Luxury industry outlook: Spas – an expert insight

Annika Jackson, CEO of Raison d’Etre Spas, a sector leader in luxury, has shared exclusively with CPP-LUXURY.COM her expert insight into the future of luxury Spas

Many luxury sectors have been facing turbulent market conditions worldwide in the past 3 years. How do you see the evolution of the luxury Spa sector in general?

We like to think at Raison d’Etre, and I have always believed, that spa is not a luxury, but a necessity for well being. What we see now is that more than ever the luxury spa market is including and integrating true wellness services globally. This is a definite opportunity for growth. Spa is a ‘must have’ at all top resorts and hotels while a deeper level of wellness is being offered at high end destinations for guests who wish to explore health, fitness and healing on a higher level.  

Which do you consider nowadays as the most feasible business / operations model for a luxury hotel Spa? What about luxury stand-alone Spas?

I would say this depends very much on the particular conditions where we plan to operate. The single most important factor to consider is your client base and where your guests come from. We always start a project with an in-depth market and feasibility study to understand our core business. We look very carefully at the guest mix as well as the matrix of sleeping rooms to treatments rooms and what type of spa will be successful in that location. 

In smaller more exclusive projects there may be a reason to build and plan your operation around hotel and or resort guests only. But in most places we see a mix of hotel/resort guests, private luxury residences services often combined with some membership and local day spa guests. 

For a luxury stand-alone spa, we always undertake a market and feasibility study. A stand-alone will often do well with a “brand name” carrying a bit of the initial opening to the market and to drive the business. And these days a combination of a “fitness or wellness celebrity” or/and luxury spa product names and services helps drive awareness and consumer interest.  

 At Raison d’Etre, our absolute winning formula is to never forget that the number one revenue producing spa service is and will always be classic Swedish massage. Therefore we have specialised trainers and this team is led by Isabella dos Santos who has been our training director for ten years. I do not think many spa consultancy or spa management companies train in massage. Since this represents over 80 percent of the revenues in pretty much any spa, we pride ourselves of taking this aspect of the business seriously.

How do you see the integration of medical features into resort destination Spas?

This is something that has been done for quite some time, but in most cases it has not been a financially successful set up with much credibility. Since traditional spa services today are being integrated with wellness, preventative and alternative medicine we do see this segment growing and gaining more traction. Raison d’Etre believes this is the ultimate pathway for people most interested in their well-being. 

We have recently been contacted by three government officials from three different countries that are interested in setting up wellness clinics for their people. Each would combine traditional spas with dedicated services to improve overall health and well being through preventative education. This is very exciting for Raison d’Etre as we love to cross market, educate and help spread awareness. If you look at the two great reports this year presented at the Global Spa and Wellness Summit, this falls right in line with what we are seeing. I do think however that all destination spas should not have to or feel they have to add medical just “because”. I think as a spa you need to know who you are serving, what the guest wants and needs – you cannot be all things to all people.

What is your view of branded Spas versus multi-brand?

Often what we see is that a spa brand, just like hotels or resorts, will do a fantastic job setting up and gaining recognition for the first and often second location. However as the brand grows, it frequently is not as simple as in the first location(s) to find talented staff or equally fantastic locations. As a result the new locations become a bit of a let down. However with day spas we have seen quite a few doing a great job delivering high levels of service and consistency. Often a hotel allocates a large budget to develop a spa brand but in the end even though the spa may be fantastic, the end user will call it “the Spa at x hotel or resort”.  If you have something truly unique, something your company is really committed to for the long term, then it is worth the investment and effort in creating and nurturing the brand. This is especially true if you are planning to expand the spa globally – perhaps independently of the hotel or resort where it first originates. 


You joined Raison d’Etre recently. Tell us more above what drove you to the company and how do you see its evolution in the next 3 to 5 years?

This is one of my favorite stories as I think it was “meant to be”. I first met Anna Bjurstam, our founding president, in 2007 at the first annual Global Spa and Wellness Summit. I was invited to speak at one of the panels and I noticed Anna’s name as one of the founding board members of the GSWS. Of course being a Swede I recognised she must be too and I saw the impressive portfolio that Raison d’Etre had and made an effort to meet her. We discovered we had many things in common. For example we were both first-time mothers with one-year-old boys and she operated Raison d’Etre right outside Stockholm in Täby which happens to be where I was raised. Oddly enough my sister-in-law grew up next door to her husband and he and I went to all the same schools from first grade through high school. 

We kept in touch and finally made true to our promise to get together in the summer for a coffee (as Swedes do) and a kids play date in 2012. As time passed we both now had daughters one year apart. It just so happened that I had left my position as vice president and managing director at Enchantment Group in Scottsdale, Arizona and Enchantment Resort and Mii Amo Destination Spa in Sedona about a month prior and was returning to Sweden. I wanted to spend more time with my children and was looking to find a new opportunity that would allow this to happen. Simultaneously, Anna was presented with a few opportunities that ultimately evolved into me joining Raison d’Etre. I am thrilled to be part of Raison d’Etre not only because I admire the work the team has done over the years, but also because of Anna’s amazing accomplishments.  So many positive things have happened such as our online training programmes to the development of our very own LivNordic spa brand. 

I am particularly passionate about LivNordic. I recall first reading about the launch in 2011 and found the positioning, approach and execution very intriguing. … And I thought to myself I would love to be a part of that! It’s such a unique concept dedicated to Nordic wellness, Scandinavian design, health, Nordic fitness, nutrition, beauty, experience, products and bathing.  

All of this combined with the fact that I am now living close to my family and my children get to grow up in Sweden.  I am living my dream and get to work in a business that I love and in particular get to share our Scandinavian healthy culture with the world through LivNordic. It’s a great “reason for being”.

In the next three to five years you will see Raison d’Etre continue to grow as a company with new affiliations and new team members. We are perfectly positioned with both solid senior Raison d’Etre spa professionals combined with newer talent who are still very experienced, but able to offer fresh ideas and ways of working to evolve and strengthen the brand.  We will continue to grow in the area of education through our Spa Management On-Line Programmed. The Internet based courses in spa management and finance are taken by spa professionals all over the world and we find working with these students incredibly rewarding and inspiring. As a matter of fact the woman who serves as our course manager, Josefin, finds it so much fun she almost refuses to let anyone else on the team cover her work when she goes on vacation. 

Our flagship LivNordic Spa at the Grand Hotel has become very popular in Stockholm. And as I mentioned already our LivNordic brand will open several more locations over the next few years, With that comes our very high quality and natural body and skin care line, beautifully supported by our signature LivNordic services. We are also working with some really fun and amazing smaller boutique properties developing their exclusive spas.

I look forward to contributing in such a way that we at Raison d’Etre continue to be the best at what we do. Since I come with a “view from the opposite side” that being as an operator and owner representative in my past career, I bring a different viewpoint which allows Raison d’Etre to provide clients which a deeper level of understanding of their needs and delivering at a much higher level. 

Raison d’Etre has been creating award-winning Spas. Which are your current projects?

At the end of last year our team opened the Alpine Spa at the InterContinental Davos, which is really a fantastic property and beautiful spa space, this week hosting the World Economic Forum. At the same time another opening team was on site at the W hotel opening the Away Spa in Verbier, also in Switzerland. A very fun and happening ski resort, the spa features a new signature skiers massage (Skiers Leg Pump) created by our own Isabella dos Santos. Speaking of the Away Spa brand we are also on the team creating the new Away Spa at Amman’s Hotel and Tower in Jordan opening later this year. 

We also started working last year with DRH (Destination Resorts and Hotels, Malaysia), the strategic owner, investor and developer of world-class resort destinations to create a global spa brand where their flagship property The Datai Langkawi was the inspiration. The Datai is located in Langkawi Island, a magical island located at the northern tip of Malaysia that is a tribute to nature; surrounded with ancient rainforests and lush tropical foliage, cascading down to the white sandy beach that lines the magnificent Andaman Sea. And our mission is to create a spa that truly illustrates the unique luxury setting of The Datai, delivered at the highest level of Malaysian hospitality. We are currently working with them on the new spa concept for The Datai Langkawi, as well as some of their other premier destinations such as Desaru Coast where we are designing two spas, one will be the first extension of The Datai Spa and the other will be a new resort and spa brand.

We have a lot of other projects and initiatives in the works that I am unfortunately not able to mention. We feel this is a very exciting time for Raison d’Etre. Our team is a very gifted and eclectic group of leaders with so much rich talent in every area. I am really so honoured to have found my spot with them and we also all share the same commitment to people and the health of the planet. We also have many management agreements underway which is a lot of fun for us because we get to continue to work with our clients and the staff we trained at opening so we are expanding that division as well this year.   

 We, like our sister company, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas are owned by New York-based investor group, Pegasus. This American group really stands behind its wellness and sustainability commitment and we are delighted that there really is no end to the possibilities. One of our core values and mission is to “Light Lights” and that goes for our team, our families, our partners and colleagues in the industry, hence why we love to learn and share this work.

 Without using the Swedish humble part of my personality and more my American … I must also mention that our next LivNordic open in Oman next year and this brand will see many awards, at least if you ask our team!