A Hilton wellness program that aims to shake up the spa industry recently scored a big award, and in recognition of it, two wellness gurus sat down to discuss the curation of the program, its impact on the industry and the future of spas and wellness overall.
The program is the Hilton School of Wellness Spa Leader Onboarding Program, and Hilton’s spa and wellness team won the 2019 ISPA Innovate Award for it, an honor from the International Spa Association (ISPA). To mark the big win and share the importance of the transformative work that earned it, Melissa Walker, Hilton’s Senior Director of Global Wellness, and Lisa Starr, Principal of Wynne Business Spa Consulting and Education, shared insights about the program and industry alike.
The program is a unique training program within the spa industry, as it is designed to help Hilton spa team members bridge the gap between the skills they learn as service providers and the skills they need to effectively manage the business aspects of a spa. It provides aspiring leaders in Hilton spas with the practical training and tools they need to grow the business while also helping them progress to management.
The program was designed to attract new professionals to the spa industry as well as to propel and retain professionals. It is one of three winners honored in the Leadership & Philanthropy category of the ISPA Innovate Awards, a distinction that fellow ISPA members select to celebrate “creativity and commitment in an ever-changing market.”
Melissa Walker: Senior Director of Global Wellness
Lisa Starr: Principal of Wynne Business Spa Consulting and Education
What inspired the creation of this program?
- MW: When we spoke with spa leaders at our properties, we found that many mid-level managers had started as service providers. While they were skilled at providing treatments, they didn’t have access to the tools and training that would help them acclimate to the business side of running a spa. Hilton is committed to supporting team members at every stage of their careers and finding new ways to help them grow, so we wanted to find a way to bridge this gap.
- LS: Very few provider licensing or certification programs give their students any business training that would be practical for a management role. The program provides this necessary practical business training, helps aspiring spa leaders on the path to management roles and equips them for the situations they’ll encounter as their management careers evolve.
How has this training changed or evolved over time and what does this tell you about society’s expectations when it comes to wellness?
- MW: As we developed this program, we found several studies showing that society’s expectations for wellness offerings at hotels are continuously increasing. We put our guests at the center of every decision we make, so the Spa Onboarding Program is a result of listening to these expectations and considering how we incorporate all facets of wellness into their stay. The program itself is still very new, but we’re working on incorporating more financial-focused training to help leaders work more efficiently with their hotel finance teams that ultimately report back to property owners.
What aspects of the curriculum do you believe resulted in the success of the program?
- LS: We’ve created engaging content and paired it with a learning platform that’s easy to use. For example, we’ve added “tips and tricks” videos throughout the curriculum that provide tips from real property spas who saw positive change in their operations after small tweaks.
- MW: We’ve also incorporated interactivity and game-like aspects, such as a section where participants use a guessing “game” to practice how to best engage their spa team and increase guest satisfaction. These aspects help participants apply what they’re learning to real-world situations in a fun way.
What is the root of the program’s success?
- MW: One reason why the program is successful is because it helps our spa leaders understand, and feel more integrated into, the business of the entire property. They now have the tools to communicate and work more effectively with business leaders across different parts of the hotel, which helps foster a more hospitable place for both our team members and guests. The program also provides them with practical business skills like planning a budget, marketing strategies and reading a P&L — skills that are applicable to every industry and not just spas.
- LS: We’ve also seen success because of the program design and the platform it uses, which was created to fit today’s fast-paced lifestyle. The entire program is designed to provide flexibility for trainees to learn in the way that’s best for them — for example, learning modules can be completed across many different types of devices and are always available online if the leader wants to revisit them at any time.
How does the program set itself apart from others in the market?
- MW: There are plenty of spa training programs out there for individual service providers. There are also many traditional business training programs for people in finance-focused industries or who are already top-level managers. The Hilton program is one of the first that specifically addresses the gap in between the two to help mid-level management understand and navigate their business.
Where do you see the program going in the future?
- MW: The spa and wellness industry is growing faster than the supply of labor is. To address this shortage, our goal is to expand the program to multi-level training that benefits all team members and can help attract and retain new wellness professionals. Expanding the program would also reflect Hilton’s commitment to supporting employees at every stage in their careers — whether a spa veteran or a new hire.
Do you see this program’s success as a signal of change in the spa/wellness industry?
- MW: Wellness is no longer just an amenity for luxury properties — today’s travelers want to stay where wellness is woven into their entire visit. Hilton’s commitment to guest wellness throughout their entire stay is clear, from our Five Feet to Fitness™ in-room gyms and unique exercise classes at individual properties to our innovative Spa Leader Onboarding Program. Hilton’s investment in the time and resources required to create the Spa Leader Onboarding program is a reflection of this guest-centric focus, and having a well-trained management staff will enable properties to provide the superior wellness experiences that guests are increasingly expecting.
- LS: Wellness tourism is growing faster than the tourism sector overall — and even faster than the global GDP. The success of this program underscores Hilton’s attention to these trends and its focus on providing hospitality for guests in every way.