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January 31, 2022

ISPA President Lynne McNees on the Way Forward for the Spa Industry

By Elizabeth Bromstein

We spoke with Lynne McNees about the way forward for the spa industry, what it will take to succeed in this industry at this point in time, and how the industry can tackle the staffing crisis.

The International SPA Association (ISPA) is recognized as the professional organization and voice of the spa industry, representing health and wellness facilities and providers around the world.

ISPA’s mission is to advance the spa industry by providing educational and networking opportunities, promoting the value of the spa experience, and speaking as the authoritative voice to foster professionalism and growth.

ISPA regularly releases research and insights, like the Consumer Snapshot Initiative (launched in 2011), to help people better understand consumer choices and their overall perception of the spa industry. And, during the COVID-19 pandemic, ISPA has hosted live virtual Town Halls and education sessions to discuss the industry’s most pressing challenges, held its first-ever virtual summit (the ISPA Stronger Together Summit) and developed toolkits to help the industry reopen and move forward, including a Talent Toolkit to support spas in the face of industry-wide staffing challenges.

ISPA remains focused on broadening the talent pipeline into the industry and engaging its passionate member community and board of directors to participate in career fairs and speak to students about the value of spa industry careers. ISPA has also created partnerships with groups such as the Beauty Cast Network to promote and educate people about the vast array of careers in spa and continues to evolve and expand the educational reach.

For more than 24 years, Lynne McNees has served as ISPA’s President, overseeing global operations and serving as official spokesperson.

We spoke with Ms. McNees about the way forward for the spa industry, what it will take to succeed in this industry at this point in time, and, of course, how the industry can tackle the staffing crisis.

Please talk about your career trajectory and how you came to be doing what you are today.

It was a bit of a roundabout but I have been blessed to find a career I love in association management. I graduated from the University of Maryland with a Kinesiological Sciences degree and then stayed in the area. After volunteering on political campaigns and events, including a national party convention and the Presidential Inauguration, I had the opportunity to serve for four years in The White House and The President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, which is a non-partisan program that really helped shape my career today. During the change of administration, I wound up at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, where I found my love for association management.  Happenstance took me to Lexington, KY to work with ISPA 27 years ago and I subsequently met my cute husband.   

ISPA has been managed by an accredited Association Management Company — Associations International — since 1997. We have enjoyed a tremendous partnership.

What major predictions can you make for the spa and wellness industry in 2022? What are you optimistic about?

We’ll have a better idea of how the industry’s recovery has gone when the Big Five statistics are revealed at the ISPA Conference in May, but our member survey from October 2021 indicated that more than 90 percent of spas saw year-over-year increases in revenue in the third quarter of last year.

We are optimistic yet clear-eyed about the future. During an ISPA Virtual Town Hall last year, Colin McIlheney with our research partners PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) talked about the resiliency of the spa industry – noting that despite the expected drops in overall spa revenue during 2020, revenue per visit fell only two percent. His view — which we have seen evidence of both anecdotally and in the ISPA Snapshot Surveys we’ve conducted since — is that demand for spa services will remain high, and that once occupancy restrictions and other limitations ease, business will return in a big way.

A stronger focus on health and well-being represents a tremendous opportunity for spas to bring the benefits of their treatments to a growing portion of the population. I’m confident that spa will increasingly be seen as a more regular part of folks’ wellness routines rather than something they only enjoy on special occasions or as a once-in-a-while treat. Those of us in the industry know it can be so much more than that!

What do you think it takes to succeed in this industry at this point in time?

The past couple of years have taken something we already knew and made it clearer than ever: being flexible and being a strong communicator are indispensable qualities for any spa leader. Our industry seems to be evolving more quickly than ever and being open to those changes without losing sight of the core of spa — the guest experience — will be so important as we move forward. Successful spa leaders will pay close attention to the needs of their teams and their guests, listen well, and communicate clearly to create an atmosphere that puts everyone (including themselves) in the position to be at their best.

In addition to those leadership staples, a collaborative attitude is key. The pandemic has shown us just how tightly knit the spa industry is and what we can achieve when passionate, like-minded professionals embrace their peers as partners rather than viewing them solely as competition. Over the past two years, we’ve seen so many creative and inspiring examples of spas and brands working together to face challenges that seemed to multiply by the day. When we say that the industry is “stronger together,” it’s not just a conference tagline, it is a proven fact that we are stronger when we have all hands on the rope.

Are there any trends or developments you’re excited about?

Anyone who knows me knows that “trends” isn’t my favorite word, but there’s no doubt that a few recent industry developments are continuing to gain momentum.

So much of what was typical about the spa experience has been reconsidered during the pandemic, and there is no better example of that than the ways in which technology has allowed for an increasingly low-friction guest experience. The use of technology in spa will continue to evolve to both meet the changing expectations of the consumer and allow leaders to re-evaluate job descriptions within the spa workplace so that the skills of front desk staff and other employees might be put to more effective use. At many spas, guests can use apps or online platforms to manage their appointments, the check-in process and payment through a mobile device, all without requiring an employee’s assistance.

There are also a lot of interesting conversations happening around innovative pricing structures. Yield management practices such as the use of dynamic pricing and dynamic availability give spas the opportunity to maximize profits during peak times as well as those “shoulder” hours that can be difficult to fill. Spa management software allows leaders to seamlessly adjust their offerings and pricing based on demand, which not only improves the bottom line, but allows spa staff and resources to be used more effectively elsewhere.

What are the biggest challenges the industry will face? 

The ever growing global staffing crisis is a critical challenge and we are excited to see the movement around license mobility being driven by the Council of State Governments. That will be a game changer. Watch the ISPA Town Hall on our YouTube channel to learn more. 

In addition, continuing to reinvent the spa experience and ensuring that we stay mindful of changing consumer preferences. Staying nimble and listening to their consumer’s ever-changing needs is one thing the spa industry does remarkably well.

What can be done to solve the staffing problem in the industry?

We will continue to tackle the staffing crisis and evolve as an industry. This is not a new problem; staffing challenges have been one of the most pressing spa industry issues since well before the pandemic, and the last two years certainly haven’t improved the situation. For example, 53 percent of respondents to a recent ISPA member survey said that finding qualified massage therapists was “significantly more difficult” than prior to the pandemic.

That said, we’re seeing proactive approaches from many spas, including becoming more involved at career fairs, sharing spa career information at high schools and adopting tuition reimbursement programs to help employees elevate themselves within their spas. Our industry contains so many opportunities to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and it’s up to all of us to spread that message far and wide, while also working to keep great spa professionals in the industry by investing in them and their goals.

Any news to share about ISPA in the coming year?

We are so excited to reunite with the ISPA family at the 2022 ISPA Conference this May in Las Vegas. It’s been more than two years since we’ve been able to hold an in-person event, and we are thrilled to share some incredible speakers, educational opportunities, and networking possibilities with attendees. Just being in each other’s presence again is going to be so special.

Research is also a heavy focus in 2022. In addition to our annual ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study, we’re also planning to conduct multiple rounds of consumer research, all with our long-time partners at PwC, to provide members with the kinds of relevant, real-time data they can use to continue their businesses’ recovery going forward.

Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at book4time.com

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