How Spas will Change when they Reopen

Laura Gobbo, owner of Fruition Skin Therapy was recently interviewed by The Kit about spas reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Article written by Katherine Lalancette

Raise your hand if you miss massages

Don’t touch your face. The command has been ingrained in us since the start of the pandemic, deemed a key way to prevent catching the virus. So would you feel comfortable paying a stranger to touch your face for an hour?

“It’s kind of a mind melt,” admits Laura Gobbo, owner of Fruition Skin Therapy in Vancouver. “They don’t want you going out and hugging your mom and dad, but it’s okay for us to open up and start touching people. It’s weird.”  

After being closed for more than two months, Fruition was finally allowed to reopen Monday. “It was nerve-wracking,” says the owner. “It’s very different, for sure.”

Gobbo spent her time in isolation gearing up for this next phase, taking webinars through Dermalogica and looking into safety measures. She had Plexiglass put up around the reception desk and purchased PPE for her staff. Clients can’t keep their mask on while getting a facial, of course, so skin therapists now wear a face shield as well as a mask. “That way we’ve got double protection. It’s kind of all we can do.” 

“They don’t want you going out and hugging your mom and dad, but it’s okay for [spas] to open up and start touching people. It’s weird.”  

Staff won’t be wearing gloves for every treatment but will have them available should clients prefer they do. “Gloves aren’t really protecting anyone unless you’re disinfecting them,” explains Andrea Dunham, director of spa operations at the Miraj Hammam Spa, located in Toronto’s Shangri-la Hotel. “In terms of actual effectiveness, hand hygiene and washing is probably the best way to go.”

Spas have yet to get the go-ahead in Toronto, but Dunham is hard at work preparing for when they do. Among the changes planned, some services like couples massages will be put on hold as it wouldn’t be safe to have four people in one room. High-touch items like magazines and shared toiletries will also be nixed. Instead, individual pouches of cleanser and body lotion will be placed in lockers, with only every third one being used. Clients will kindly be asked to spend no more than 30 minutes in the lounge to avoid crowding. The customary tea and baklava served after treatments will likely be replaced with a bottle of water and individually wrapped refreshments. “We’re very conscious about our waste and normally wouldn’t have disposable items, but those are the types of things that will have to be implemented until this passes,” says Dunham.

The Miraj Hammam, like many spas, will be also be streamlining its decor to reduce the number of surfaces that can be touched. Decorative elements like the embroidered silk saddles on top of treatment beds will be eliminated, with linens now kept to a minimum. 

“A more minimalistic design ethic will prevail with unnecessary details removed from shared spaces, like throws, cushions and refreshment stations,” says Helen Brown, area wellness director of Auberge Resorts Collection in California. “This will be replaced with more personalized attention to set up an individual relaxation space before each service.”

Indeed, spas will be devoting more time to the cleaning and preparation of treatment rooms between appointments. Exhaustive checklists will be drawn up, detailing every last surface that needs to be disinfected, right down to light switches and temperature control buttons. 

“Hopefully we can still keep some relaxation without clients feeling like Daft Punk is doing their treatment.”

“Right now, we’re booking an extra 15 minutes after every client in order to do that extra cleaning,” says Gobbo. “That definitely isn’t ideal because you’re losing three, fours hours a day just to clean.”

Because of social distancing measures, spas won’t be able to operate at full capacity, so having to spend more time cleaning between clients means they can fit even fewer people in a day. That in turn hurts the bottom line.

“It has been a challenge, financially,” says Gobbo. “We already have high overhead in the spa industry, so having to all of a sudden invest in PPE is tough. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and people think that the government threw us money. They didn’t. They lent us money if we needed it. It has to be paid back. There’s no free ride here.”

Apart from the cost of face masks and shields, which has substantially shot up in recent weeks, owners are also concerned about the impact such equipment will have on the spa experience. “Hopefully we can still keep some relaxation without clients feeling like Daft Punk is doing their treatment,” jokes Gobbo. 

Looking at the silver lining, Brown anticipates having a lower volume of clients will make for an overall more tranquil atmosphere. “Each guest will in fact benefit from an increased amount of individual attention and personalized service and an even more serene environment,” she says.

With the stress brought on by the current situation, attention and serenity sound like two things a lot of us could use right now. “I think people are ready to indulge,” agrees Dunham. “With everyone being restless at this point and travel being restricted, people are going to want to do these types of things and feel pampered again.” 

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