The Sensory Spa Experience
The basic massage is just not enough. Spas, which have focused for so long on only touch, are now recognizing that the other four senses play important roles in overall wellbeing and the mind/body connection. Though not as obviously an integral part of a spa experience, taste, sight, sound and smell are senses we are constantly using, both in and out of the spa. When these senses are ignored, no spa experience can be complete, experts say.
As with any aspect of spa, a one-size-fits-all sensory experience is not the right approach, says Liz Galloway, an industry vet and consultant at The Lotus Effects. Galloway, who helps destination and resort spas refine their focus and incorporate unique, interactive elements into the experience, has come to realize that “customized” and “creative” are key to the sensory experience. Not only will it set your service menu apart from dozens of other spas by giving you a clear edge in a downturned economy—most clients would prefer a “total experience” over a plain vanilla deep-tissue massage—but it creates something unique for a client that she can’t get anywhere else.
“When you tap into the senses, it makes a transforming impact in the treatment,” declares Galloway, “because you’re tapping into the emotional being.” That translates into a stronger connection with clients that leaves a lasting impression. Just how can you make this kind of impression in your own spa? Read on to find out how to make the most of the five senses.
touchNever has “having the right touch” been so literal and so necessary. In the spa, touch is perhaps the most important sensory experience a guest can have. “The power of touch is not to be taken lightly,” says Susie Galvez, an esthetician and former spa owner in Richmond, Virginia. “It was surprising for me to learn that, in some cases, people are touched only during spa treatments.”
The right touch starts on the intake form, before you even lay a finger on a spa guest. Every client should list sensitive spots or injuries on this form, letting his or her technician know which spots to focus on or avoid. When you have that information, you can safely use the power of touch, and even take it a step further. Many spas are now adding extra little touches in every treatment they perform, whether it’s effleurage or a hot foot bath during a facial, a warm neck roll during a nail service, a massage chair rather than a standard stationary bed for body work, or a scalp massage for an extra sensory boost.
But what clients touch is almost as important as how they’re touched. To improve their sensory experience in this area, spas like Cornelia Day Spa, in the heart of New York City, are upgrading their linens to high-thread count sheets, stocking up on plush robes and adding touches of luxury elsewhere.
At Influence Spas across the globe, touch is an integral experience before, during and after treatment. Galloway, who consults with Influence, says clients can test-drive and physically choose the products that will be used in their services, in tandem with their therapist. “When people are interactive in creating their own sensory experiences, it takes it to a whole other level,” she says. Clients can feel and pick lotions, scrubs, essential oils and creams at the “Play Bar,” as it’s aptly called, where everything they select goes into a bowl that’s carried into their treatment room.
Touch is perhaps the most primary sense, say our experts, and it can work magic in the spa. “Touching someone is a very special and intimate thing; it is truly a healing power,” Galvez says.
tasteWith brown sugar body scrubs, lemon soufflé foot creams, and chocolate-based hand treatments, some spa products are good enough to eat. While service menus are whetting a client’s appetite, taste comes into play as a major force in a sensory experience. Research shows taste can enhance memories of an experience and help you relive the experience every time you taste that same flavor. To establish this sensory connection, Cornelia developed its own Honey Ritual before every service. “Each guest is offered a teaspoon of organic acacia honey to calm the digestive system and boost the immune system,” says Cornelia’s spokesperson Amanda Wells, which serves to enhance the client’s sense of wellbeing.
Plenty of spas use tea, which not only tastes great but is convenient to store and comes in plenty of flavors. Galvez recommends keeping an assortment of herbal or antioxidant-based teas, such as cranberry or pomegranate, on hand. Chocolate is also a delicious mood-enhancer. “Depending on the season, a hot drink made with dark chocolate can add a wonderful restful feeling while simultaneously adding antioxidants,” she says. Even flavored water can work, if it’s unique to your spa. At About Faces, Galvez added cucumber slices rather than lemon to ice water: “It was refreshing and different, plus cucumbers are purifying to the system.”
Whether your taste offering is water or a three-course spa luncheon, utilizing healthful taste experiences will help clients get in the spa mindset and leave them feeling good.
sightThe visual experience begins when a client walks through the door. Your goal, more than wanting to make a splashy first impression, should be for clients to instantly feel welcomed. Soothing décor and tranquil colors are key to creating the right ambience, as is your choice of lighting. Harsh overheads don’t make anyone look good, while practical dimmable lights in treatment rooms allow clients to relax.
Wells says the entire look of her high-end spa is based on outstanding visuals. Spacious rooms in soothing earth tones are designed to be warm and inviting, while windows and skylights let in plenty of natural light. Marble finishes, a rooftop garden and sweeping view of New York City also make for a visual feast, but the look of your spa doesn’t need to be so elaborate.
It can be as simple as putting yourself in your clients’ shoes. Look through their eyes at your level of cleanliness, retail displays, furniture and front desk. Does it look cluttered, worn, hectic or tired? Is it a place a person could relax and forget the outside world? Small touches, like fresh flowers or candles, are visual signals you can use to cue your clients that it’s time to relax.
More recently, visuals are becoming an important part of treatments themselves. Though clients will let their eyes close for many spa services—the ultimate sign of relaxation—eyes should be wide open for mind/body services such as chromotherapy. This type of therapy uses color projections to influence a client’s mood; for example, color-adjustable lights might wash a hydrotherapy tub in blue, a calming hue. Such services are taking off at cutting-edge spas with a real impact, says Galloway. “You can use chromotherapy almost anywhere—in a Vichy shower, a steam room, or even just projected on a wall,” she adds. Other visual therapies are gaining ground, too. “Tranquil images such as oceans, lakes, temples or beautiful nature scenes can be displayed on in-room LCD screens,” says Galloway, “which work to make clients feel they have taken a break from their busy life.”
soundIn today’s technological age, the aural spa experience has moved way beyond the standard recordings of gently strummed harps. Music is now being utilized to create an ambience in every area of the spa, from light jazz in the lounge to trickling rivers in treatment rooms. Some spas even give clients the option of choosing their own music or, says Galloway, hooking up their iPod to the in-room sound system.
Not only does music block out the chatty receptionist or the busy freeway outside, but clients need only to shut their eyes to feel transported. Recorded sounds of nature are becoming popular for this very reason—it’s like going on an exotic journey without ever leaving the treatment table.
Spa professionals can build retail sales and rebook services on these soothing sounds. The spas Galloway consults with create customized CDs for their clients so they can re-create the experience at home. “This works particularly well for destination, resort or international spas that can incorporate indigenous music or local flair used in the spa,” she says. “We burn CDs with a client’s preferred songs, or sometimes we mail it to them after they leave.”
smellWhen it comes to making a sensory impression, nothing lasts longer that a scent memory. It can virtually transport a person back to the original “scent event,” even years after the fact. Smart spas know this and use aromatherapy to benefit both the client and their business, because a trademark scent is like an olfactory calling card. Cornelia uses a signature scent throughout the resort with notes of citrus, sandalwood and musk to calm and soothe clients: This creates an indelible sensory impression.
Smells have such a strong influence that clients even recognize their own scent-induced mood shift. Galvez notes that clients walking into About Faces would take a deep breath, inhaling their herbal signature fragrance of lavender, thyme, calendula, geranium and rosemary, and make statements such as, “This is why I come here,” or “I am already beginning to relax.” It worked so well that Galvez recommends all spas create their own aromatherapeutic blends and incorporate it into lotions, candles, oils, bottled fragrances and bath products to retail. “It will remind clients of their visit, even when they are at home,” she says. Take-home samples of fragrance-infused products are especially valuable when helping new clients identify with your spa.
coming to your sensesA sensory spa experience doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. Here are quick and easy suggestions from spas around the country:
- a hot foot bath during a facial
- a massage chair instead of a traditional facial bed
- plush slippers and robes in the locker room
- a tray of sliced fresh fruit in the lounge
- unique herbal infused teas (mix up your own!)
- lush plants and flowers everywhere
- a signature aromatherapy scent
- a demo bar for clients to test products
- customized “touch therapy” add-ons
- a clean space with ambient lighting
- clear signage to direct clients
- pleasant greetings at the front desk
- a soothing color scheme
- customized music for different areas in the spa