A number of day spas reopened in South Africa last week, with varying degrees of footfall through their doors.
Skin Sense Day Spa in Rivonia, Johannesburg, opened on 24 June. Says owner, Colette van Niekerk: “We had a reasonably good first good week and found that demand differs according to treatments. For instance, bookings for waxing and facials have been very good, but we’ve had a slow start for manis and pedis, as our clients don’t consider these essential treatments, although there has been demand for gel nails. It’s clear though that at the moment, clients’ biggest concerns are to rid themselves of body hair and to have treatments on their faces.
“Clients are still wary, though, of full body massage. Some of them are also a bit cautious as to the amount of traffic in the spa at any given time. We allocate 15 minutes between treatments for cleaning and disinfection and to change the paper sheets, etc. Each therapist has their own basin and sanitiser. As per Government regulations, our hydro facilities remain closed and we can’t offer beverages to clients.
“I’m not over-flooded with bookings this week but I believe that we’ve also been affected by the schools situation. Once more grades go back at school, I suspect we will get more bookings. Also, some of our clients didn’t have an income over lockdown so obviously they can’t afford to come in at the moment, but I’m sure this will change in a few weeks’ time.”
On the first day that Urban Bliss Wellness Spa in Emmarentia, Johannesburg, reopened, owner Ayesha Rajah received a booking for a bridal package. “This was a big surprise as I really didn’t expect to get a group booking until next year. I told them that I wasn’t allowed to offer food or beverages, so they brought their own. We put the guests on our pool deck, observing social distancing regulations. They had manis, pedis and back and neck massages. I’m not implementing full body massages yet as I want my therapists to be confident that they can perform an hour-long treatment without touching or removing their masks.”
Rajah notes that during lockdown, she didn’t stop marketing about safety and sanitisation in the spa. “A few days prior to opening, I boosted my social media posts to let everyone know that we had full PPE installed. I did intensive training in the new protocols with my staff for two weeks, where we had to do treatments on each other. This was to ensure that my three therapists would be fully confident and proficient in all the protocols. I really grilled them. Guests have to leave their shoes at reception and they are each given a new pair of slippers.”
Urban Bliss has five treatment rooms and Rajah is only booking a single client per room per day, to allow for deep cleansing of the rooms. “So I’m fully booked at the moment but that equates to five clients a day. When we open to full capacity, I realise that it will be difficult to be fully booked.”
According to Zjane Nel, manager of All Wellness Spa in Pretoria, the first week of business was quite busy, but with bookings for the second week much quieter.
“We have had a lot of enquiries for full body massages,” comments Nel. “I think this might be due to stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. There hasn’t been much demand for facials and waxes, with only slightly more requests for manis and pedis.
“Generally, clients have been quite relaxed about coming into the spa environment but we do get the odd client that is quite concerned about safety. So we have to reassure them that all the required strict protocols are in place, such as taking temperature readings, etc. We try to do each client’s treatments in a single area so they don’t have to move around the spa.”
Debbie Merdjan, CEO of the Camelot Spa Group, reports that she has only been able to open half of the spas in the group.
“The Camelot spas that remain closed are those that are situated within hotels. Our spa at the Pearls Mall in Umhlanga opened last week and did very well, so it looks like Durban is keen to get back to spa life. Cape Town has been slower but that’s not surprising, considering that the highest number of COVID-19 infections in South Africa are in that city.
“None of the hydro facilities in our spas are open yet, according to Government regulations. In the meantime, we’ve been doing a lot of American investigation into how heat, as in saunas and steam rooms, affects the coronavirus, and it’s believed that a temperature of over 40 degrees centigrade kills the virus.”
Spas attached to hotels and resorts, especially those geared towards the international travel market, find themselves in a difficult situation as they can only open once their hotels open.
Managers at some hotel spas in Cape Town note that there is still uncertainty in the hospitality sector, with many properties having only tentative reopening dates. Some business hotels have opened, as there is a limited amount of domestic business travel happening at the moment.
In the meantime, it’s clear that hotel spas have been busy implementing the new safety and hygiene protocols and providing the appropriate training for staff. While selling retail from spas is permitted, it’s only really an option if the target market is local clientele.
The manager of an upmarket Johannesburg hotel spa pointed out that it’s not viable for the spa itself to open until the entire property reopens.
Says the manager: “While we will obviously adhere strictly to Government’s regulations in terms of implementing all the new hygiene & safety protocols, I believe that they were done quite loosely, without any real understanding of how spas operate. For instance, I was reading the regulations for the Sports & Leisure sector and when they are given the go-ahead to reopen, they won’t be able to use steam rooms.
“We are positioned as a luxury spa, so a salon-only experience, without use of our hydro facilities, including the steam room, won’t be up to the standard that we pride ourselves on. Also, not being able to service spa guests with beverages is not ideal.” (Report by Joanna Sterkowicz)