Seamless change

Spa operations need to appear smooth and seamless, so changing spa director can be a difficult time. However, The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa appears to have massaged out any knots. Leisure Manager caught up with outgoing spa director, Kate Sim, and resort manager, Kiki Jensen, who steps up to the frame this month

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  January 5, 2006

|~|Kiki-Jensen-L.jpg|~|Commercial gym chains could bring competition for The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain according to Jensen.|~|Kate Sim joined The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa when it reflagged from Le Royal Meridien Bahrain in January 2003. She had already worked for Ritz-Carlton in Singapore and Egypt, so returning to the brand felt like coming home. With over 15 years of experience in the spa industry, the hotel chain naturally felt Sim was right for the job.

Now, after three years at the helm, Sim is moving on to pastures new, taking time out to explore France and learn the language.

Stepping into her shoes, or soft-soled flip-flops, is resort manager, Kiki Jensen, who joined The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa from Hong Kong 16 months ago. Jensen appears quietly confident about the task ahead of him, and has ambitious plans to diversify the product, and develop a dedicated male spa area. But before he does, Sim has been able to impart some sound advice on the changes she made when she inherited the spa three years ago.

“The first element I looked at was to make the staff feel at home,” Sim says. “I looked at ways to strengthen the team first, and then looked at shaping up the product; the room layout, décor, treatment experience and service levels.

“When I started, the spa offered 88 different treatments. It was far too many. Now, we offer a more comprehensive menu, with 30 treatments, including five packages. It is better to focus on the bread and butter,” she remarks.
This change in focus certainly paid off. The spa recorded a 40% increase in revenue in 2003 and the same again in 2004. For 2005, levels remained steady, but according to Sim an annual increase of 20% should be achieved in the years ahead, in keeping with industry averages.

“In 2005, we broke even. It is important to maximise yield, but not to penalise customers by rising prices,” she says.

Along with an increase in revenue, the spa has also recorded a constant stream of regular clients and members. At present, local clients represent 80% of all business, and the total leisure complex, including spa, gym, swimming pools and beach facilities, numbers 1500 private memberships. As many of these are family memberships, this totals over 5000 people using the facilities on a regular basis from the local community.

“It’s about managing space and availability with hotel occupancy,” says Sim. “Our members book in advance, so our guest capture ratio is only 20%.”

Business is certainly good, and even though the hotel capture rate is low, Jensen has ambitious plans to bring the business-orientated hotel and the leisure facilities together.
“The moment a guest walks into the hotel, they should feel the resort and spa as well,” Jensen says. “After all, everyone wants to work and play.”

He has ambitious plans for the hotel’s leisure facilities. Top of the list is the creation of a dedicated male spa. Land has already been allocated to the side of the resort, and Jensen is busy working out the final plans.

“It will be a masculine area,” he explains, “with lots of marble. A lot of men refrain from going into feminine-looking areas. We already have the hammam, so that will stay. It will really be a male wash house, extended out to masculine resort-type treatments rooms. We are looking at offering a Turkish scrub, shaving and facial treatments. With the culture in this part of the world, men really embrace the spa idea.”

As resort manager, Jensen has been involved in the development of the leisure and gym facilities. With such a large number of paying members, gym facilities in particular, have already been updated, and the property boasts some of the latest fitness equipment from Technogym and LifeFitness.
“Because of the memberships we are able to purchase more expensive equipment, so the hotel guests benefit,” he says.

“The decision to go with Technogym and LifeFitness was based on customer and employee feedback. All equipment nowadays should have in-built televisions on the machine itself, not on the wall, [we offer that].”

Bahrain is Jensen’s first experience of working in the Middle East, and so far he is enjoying the change. “It is dramatically different [from Hong Kong]. But also, there is so much development and a lot of positive energy in business. It’s booming,” he says.

This increase in business has Jensen keeping a steady eye on potential competition. The Al Areen Desert Resort & Spa is currently under development in Bahrain, and will offer a Banyan Tree destination spa when opened. However, Jensen believes this will only have a positive impact on his business.
“It’s a destination spa, so the facility does not allow them to have too many members. If you book for a spa holiday then the idea of not getting a spa booking is not an option, so it will work well for The Ritz-Carlton,” he says.

Other competition Jensen predicts may enter the market is that of international commercial gym chains, such as Fitness One. “They are going to move into the Middle East because there is so much demand now for fitness and leisure here. This means hotels will have to raise standards and competition will heat up,” he says.

However, with expansion plans already on the drawing board, and a second Ritz-Carlton for Bahrain in the offing, Jensen remains confident that the facilities his complex will offer will lead the market.

“I am very excited about developing a new leisure complex at our property; one that could become the leading leisure destination in the Middle East,” Jensen boasts.

“A second Ritz-Carlton would also offer a destination spa, villas and leisure facilities, and we would complement each other, with an opportunity for guests to enjoy both properties’ services and amenities,” he adds.

Jensen is certainly looking forward to the future, and as Sim hands over the keys, she seems confident that this mammoth task can still remain a one-person job. “The size of the spa is good for a one-person leadership. You can kind of wrap your arms around it,” she maintains.

Jensen may need to work on his stretching exercises if he is to wrap the spa and all its future expansion into his arms, although as a fitness instructor he is already working on warming up to the new challenge. “Kate has done a lot of training, so the key is to first maintain things as they are, and then look to the expansion,” he wisely says.||**||

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