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Should Resorts Incent Travel Agents to Sell Spa and Wellness Treatments?

During the recent Skift Global Forum in September, Hyatt Hotels Corporation President and CEO Mark Hoplamazian, commented about how today, “What you’re paying for in your room is such a small part of your experience.”

Hyatt, which made a huge push into the wellness space with its purchase of Miraval in early 2017, is looking to attract more travelers who want to embed wellness into their travel experience. “That could elevate the whole experience” at a Hyatt hotel, Hoplamazian said.

If a travel agent books a client at Hyatt’s Andaz Maui Wailea, the guest can avail themselves to a number of elevating experiences at the resort’s Awili Spa and Salon, including a 90-minute Grounding Connect Massage (which costs $270 per person) or a 60-minute body wrap in local Maui Ti Leaves (which costs $185).

If a travel agency client purchases a package at a Hyatt resort that includes a credit towards spa or wellness treatments, the agent would get a commission on the entire purchase price.

But, if the agent booked additional treatments for a client beyond the package and resort credit, they do not receive additional commission, something agents wish large lodging chains and spas would reconsider.

At the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain, in Arizona, an 80-minute deep muscle massage or organic 80-minute facial each cost $230 for a session. A good luxury travel agent booking 2-3 extra treatments on behalf of a client could generate a decent extra commission for a multi-day stay.

Harnessing the power of travel advisors
For certain resorts, figuring out a reasonable commission rate for additional treatments might work, said Andrew Cohan, managing director of the Miami office of Horwath HTL, a global hospitality advisory firm.

Cohan estimates that 85-90 percent of the revenue in the spa business comes from guests who are not traveling for wellness, and thus, they might be open to a travel agent curating wellness experiences for them. And he believes that having an educated and motivated outside sales force, like travel advisors, could be cost-effective.

“If you are the Park Hyatt Downtown Toronto, where the whole basement is an amazing spa, and they are advertising to locals, there’s no reason to offer agent commissions because you have built-in demand,” he said.

“But there are lots of resorts with large spa and wellness centers outside of densely populated markets charging $300-$400 a night for a room, designing healthy restaurant menus, etc., that aren’t filling their spas and could benefit from collaborating closer with travel advisors,” he said.

For the hotel, he said, “adding $150 a day per guest for spa treatments could make [agent] commissions very profitable,” he said. “It shouldn’t take miracles to do this.’”

“Our advisors have a lot of influence on what guests do during their stay because we get to know our clients, and build trips that suit their tastes and ne,” said Karen Goldberg, managing director, Virtuoso Hotels Resorts. “As wellness and spa moves more into the mainstream, so should the tools and incentives that go into selling them.”

The situation is complicated by the fact that so many hotel/resort spas are franchises operated separately by a spa company. “So, unlike the lodging industry, some of these spas aren’t the least bit familiar with the power of a travel advisor,” she said.

“The nature of today’s travel advisor is to ensure an exceptional trip, so they are inclined to recommend treatments that would enhance their experience. If the advisor was compensated, and had the tools to close that sale, I think everyone would win,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg noted how so many resorts rely on pre-arrival guest emails to market their spas and wellness centers. “What those emails don’t do is provide an incentive to a guest who isn’t already inclined to book a treatment. I think they could be more effective using travel advisors to sell those services,” Goldberg said.

Candace Taylor, director of leisure sales at Miraval Arizona, believes that agents are particularly well-positioned to sell spa services just for that reason. She spends about five days out of every month making presentations at travel agencies and educating agents on what differentiates Miraval from a traditional hotel or spa experience.

“As a travel advisor, their challenge is to match the right spa with the right client. The advisor must have a clear picture of their client’s objective for their stay in order to direct them to the right wellness resort,” Taylor said.

Miraval offers commissions on the total base package rate: including the room, the resort credit, and the food and beverage. It does not offer commissions on any separate bookings for its 125 weekly wellness activities, including yoga, meditation, fitness, equine programming, culinary classes, spiritual experiences, and a range of innovative spa treatments.

Faena Hotel Miami Beach, which is part of the Virtuoso Wellness Community, has not implemented commission on spa bookings but may consider it in the future, said Diana Chan, leisure sales director at the hotel.

More than half of all Virtuoso guests at Faena Hotel Miami Beach experience Tierra Santa Healing House, she told Travel Market Report, the hotel’s award-winning South American-inspired spa.

Taylor also emphasizes to agents that “booking a destination spa requires some work after the booking is made. In order for clients to have a successful Miraval experience, the agents must remind them to contact us six weeks prior to their arrival date to book their activities and spa treatments. This will ensure they have a seamless experience when visiting the resort.”

Because spa vacations are appealing to a much broader demographic, in August 2016, Virtuoso created the Virtuoso Wellness Community, which connects like-minded agents and industry individuals through regular interactions and peer-to-peer collaboration, to share knowledge, develop expertise and work together to better serve consumers seeking healthy travel experiences.

Through the Wellness Community, Virtuoso is trying to negotiate with resorts and spas to both provide commissions and added amenities for its network’s customers, much like Virtuoso’s hotel program. However, very few resorts or spas are offering agent commissions for a la carte treatment bookings, Goldberg and others said.

“It’s time to experiment, and it’s time to increase the distribution channel’s listing of spa treatments, because without that, you’ll never know if all of us could be more successful, and our guests happier,” Goldberg said.