Dinner with Ian Brewis, head of the Chi Spas from the Hong Kong-based Shangri La group, is always a lot of fun because Ian is a lot of fun. (Good thing too, since I surprised him in Shanghai by using the Shangri La website as an example during my speech on spa website design. The conference was held at the Shanghai Shangri La and it seemed fitting to use them as an example, so I showed a photo of their website every few years from inception. Hint, you can go to a website called http://www.waybackmachine.org/ and do this for almost any website.)
Peter and I drove up to the Lodge at Turning Stone for the Presidents’ Day weekend so that we could try out the Skana Spa there, about which I had heard quite a lot since its opening five months ago. The concierge had suggested that we take a quick Jet Blue flight instead of driving, but we love driving, because it is a quiet time for us to talk and enjoy the countryside. It took less time than we thought – just a little over four hours. Later I heard about the Jet Blue fiascos over the weekend and was even more glad that we passed on the flight.
We expected a 98-room lodge but instead pulled up to the front of a high-rise tower with what looked like hundreds and hundreds of rooms. It was buzzing with people – valet cars were lined up three deep to be taken to the garage. Josh Groban was appearing in the theater that evening, and scores of people were either checking in or going to the casino pre-event. A few minutes later we found out that we were in the wrong place – this was the Tower at Turning Stone; the Lodge was around the back.
Nice surprise – as the Lodge was more upscale, the entire building smoke-free, and the spa was located a short distance from our room.
I realized later that Turning Stone encompasses a casino, a tower with 700+ rooms, a conference center, an event arena, the 98-room Lodge, and the new Skana spa! Plus a nightclub is being built, as well as a dome for tennis and racquetball. Three golf courses are also part of the resort. Everything is interconnected. And the entire area – every part of it – is alcohol-free. That was another surprise.
My final day in Dubai included a spa forum organized by Michael Loh from Spa Asia Magazine and Christiane Walter, from Messe Frankfurt Exhibition. The organizers invited a panel of spa managers from Dubai to address our international group of spa enthusiasts who had come to learn about the industry in the Middle East.
The three points I found most interesting:
- The Arab culture necessitates separating men and women in spa facilities. Every facility has private changing rooms, as being naked in front of anyone else is not appropriate. Everyone wears swimsuits in the sauna and steam. Men massage men, and women massage women. Only recently was a new law passed that allows women to give men facials. This only applies to resort and hotel spas, however, not day spas.
- Dubai has a major shortage of therapists. It is difficult to get therapists and difficult to keep them. When I asked what percentage of spa expenses accounts for staff compensation, I was told it was about 25%. In the U.S. it is about 50%. Seems like part of the solution is fairly obvious.
- Michael Loh said – and I agree with him – that when coming to Dubai, people no longer need to ask whether a resort or hotel has a spa. They all do. What their choice is based on now is what the spa is like, what it offers, and whether there are any special features or programs. This is now happening everywhere around the world. Thus, a spa’s individuality is becoming more important.
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