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Leisure Management - Moving on up - part 2

Spa management training

Moving on up - part 2

In the second part of our three-part series on spa management training, we investigate the education options for people already in work and ask whether employers are doing enough to develop staff from within

Rhianon Howells
A number of spa management training courses are now available online and are proving very popular with those already in full-time employment
UC Irvine has attracted more international pupils with its online spa certificate course
The University of Derby is currently researching ways to deliver courses via mobile phones
Many operators aren’t willing to pay or even subsidise staff training, but exceptions include global corporations like Banyan Tree (above), Hyatt and Hilton

One of the biggest challenges facing our industry is a shortfall of quality spa managers. The first feature of this series (see sb12/2 p38) looked at some of the full-time spa management degree and diploma courses available. But to really tackle the problem – especially in rapidly emerging markets – the spa industry can’t rely solely on graduate recruits. It also needs to provide training and development opportunities for practitioners wishing to climb the ranks and managers who are keen to strengthen their skill sets, as well as professionals moving into the industry from other sectors.

The advantage of promoting therapists to management positions is that they inherently understand the caring nature and the challenges of the profession. “In general, we prefer to recruit someone with a therapy background and teach them the business,” says Anna Bjurstam, managing partner of Swedish spa consultancy and management company Raison d’Etre.

The disadvantage is that therapists don’t usually have any business education or experience. “A spa is a business unit and needs to be managed that way,” says Vanessa Main, director of spa operations for Hilton in the Asia-Pacific (see sb11/3 p28). “There are people in the industry who may be passionate, but they don’t understand business principles… and if we put them in a management role without the skills they need, we’re setting them up to fail.”

Another common species of spa manager, is the manager who moves into spa from another area of hospitality. And while these individuals generally have a good grasp of business principles, they’re less familiar with the unique challenges of spas. “In many hotels, spa directors come from food and beverage or front of house, and have absolutely no clue what a spa is all about,” says Raoul Andrews Sudre, founder of Aspen Spa Management and the International Hotel Spa Academy (IHSA), a training company set up to help countries such as Morocco and Nicaragua to meet wellness tourism targets.

In the past, these groups have been left to muddle along, or at best received some desultory training on the job. Yet as the industry has developed, so too has need for managers who are properly trained in both business and spa-specific skills. As a result, a range of educational institutions, private training providers and even employers are offering part-time training options aimed at those already in work. But just how effective are these courses at plugging the skills gap?

Short and sweet
For those wishing to move into spa management, or to further advance their career, there are a growing number of open-to-enrol short courses. These are provided by private training providers, such as the UK’s Carlton Institute – which offers half-day to three-day modules on a range of management topics – or consultants, such as Wynne Business in the US, which offers an annual three-day intensive course in management training.

Raison d’Etre is another consultancy that has moved into this arena, offering two spa management training programmes a year for up to 20 people – one aimed at the Swedish market, and one open to international applicants. The course, which has recently been redesigned with an online element, includes three months of part-time study online, through webinars and lectures, before a final three-day, face-to-face module.

What makes the programme more effective than some of the other short courses available, says Bjurstam, is that students are required to apply what they’ve learned in their own business (or internship) and report back. And while there’s a strong focus on hard business skills, it’s very much tailored to the target audience. “The way business is taught in universities is beyond the grasp of most people with a therapy background,” says Bjurstam. “So we try to help them understand KPIs, finance and marketing in a fun way that doesn’t make them feel stupid… then at the end of the course they write both a human capital management plan, which is a strategy for leading staff, and a business plan [to take away].”

Online opportunities
In recent years, a number of universities have also developed more in-depth spa management courses which are aimed at people in the middle of their career.

One of the most highly respected of these, certainly in the US, is the certificate in spa and hospitality management by the University of California, Irvine (see sb04/4 p54). Originally launched in 2004 in a face-to-face format, the programme has been offered entirely online since 2008, with instructor-led lectures and webinars, student discussion forums, tests and written assignments all forming part of the mix. With five core modules – ranging from marketing and human resources to spa metrics – and five elective modules to choose from, students can do as few or as many courses as they like. However, to gain the certificate, they need to complete all five core modules plus two electives, totalling around 150 hours of study.

According to programme director Angela Jeantet, the fact that students are free to work in their own environment and at their own pace makes the programme especially appealing to those in work, while a policy of employing top-flight industry professionals as instructors – Jeremy McCarthy, director of global spa operations and development for Starwood Hotels (see sb10/3 p24), is currently on staff – and regularly assimilating both industry and student feedback ensures that the content is both relevant and fresh.

At present, up to 150 students sign up for UC Irvine’s spa management modules a year, of which around half complete the certificate, and the programme attracts current spa employees and professionals from outside the industry. For those new to the spa business, two of the five core modules give an overview of the spa industry and operations, and newcomers also benefit from networking with both fellow students and instructors. As Jeantet says: “Who wouldn’t want to turn to someone like Jeremy for advice?”

But while UC Irvine is undoubtedly a pioneer of online spa management training, it is not the only one. In the UK, the University of Derby Buxton (see sb05/4 p60) has been running an online version of its on-campus degree in international spa management since 2003. To date, the course – which is aimed squarely at working professionals – has attracted around 30 students a year. This year, however, the offering is being taken to another level with the launch of University of Derby Online, which will focus on developing and promoting the university’s online programming across a variety of subject areas. As part of this, the online spa management degree is undergoing a review to make more use of modern technology such as learning via mobile phone technology.

The content of the course will also be revised in consultation with industry to make it as relevant as possible to the needs of students and employers. According to Shaw, this is likely to mean more emphasis on spa management, business and networking skills. “Many of our learners looking for career progression already have practical skills,” explains Paula Shaw, University of Derby Online’s academic manager for vocational subjects. “And for those that don’t, there are vocational training courses out there.”

Global reach
One of the great advantages of online educational offerings, of course, is that they can be accessed anywhere in the world. Since going online four years ago, the number of international students signing up to the UC Irvine programme has increased dramatically – making up 26 per cent of enrolments – says Jeantet, and Shaw is also hopeful that a new marketing campaign will boost numbers of overseas as well as UK applicants.

One way online training providers can maximise this global reach – and arguably help address the shortfall of spa management training in developing markets – is to forge partnerships with other educational organisations around the world. UC Irvine already has agreements with the University of Houston in Texas and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia (see sb08/4 p44), where its certificate can be credited towards a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management or a masters in wellness respectively. The University of Derby Online, meanwhile, is in talks with several potential satellite sites in south-east Asia and southern Europe.

Another university-led spa management training initiative with global accessibility at the forefront is the virtual learning programme that came out of the Innovations and Learning in Spa Management (ILIS) project. Conducted from 2008-2010 and funded by the European Commission to the tune of €400,000 (us$488,650, £316,000), ILIS was a unique research collaboration between universities in Finland, the UK, Poland, Spain and Austria, with the ultimate objective of raising standards in the European wellness industry as a means of boosting both tourism and employment opportunities. One of the most tangible outcomes of the project – which included in-depth interviews with managers from 25 spas across the five countries – was the development of four virtual training modules, each concentrating on a different need: spa operations, marketing spa services, understanding finance and IT, and strategic management.

According to project leader Susanna Saari, a senior lecturer in hospitality at Turku University of Applied Sciences in Finland, what sets the ILIS modules apart from other online offerings is not only their extensive coverage – each module involves roughly 270 hours of study – but also their close attention to industry requirements based on the intensive research.

The modules are also designed to be flexible. They are available as an online global programme through Turku University of Applied Sciences, but they can also be taught face-to-face as part of an existing degree course. Crucially, each of the modules qualifies for 10 credits within the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) for higher education, giving them currency across the continent.

Industry investment
Yet while the range of spa management training options available to working professionals appears to be widening, such courses do not come cheap. And while some operators are willing to fully or partly subsidise their staff to undergo training, many more aren’t. “Employers often don’t want to invest in education for their spa managers, because they’re afraid they’ll move on and take that investment elsewhere,” says Bjurstam, adding that only 50 per cent of the students who sign up for Raison d’Etre’s spa management courses get any help from their employers.

Not all employers take this attitude, however. Global corporation Banyan Tree already has its in-house Fast Track and Management Trainee Programmes (see sb1/2 p26) while Hyatt Hotels is looking to introduce a similar training scheme (see sb11/4 p32). In addition, Hilton recently launched a
certificate programme in spa management, for staff in its Asia-Pacific properties, in partnership with Australia-based tourism and hospitality training provider the William Angliss Institute.

Focusing on Asia-Pacific as the region with the least existing educational provision and the greatest need in terms of fast-developing markets – especially China – the Hilton programme is delivered over nine months and involves an introductory week of face-to-face teaching, followed by online learning and coursework relating to the student’s own business, before a final week of face-to-face. Up to 15 of Hilton’s top therapists are selected for each intake. Main says: “We have a lot of hotel development coming up and we’re going to need so many new spa managers, it’s critical we have an educational solution we’re happy with.

“[But] it’s not our aim to bond people to us at the end of the course. We believe that just giving people this opportunity will be enough to motivate them to stay with us.”
It’s not only employers who could benefit from investing in management training, however. Elaine Fenard, managing partner of consultants Spa Strategy, believes suppliers should also get in on the act. “If a spa director doesn’t understand yield and margins, that’s not good for selling product, so it would benefit them, too,” she says. Indeed, Spa Strategy was acquired by Aromatherapy Associates in June for this very purpose and has it as just introduced its business and executive coaching services to help improve the operational and financial performance of spas (see p18). Meanwhile, ESPA International has been offering its Spa Management Essentials and Spa Management Advanced training for five years. The ESPA courses, which cover yield management, understanding key performance indicators and budget writing, start with a three to five days intense training followed by continuing professional development in the workplace.

Partners in success
In some regions, especially those where spa and wellness tourism is burgeoning, even governments appear to be recognising the need for greater investment in spa management education – from the EC-funded ILIS project to government partnerships with Sudre’s IHSA in Morocco and Nicaragua. “We ran about a dozen spa management training seminars in Morocco last year, and we’re currently in negotiations with the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Adult Education to incorporate the International Hotel Spa Academy there in a formal sense, with a permanent base,” says Sudre.

“The King of Morocco wants to attract 20 million tourists over the next decade, which is around double the number they have now, and the only way they’re going to do that is to make Morocco a wellness destination… so all the major hotel chains in the country are desperate to find qualified spa managers, and there just aren’t enough.” The company is also in talks with the Ministry of Tourism in Nicaragua about integrating IHSA into a hotel school in Managua, to support the wellness tourism strategy there.

As the global spa industry continues to grow, then, so too does the demand for credible spa management training. But while an increasing number of education providers, industry players and even governments are responding to this need, their efforts are still largely subjective and fragmented. If the recent study of spa management training by SRI International, conducted on behalf of the Global Spa &Wellness Summit (see p54), can provide greater insight into the issues involved and help to engender unity among these disparate factions, who knows what could be achieved?

In part three: we will investigate how much scope there is to develop global standards for spa management training

Originally published in Spa Business 2012 issue 3
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