In a recent online conference in Bangkok hosted by the World Spa & Wellness where I represented the Philippines, spa and wellness stakeholders from the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam shared one grim observation: the industry has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In preparation for the country update that I had to do, I conducted a quick survey among colleagues in the industry who were running hotel spas, day spas and resort spas. Day spas, both stand-alone and mall-based, have been particularly hard-hit as consumers choose to stay home in fear of being infected with the COVID-19 virus.
My heart bled for colleagues who had to close their operations due to low sales and continuing overhead costs. Owners with multiple branches kept a few open to provide some employment, hoping against hope that the pandemic will end soon and business will go back to normal.
RestrictionsHotel spas have also been affected due to capacity restrictions, treatment restrictions (facials, modified protocols for massage/body therapy that excludes work on guest’s face, head and hands), increased operational costs due to additional safety measures (staff staying in-house, fresh sets of personal protective equipment per guest, etc.) and limited shelf life of facial and body treatment products.
To cope, innovative practices were introduced when touch therapy was still prohibited. Touchless therapies are now offered in The Retreat at Okada and Tirta Spa in Boracay, which offers Sound Therapy.
Wellness destinations close to Manila offering a wider variety of services like Nurture Wellness Village and The Farm in San Benito were less affected.
When spa services were restricted due to quarantine restrictions, Nurture Wellness Village partnered with Raintree Hospitality to handle its restaurant operations. The Farmer’s Table at Nurture Wellness Village was born, offering menu options to city dwellers who are desperate to escape the city and enjoy nature.
The Farm in San Benito enjoyed robust business, even exceeding prepandemic sales with its well-heeled guests enjoying luxurious surroundings and a wide range of medical-wellness services.
The stringent safety protocols of the industry were developed by the spa and wellness stakeholders of the Philippines, an informal group of spa and wellness owners, managers and suppliers from all over the Philippines who came together virtually in March 2020 with the aim of developing safety protocols for the industry to protect guests and employees.
International spa and wellness safety protocols from the United Kingdom, United States and Australia were diligently studied and modified to meet Philippine regulations.
Final spa and wellness safety protocols were submitted and approved by the departments of health and tourism (DOT) and are currently being implemented in all DOT-accredited spas in the country.
The DOT Accreditation and Safety Seal provides peace of mind to those searching for a safe place to have a massage in a spa or wellness center that has been inspected as following stringent safety protocols.
Despite the difficulties being faced by the industry at present, the future looks bright.
Industry experts report that the wellness industry has become even more relevant in the post-COVID world. The pandemic has affected every aspect of life worldwide and shaken people to their core. It has made people more aware of the importance of personal health and well-being as the foremost protection against the pandemic.
According to the Asian Development Outlook 2020 update: “Wellness is a big part of the global and regional economy, highlighting its potential role in post-COVID-19 recovery efforts. Wellness-related industries account for about 5 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $4.5 trillion in 2018, and about 11 percent of developing Asia’s GDP in 2017—and this is growing by about 10 percent annually.”
Wellness is defined in the Asian Development Bank report as “the pursuit of activities that lead to holistic health, happiness, and well-being.” Experts in the global industry also offer the following advice:
Due to the drop in global tourism, focus on the local market: International tourists may spend more but local markets will return multiple times in the year if they are happy.
Get to know your local market: age, gender, health, wealth, personal status and use this to tailor fit your wellness offerings
Develop and pursue outof the box collaborations with other wellness providers: gyms, healthy food stores, dance studios, etc.
Practice inclusive growth: open up opportunities for local employment
As part of environmental wellness, practice sustainable tourism: Spa is just one aspect of the multifaceted wellness industry. While the wellness industry offers a bright future, spa and wellness stakeholders need to develop practices that communicate the relevance and importance of its services to the public.
The need for spas and wellness centers to be accredited by the DOT for them to be allowed to operate is critical to protect the industry and the consumers. This will ensure professionalism and proper implementation of safety protocols.
The medical profession also needs to see wellness practitioners as partners in helping people achieve true and sustainable health.
As an industry which truly supports inclusive growth, it is imperative for the government and financial institutions to support this industry which touches and improves the lives of so many: guests, employees and the community. —BY CATHY BRILLANTES-TURVILL
The author is president of Nurture Wellness Village and a pioneer in the country’s health and wellness industry.