Monday, August 11, 2008

Staycation Nation

Staycation, Part One.
The “staycation,” America’s stay-at-home vacation trend, is hammering the travel industry this summer. Economic slowdown and the horrors of summer air travel have caused many people to reconsider their plans for long vacations and especially trips abroad. Even affluent consumers are feeling this shift in sensibility; as news reports teem with stories of downtrodden consumers who can’t afford to gas up their cars to go to work, conspicuous consumption has become a bit too…conspicuous. It’s suddenly chic to be sensible. (An added bonus: one can often be “green” and sensible in one fell swoop.)

Europe’s loss may be US spa operators’ gain, however. Guests who previously headed to Tuscany for a couple of weeks are taking “consolation vacations” and treating themselves to spa visits close to home. Not just the odd massage or facial, but a day at the spa, with all the bells and whistles. These “sensible sybarites” are staycationing in your spa. Compared to a $5,000 trip to Fiji, a $500 spa package is a fabulous bargain.

We recognized this phenomenon halfway through the summer, when sales at our Preston Wynne Spa in California’s Silicon Valley jumped 28% from the previous year. Other spa owners began to report similar behavior from their guests.

While I would have loved to be a bit further ahead of the Staycation curve, this trend won’t end with summer. Here are some thoughts about how to market to this customer:

- Staycation guests are receptive to indulgent, all-inclusive spa packages; dust those holiday favorites off, call them “Staycation Specials” and put them front and center in your marketing campaign.

- Provide ideas for other staycation pleasures near your spa; wineries, art galleries or museums, botanical gardens.

- Have a drawing for a “staycation” package at the spa to increase awareness

- Increase awareness by talking about “staycationing” in your marketing and in person, with guests. Concepts like “staycations” grow in popularity when they are recognized and named.

Staycation, Part Two
I decided to “staycation” this summer myself. (Full disclosure: I don’t usually take a vacation in the summertime; I love Europe in September during ‘reentree,” when even Parisians pretend they’re happy to see you.) A summer staycation was a fine excuse for leisure and market research combined.

A spa visit was at the top of my “staycation” must-do list. I scheduled a half day at my spa, something I never do. I am a less than perfect guest at my spa. I rush from a meeting to a pedicure, and then invariably smudge my polish in my sprint to the next meeting. I shoehorn my spa experiences into the small cracks in my schedule.

Not this time! To ensure that I did not sneak into the office afterward, I scheduled dinner at a terrific restaurant in San Francisco. I’m unaware of regulations governing how far one is permitted to travel and still ‘staycation,’ but I’m fairly certain this was legal.
I chose an Ocean Glow (a body treatment that’s a hybrid of exfoliation and wrap), a massage, a facial treatment, and a makeup session. About four hours of services, which my normal state of Business ADD (BADD) would never permit. I wafted about in a big fluffy robe like a real client, anonymous to the other guests (and funnily, to some of my own staff.) I lunched on our outdoor loggia. The entire spa even looked different to me, wearing my “guest goggles.” (I still scribbled out a punch list of maintenance and repair items afterward. Old habits die hard.)

I was blown away. Perhaps most spa owners reading this blog would also rate their spas highly, but I imagine you, like me, rarely give your team the opportunity to truly strut their stuff.

I recently completed a benchmarking project for Wynne Business that involved visits to splendid, world-class spa operations. (A dirty job, but someone had to do it.) I’m pleased to say that the quality of our treatments and our team was comparable. But unless I’d had services under “real world” apples-to-apples conditions, i.e., a special time set aside for pure relaxation and self-care, I would not have been able to see that. I realized that when regular guests enjoy a half day or more at the spa, it deeply enhances their overall relationship with our brand.

Like a lot of card-carrying Type A’s, I’m hard on myself and the folks around me as well—all in the name of continuous improvement. My staycation experience helped me see that being pleased is not the same as being complacent. Spa teams—and their owners--need a regular infusion of gratitude to stay motivated, committed and inspired.

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