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SA spa professionals on state of the industry

The Spa at The Oyster Box (image sourced from oysterboxhotel.com)

For the first time in the history of the World Spa & Wellness Convention, three South African spa professionals were panel members in the same international session.

Jackie Armitage, spa manager at The Oyster Box in Durban, joined fellow South Africans, Julanda Marais (regional spa director at Jumeirah Group) and Kent Richards (corporate operations director at Six Senses), for an online session on 8 September, to discuss how the spa sectors in Africa and the Middle East are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The fourth panel member was Kerensa Langitan, group spa & wellness manager at Lux* Resorts & Hotels (Mauritius).

Organised by the Professional Beauty Group, the online World Spa & Wellness Convention was moderated by Jean-Guy de Gabriac (founder of World Wellness Weekend and Tip Touch International) and Mark Moloney (CEO, Professional Beauty Group). The three-day global event featured presentations from dozens of top spa and wellness professionals from all over the world.

During this particular conference session, Armitage noted that her spa had already been open for two months. She continued: “When we reopened, leisure travel wasn’t allowed due to lockdown restrictions, so we only catered to clients from Durban. Our main concern regarding staff was to do with safety. In coming back to work, everything changed – PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), sanitisation and hygiene. But my staff members were so eager to come back to work. We put them through a solid in-house training programme prior to reopening and they eased into the new way of doing things very smoothly because they are so professional. They found it reassuring that management had put protocols (some of which have changed since then) into place

“While certain guests did express concerns about safety, most of our regular clients were eager to come back. People really wanted their products and services, like pedicures for example, after four months of going without. Once domestic travel restrictions were lifted, more guests came back to the spa and they expected our hygiene standards to be high. We reassured guests prior to arrival that all safety measures were in place. It has been a slow process to get back to a fairly normal influx of guests, but it has allowed us to get used to all the new protocols.”

Six Senses’ Richards noted that the group operates spas in Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Dubai, Seychelles and Oman. He said: “Across the board, it was the unknown that was the biggest challenge for Six Senses. There were no best practices to refer to as no-one has ever experienced these pandemic circumstances before. We found that spa staff were so excited to get back to work, even if we could only bring back half the team. There was this strong desire to get back to normality.

“Many overseas guests haven’t come back yet so business has mostly been local visitors booking in for staycations. Our HR division implemented a ‘jumpstart’ campaign and it was a case of remaining connected with our hosts (i.e. Six Senses spa staff) from then on. We would hold weekly gatherings of all our hosts on Zoom. We had no cases of staff being fearful of coming back, rather they were keen to start earning a living again.”

Lux* Resorts & Hotels’ Langitan said the company kept all staff busy during lockdown with training through the corporate training department. “Because our border in Mauritius is still closed, the more challenging issue has been to get items and products onto the island, as there are not enough air shipments, etc. When it was time for us to reopen, we had to come up with all sorts of creative ideas to deal with the shortage of products and items that we need to provide spa services.”

Jumeirah’s Marais reported that her staff needed to have a lot of flexibility as she set up spas in alternate venues, such as villas and hotel suites, due to onerous lockdown restrictions. She continued: “So we had to start setting up from scratch and everyone had to think out of the box. But it worked well as guests felt safer and more private. I learnt that in this pandemic era, you really need a flexible mindset. When our hotels reopened, I got to work in the hotels in front office and guest relations, or wherever I could lend a hand. So I said to my spa staff – don’t think of yourself as only operating in your own little bubble. The segregation of duties is much less now than before the pandemic.”


Richards stated that Six Senses has always focused on high tech and high touch. “The lockdown allowed us to push the fast forward button on what we’ve been longing to get done from a digital perspective for a long time,” he stated. “We now have a Six Senses app, part of our integration with the IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) systems. The app is available in Portugal and Istanbul and will be spreading out soon. It helps guests know more about what is available. Essentially, the app allows the guest to connect before they get to the resort, so everything is really personalised. It gives us the opportunity to find out more about the guests before they arrive.”

In explaining how digital technologies help Lux* with retail, Langitan said that a platform connects the spa with other retail items from the group’s properties. “We also have the aroma indicators, for instance. Should hotel guests, or outside clients, wish to buy anything, they call the spa and we can deliver the products to them.” (Report by Joanna Sterkowicz)

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