A Closer Look at the Status of Spas Across Asia
The new normal, at least for now.
Government-enforced temporary closures, social distancing, PPE requirements and re-training have taken a huge toll on the US$4.5 trillion global wellness economy. Ironically, the industry best placed to boost immune systems and healing while calming stress is itself under incredible amounts of pressure, while being restricted in its ability to help its customers.
Across Asia, countries are managing and recovering at different rates. While travel bubbles are still mostly in the planning stage, businesses must rely on domestic tourism and local customers to keep afloat during constantly changing and uncertain times. Here’s a look at where things currently stand across the region.
At the time of writing Hong Kong is in its “third wave” of Covid-19 infections. Despite multiple closures and re-openings for the city’s spas so far, according to Charlotte Chen, global wellness manager at Rosewood, many spas enjoyed busy months of June as Hongkongers took advantage of staycations and spa promotions.
When spas were operating, while steam and sauna facilities were mostly closed, social distancing was being practiced with appointments scheduled to facilitate plenty of time between guests and PPE including face masks and depending on the spa, some using facial shields and gloves. Chen reports a one-hour turnover time between each guest to ensure proper disinfecting and sanitising at Asaya at Rosewood Hong Kong.
“There wasn’t any feeling of worry for therapists or guests here in Hong Kong,” she says. “We are all wearing masks and many of us have been through this before with SARS, so we have experience.”
Following two months of closure, Singapore’s spas and beauty salons reopened on June 19. “Business was good for the first two weeks or so as no one had been able to visit a spa or salon for two and a half months, but then things quietened down as people are more cautious about their spending at the moment,” says Edward Wong, president of Spa & Wellness Association Singapore (SWAS).
“The government has come up with a national programme of safety recommendations called SG Clean,” he adds. “All salons and spas are following them, with spa and salon managers appointed to manage the safety of each business. The bigger spas will have their own protocols too.”
The current normal involves appointments made in advance and, on arrival, mandatory face masks, temperature checks, hand sanitising and an app scan to register for potential tracing purposes. Social distancing inside the spa keeps guests apart, steam and sauna facilities are currently closed and guests must keep masks on for all treatments other than facials. Staff wear masks, while facial shields and gloves are not mandatory.
“Things here are still very slow as everyone depends on tourism,” says Alexandra Sutopo, an independent consultant and president of the Bali Spa & Wellness Association (BSWA). “There are only a few guests at some hotels and most spas remain closed, depending on demand. Some villas are open and accepting guests for staycations for refreshing getaways following the three- to four-month lockdown.”
BSWA recommends their members offer limited menus focusing on massages while minimising close contact face-to-face treatments, including facials. There are no steam, sauna or body scrubs and when wet facilities and treatments open the number of guests will be limited, with strict protocols in place.
The minimum PPE for therapists is a face mask, with shields and gloves only applicable for some treatments, such as facials when they are on the menu. “I believe places known for their wellness offerings like Ubud and those known for their space and tranquillity like Jimbaran will be the first to bounce back,” Sutopo reports.
Gradually opening through a government-decreed series of phases, Thailand’s spas are now in Phase 5, meaning they are allowed to offer steam and sauna but no facials, says Phattiraporn Khiewsanun, managing director of Milk Line Co and a board member of the Asia Pacific Spa & Wellness Coalition (APSWC).
Spas need to complete a health self-assessment online. Once they pass and an inspector has visited, they will receive a certificate allowing them to operate, Khiewsanun says. Meanwhile, travel between provinces recently opened up, the government supporting domestic tourism with apps to scan for discounts on hotel and resort stays.
Guests must book in advance for treatments, of a maximum of two hours, and are screened and their temperature checked on arrival with social distancing in place inside. Staff must wear face masks and facial shields during treatments, plus, as in most cases across the region, must wash their hands visibly before and after the treatment.
The collaboration between Malaysian Association of Wellness & Spa (MAWSPA) and Association of Malaysian Spas (AMSPA) created the MAWSPA-AMSPA Covid-19 Special Task Force, which developed an SOP manual for the government to share throughout the country. The result? The successful Safe to Spa campaign, with their efforts rewarded with spas opening on July 1.
Spa directors, supervisors and managers first receive the Safe to Spa training and pass it on to their respective teams. Once certified and audited, the spa is awarded compliance.
Inside, therapists are obligated to wear face masks, facial shields and gloves. Limited guest numbers, depending on the size of the spa, must book in advance for treatments lasting a maximum of one hour. Body and foot massages, plus facials are on the menus, but not steam, sauna, baths and Jacuzzis. Guests will have their temperature checked, hands sanitised and be shown straight into treatment rooms, with no mingling in reception. Post-treatment payments are contactless.
Mid-February, the government asked spas to close, allowing re-openings at the end of April. “Many small spas cannot survive,” says Khuong Anh Van, who owns multiple spas across Vietnam. “Customers have returned only very slowly. As the running costs are high for spa businesses I fear many in Vietnam will have to close permanently.”
For now, surviving spas are seeing an average of 70% of their normal business, with local customers slowly returning. “However, as customers’ incomes are also affected by the pandemic, they are carefully considering before they spend,” he says, adding that while many spas are trying to upgrade their services in order to attract custom, home spa service businesses have started operating and while not yet a major trend, could take off in the future.
Staff inside spas are wearing face masks, keeping social distance and serving welcome drinks that focus on herbs that help to boost the immune system. The success of the management of the pandemic in Vietnam means spa services are running as per their usual facilities and menus, including of course enhanced hygiene and sanitisation.
“Keeping the customers feeling safe is very important,” Khuong says. “If you come into our spa with a worried mind you cannot relax.”
Northern cities such as Beijing and Ningbo haven’t fared so well, with restrictions remaining strictly enforced, says Johnny Chang, founder of Spa Solutions Training & Management Consultancy, China. “We are so lucky here in Shanghai where spas are open,” he says, “and almost 60% of our clients have come back so far.”
Shanghainese must register every day with a QR code as they move around the city, which can trace where they have been and with whom they have been in contact over the last 14 days. Therefore, all staff and guests arriving at a hotel or spa must show their green code to enter, have their temperature checked, use hand sanitiser, and are advised to wear masks.
Treatments in Shanghai are all up and running, with limited numbers of guests allowed in the steam and sauna. During treatments the therapist will make sure the guest is aware they are washing their hands and using sanitiser.
In Taiwan, Shenyn Wang, CEO of Orient Retreat Group, reports that spas are open, walk-ins are welcome, but spa-goers must have their temperature checked, ID registered and travel history taken as they arrive.
Social distancing inside spas is still the norm, with some operating their steam and sauna facilities, others restricting use. Full spa menus are operational, and while some are adding immune boosting treatments, it’s not yet a big trend. Therapists will be wearing a face mask, and sometimes a shield, but the latter is not mandated by government.
“Business has reduced about 10% to 30% for spas as there are no business or international travellers, but domestic travel is very good, meaning resort spas are gaining business while city and business hotels are suffering,” says Wang. “Minimal numbers of businesses have closed down and I’d say the industry is almost back to normal.”
Following special training pre-opening with each island’s hosts, the government carrying out inspections to certify them “Covid-safe”, the Maldives opened to international tourists on July 15.
“Some islands are testing guests on arrival and isolating them for 24 hours until results come through,” says a spa director based there, “and to open, all resorts must have an isolation villa for anyone with suspected cases to quarantine.”
Most spa treatments are allowed, with face masks mandatory for therapists, who add gloves for some non-massage treatments, while some also add face shields for facials. Guests must have their temperature checked, wear masks and sanitise their hands on arrival at the spa. Steam and sauna facilities are mostly remaining closed, a few infrared saunas opening for single or couple bookings with deep cleaning between sessions.
Bookings for August were reportedly high, as more resorts opened on August 1 and some waiting until September. The spa director recommends guests make their spa bookings prior to arrival to be sure of their preferred treatments and treatment times.
This information was accurate at the time of writing. But as the Covid-19 situation is still developing in Asia and around the world, the conditions described in this article are subject to change without notice.