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As online booking facilities become more common in the global spa industry, we look at why they may be an investment worth making



s the digital domain continues to play an increasingly important role in the day-to-day of both our personal and professional lives, the growing frequency of online booking systems is proving that the spa and wellness industry is no exception to this. It is a widely held belief in the sector that spas have been slower to pick up the online booking baton than many other fields. This is partly due to the complexity of developing online appointments software for the spa industry and partly due to the cost, real or perceived (available from 25 a month, online booking facilities can be more affordable than often believed) to the individual spa of bringing such software on board.

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Consumers now expect any business providing a service to offer online reservations

An attitude shift
This is now beginning to change, however, with research supporting the view that customers are coming to expect spas and salons to provide an online booking option. While we still lack reliable worldwide statistics on the percentage of spa appointments currently made online, studies confirm that the appetite for it exists. The Global Spa Survey 2011, published by market analyst and mystery shopping company Coyle Hospitality Group in April this year, shows that 51% of customers consider it important or very important for spas to have online booking. Canvassing consumers in 34 countries around the world, the report also reveals that 45% have booked a massage, 32% a facial and 26% a body treatment online.

ABOVE: A view of Bookers online appointments system

What were clearly seeing is the audience turning when it comes to online bookings and the market becoming more and more aware that this is a key area of opportunity, says Lopo Champalimaud, co-founder and chief executive of UK spa and salon website Wahanda, which offers directory, deals and online booking services. The site re-launched in August this year with a renewed focus on of customers consider real-time bookings. Daniel it important or very Clarke, marketing manager


at Premier Software Solutions, which has carried online booking software for the past two years, agrees that the industry is now more receptive to and interested in the online option. We have definitely seen an uptake. Spas are using it more and are more comfortable with it and we are getting people approaching us and asking questions about it to a greater extent than before, he says.

A complex field

BELOW: An example of Millennium Softwares online booking options

Insiders believe one reason spas and salons have been important for spas slower to adopt online bookings than fields such as the hotel or to have online restaurant business is the greater booking complexity of creating real-time online booking systems for this industry. The number of dimensions and factors that go into making an appointment in a spa or salon is substantially greater than for restaurants, says Champalimaud, drawing on experience from his past role as a board member of restaurant reservations website Livebookings. This point is
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BELOW: The Shortcuts Smart system

66 countries. Champalimaud views the online appointments direction in which the industry is currently moving as an inevitable development. There is absolutely no reason why this would be the only consumer vertical in the world that doesnt go online when every other area has done, he says.

Customer expectation
There are a number of key reasons for spas to consider investing in online booking, not least of which is customer of clients have reinforced by John McDonald, chief expectation. People are more booked a sales officer at spa software provider and more coming to expect Book 4 Time, which has offered realmassage to be able to book their time online booking capabilities since treatments online and indeed to online 2005 and now has more than 500 essentially be able to plan their customers in 25 countries. entire lives online, says Sarah Goodwin from the digital marketing team Scheduling a spa appointment requires matching at Champneys. Following customer three resources with a specific time; the technician demand, the health and spa resort group or therapist, the room or station and any equipment is re-launching its website to include an needed, such as steamers or hot stones. Making this online booking system, powered by spa a seamless process is more complicated and thus software provider Resort Suite, in took a little more time than for some other web January. booking channels, he says. The intricacy of developing online booking systems for spas and Reinforcing Goodwins view, McDonald salons not withstanding, this technology is now says that: Consumers now expect any available in the market and the industry is business providing a service to offer responding to a consumer base that is increasingly online reservations, adding that this is accustomed to being able to manage virtually every particularly true of the type of consumer aspect of their lives online. who likes to do things online, at their own I think spa owners started seeing the prevalence BELOW: The multi-platform Shortcuts booking system of online booking facilities in their own day-to-day lives, which made the benefit of having this ability in their spas more apparent its what really made the value known to them, says Molly Southern, marketing manager at spa and salon software supplier Booker. Previously known as Spa Booker, the company introduced its online booking software in 2007 and now caters for more than 6,000 customers in


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The greatest advantage of online bookings is that it allows spas to take appointments 24/7

convenience. And these are typically your high spenders. Providing spa-goers with the flexibility to book as and when they choose, without the restriction of making the appointment during operating hours, is one way to extend good customer service. What motivated our decision to include an online booking facility was to make booking a spa day or stay easier for our customers, allowing them to buy anywhere, anytime and at their leisure, explains Michael Stott, director at hotel and conference centre Whittlebury Hall in Northamptonshire, which launched a new online booking system in August this year. Another reason was, Stott adds, to maximise sales and revenue opportunities. Something the online booking tool can contribute to in a number of ways.

ABOVE: The new Champneys website, launching in January 2013

Revenue generation
The greatest advantage of introducing online booking is that it opens the spa up to be able to take appointments 24/7, says Tom BentleyTaylor, chief executive, UK & Ireland, at Shortcuts Software which supplies

online booking software to 2,000 clients around the world. The figures we get from spas and salons using our online booking software show that more often than not, bookings are made out of hours, explains Anna Moors, sales and marketing manager at spa and salon software provider Salon Genius, which has offered online booking systems for five years and now has thousands of of online bookings customers across 47 countries.


are made outside business hours

Bookers experience is much the same, with Southern commenting that: Statistics from our online platform show that 33% of bookings on our system are done when businesses are closed, so thats a very significant number. Bentley-Taylor quotes an even higher figure, stating that, in the experience of Shortcuts and its clients, 40% of online bookings are made out of spa opening hours. Another significant advantage of online bookings is that its employee resource-efficient, having the potential to reduce the amount of time staff spend taking bookings over the phone, in person or via email. Online bookings



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There is absolutely no reason why this would be the only consumer vertical in the world that doesnt go online when every other area has done
save staff valuable time and allow them to spend less time at the front desk organising appointments and more time with clients in the spa, says Bentley-Taylor. Gillian Syracuse, senior sales executive and training manager at Booker, similarly underlines the time efficiency aspect as an essential advantage, commenting that: The fact that it saves time is one of the primary reasons for introducing online booking software. It permits staff to focus on the customers in front of them, which improves customer service, she says. Many spas naturally see the online booking facility as a way to drive revenue by attracting new business. However, Tony Tremain, director of Millennium Software, stresses that another important benefit is that it gives you the opportunity to reward your existing customers. Online booking should really be for existing, loyal, customers, he says. Its a great way to prove your customer service credentials and strengthen your retention figures; allowing your customers to be more in charge of their own schedule.


The promotion point

Software providers across the board are keen to point out that while there are many advantages to online bookings, simply bringing it on board is not enough to guarantee its success. You also have to push it. There is a misconception that just because you have an online booking system, people are bound to use it, but that isnt necessarily the case, says Tremain. You still have to give people a reason to visit your website in the first place, whether its by introducing exclusive offers, or something else. Of the same view, Southern adds that: Its about spreading the word and promoting the fact that you have online booking. That could be by posting information about in on your Facebook and Twitter pages or leaving information about it on your voicemail, for example. The important thing is to get customers booking online and to keep them booking online.
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