Cosmoprof Spa Conference

Spa Australasia editor-in-chief, Anne-Marie Cook, participated in the 6th Spa Conference at Cosmoprof Asia in Hong Kong this month. On the forefront of industry concerns in the region: effective branding, increasing revenue and meeting customer needs.

If anything, the Cosmoprof Asia Spa Conference demonstrated to me how universal are the challenges to be met each day by spa operators.

How do you present a cohesive brand image to prospective customers and attract them in the doors?

How do you increase profits while rewarding staff fairly and offering clients compelling prices and experiences?

These are the same conversations and presentations held at, for example, the Business Leaders Summit in Sydney in August, and the Australasian Spa Association Conference on the Gold Coast in September.

Which is not to say that there weren’t insights and bright ideas at the Cosmoprof Asia Spa Conference. There were fresh perspectives brought by speakers Lisa Starr and Susie Ellis and, across the moderated panels a broad variety of operators provided relevant points of view in discussing the differences between Asian and Western consumer mentality (or the behaviour of locals vs tourists vs expats).

But overall, the take-home was that even leading spa chains and hotel spa businesses grapple with the same concepts and practicalities of every spa owner and manager everywhere’which in itself is interesting.

My (perhaps biased) view was also that in Australia and New Zealand, we are having conversations and implementing programs that are at least as sophisticated as those in the leading metropolises across Asia.

In Hong Kong, even with its mass population (population density three times higher than Sydney, more than a third of the world’s hundred tallest residential buildings are there, and the city has more residents living above the 14th floor than anywhere else on Earth), relatively cheap wages compared to Australia and high-wealth population demographics (certainly, one-fifth of people live in poverty, but so do a surging number of millionaires and some of Asia’s richest), spas struggle with all the same competition issues as we do – non-exclusive product distribution, price competitive locations just down the street undercutting the value of services and grey market product infiltration. And consumers are also struggling with an overload of advertising messaging while spas struggle to stand out from the crowd.

On the urban day spa scene, loyalty to known brands remains a strong drawcard. In China especially, French and Swiss skincare companies are the most highly regarded, making any other product lines a fairly hard sell. Clarins has a firm foothold, as does Thalgo.

‘Face’ is still a high value commodity in China: being seen in the right place means that those in the know are willing to pay AU$75 just to get a seat poolside in the Hyatt – to step into the spa or gym is an additional fee. That our more nonchalant culture here will follow that trend at first seems unlikely, but rising social spa-ing practices may make it relevant for clients to book ahead to be assured a spot with friends.

Setting the benchmark for retail revenue was also on the agenda. Participants in the retail discussion panel cited numbers ranging from 11 per cent through to 80 per cent of revenue coming from retail. (Yes, the other panel members were pretty amazed at the Clarins numbers too!)

Next week I’ll bring you my interview with Susie Ellis, SpaFinder Wellness president. She shares her views on whether the word ‘spa’ still has value, the competitive advantages of understanding trends and how to start predicting them yourself, and an exclusive scoop on her forecast of industry moves for 2014.

PICTURED- Keynote speakers and panellists at the Cosmoprof Asia Spa Conference (from left): Lisa Starr, spa and business consultant; Vivienne Tang, editor-in-chief, AsiaSpa Magazine; Sara Codner, director of spa, Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou; Melinda Yon, spa management lecturer, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore; and Suzie Ellis, president, Spafinder Wellness, and CEO/chairman, Global Spa and Wellness Summit.

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