc.

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