Ship shape spas

Eight months after opening and business appears to be plain sailing for Michael Clarke, director, spa & wellness centre, Four Seasons Hotel Doha. He talks to Leisure Manager about spa promotions and membership deals

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By  Sarah Campbell Published  April 3, 2006

|~|Michael-Clarke-L.jpg|~|People have been pouring in to the spa, says Clarke.|~|It is little wonder that the spa at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha has strong ties to the water with Michael Clarke at the helm. Clarke joined the Doha property after twelve months aboard the Four Seasons Explorer, a 39m catamaran that forms part of the Four Seasons Resort Maldives. As cruise director he was responsible for all operational aspects of the craft. His love of all things aquatic has been transferred to the spa and wellness centre at the Four Seasons Hotel Doha, which boasts a hydrotherapy centre offering hot and cold plunge pools, a Kniepp bath, Swiss showers, ice room and a gym overlooking the Arabian Gulf. For someone who began his career in aquatic leisure management in Wellington, New Zealand, the Doha spa seems a perfect fit, and Clarke appears to be enjoying life on dry land. “In the Maldives, it was great to spend time with the guests. You are with them on the boat for a whole week so you get to know the guests quite well. Here, it is a membership base and we have a lot of repeat daily Doha guests, so you still get to know them well. We also get a lot of repeat guests coming to the hotel on business,” Clarke says. Local residents form the mainstay of the spa’s business, which consists of 40% day use clients, 40% hotel guests and 20% members. Spanning three storeys, the centre offers an integrated range of spa, wellness and beauty treatments based around the 5000-year-old tradition of Chinese medicine. The elements of water, fire, earth, metal and wood can all be found in the spa’s interior design. In addition to the water features and gym, the centre includes Roman-style laconium beds, saunas, a colour therapy room and eleven treatment rooms, including two private suites for couples. Treatments are supplied by Sodashi, which offers 100% natural, pure and unrefined therapies. The Sodashi products are free of chemical, mineral oil, synthetic fragrances or animal products, and the Four Seasons ships them in direct from Australia, as there is no regional distributor. It is easily the largest spa facility in Doha, and in addition to a strong local following, appears to dovetail easily with the 232-room hotel. “The hotel gets a lot of groups business, with guests here to attend a conference. They are out all day, so we don’t typically see them a lot, but they do use the gym or the hydro pool. We are also picking up leisure guests coming here on holiday with European tour operators,” Clarke explains. “We are looking for ways to attract business people into the spa. With larger groups, the conference service people from the hotel let them know about what we offer. We are also going to put an extensive menu in the rooms.” While the hotel provides a regular turnaround of guests, the local market is most definitely providing the spa’s bread and butter, and has been very well received by the market. “It has been very successful. Typically, when you open a spa it takes a while for the market to get to know and see the place. However, just as the hotel started with a roar, it has been the same with the spa, with people pouring in. In fact, we are now looking at increasing the staff because we have a waiting list for treatments and memberships,” Clarke says. “When we opened, our offering was different to the market, because it was an international spa and was big, with lots of facilities and no ladies only times. For publicity, we had in a lot of press for tours, and had lots of people coming in for tours. The market was excited, and word of mouth in Doha works very quickly,” he adds. The spa currently employs 24 staff, but Clarke is now looking to increase that to 30, and is also looking to add to his treatment menu and feature a host of value add-ons for members. “I want to add more rituals and more male treatments, such as facials and back, neck and shoulder massages. We are getting more male spa members, so we are looking for a masculine set menu,” Clarke says. “We are in discussions with other Four Seasons spas to exchange spa therapy specialists, such as Ayurvedic therapists, to come for a week on task force for a promotion. It is good for the regular users to see different treatments and is good training and exposure for the therapists.” The visiting therapists will be promoted much the same as if a visiting specialist chef was to visit the hotel on a food promotion. Clarke intends to carry out internal promotion in the hotel, as well as direct marketing to the spa’s 150 members. In addition, Clarke is also looking to capitalise on gym time, and is looking to bring in specialist trainers, instructors and nutritionists over the year. At present, the spa has 150 active memberships, which equates to around 220 people. A one-year membership entitles members to a 15% discount on treatments, use of all gym facilities, and annual health assessment and individual training programme, five personal training sessions, complementary use of the beach area and kid’s club access, and complementary laundry service for gym kit. Members receive a gym bag on signing up, and can choose to leave their sweaty clothes behind after a workout to be laundered by the hotel in time for their next visit. It is a service that has proved very popular with regular users. Clarke is confident that it is this level of service that will set his spa apart from the future influx of wellness facilities set to open in Doha over the next couple of years. A total of 47 hotels are to open in the city, and a number of them will offer spa and wellness services. “There is going to be a lot of competition coming up, and a lot of the new spas will be elaborate. Al Sharq resort will have a Six Senses spa. Shangri-La, Hilton and Kempinski will all have good spas. We will focus on the repeat guests, so that they will be less likely to change when something else comes up,” he says. Even with the current competition, Clarke is bullish: “Our main competition is The Ritz-Carlton, which opened four years ago. Their spa is not on the same scale; it is in a corner of the hotel. Ours is a purpose built spa facility separate from the hotel. “Most people are surprised to see our world class spa. Doha is still so young in tourism and there is still a lot to do. The country has to invest in tourism.” Clarke may have to navigate the Four Seasons spa through tough competition, but if the opening eight months are anything to go by, Clarke and his team will be sailing off into the sunset of spa success.||**||

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