Few individuals know the spa & wellness industry quite like Abi Selby. In early 2008, she launched Spabreaks.com with a team of just two interns. Today, it has become Europe’s leading spa booking agency sending more than 6,000 people on spa days and breaks each week. In this interview, we discover the reasons behind Spabreaks.com’s continued success along with what new trends to expect in the future. We also endeavoured to find out what Abi personally looks for in a spa break.
Why do you think the spa & wellness sector has experienced such a phenomenal growth in recent years?
I think we’re all waking up to the importance of ongoing care of our own health and wellbeing. Not boxing it into a one hour slot in the day, but recognising that health is with us all day every day and needs to be cared for regularly. It’s about all the little things that add up and I think that has also led people to take a more holistic approach to their wellbeing. It’s not just about beating yourself up in the gym, it’s about headspace, breathing, nutrition. We’re all very stressed, very busy and we want to live long and fulfilling lives. We’re more interested in our health and it’s great that talking about that is becoming a positive thing.
How do you see spa & wellness experiences evolving from here?
I think it’s becoming much more personalised. We have to acknowledge that everybody is different and everyone is at their own stage of health and wellness so there’s no such thing as one size fits all. I think this idea of a little and often is also really good and the industry and consumer demand is starting to reflect that. We see more and more people repeat booking spa breaks through us maybe three times a year for a couple of days, rather than heading off on two week holidays once a year.
The spa & wellness sector has a large and varied demographic. How important is it to differentiate between customer experiences?
I really think this is so important. It’s very much at the heart of what we do at Spabreaks.com. My vision for the booking agency when we first began 11 years ago was to market spas differently, really showcasing the wide variety of options available to customers. There was this image the industry had as being for rich women with too much money and too much time on their hands. The reality is that there are so many different experiences available and I truly believe there’s a spa experience for everybody.
How did Spabreaks.com establish itself as the market leader and how do you ensure it remains at the forefront of the industry?
I think this is all about listening to customers. We have always had a two-pronged policy of working very closely with spas at one end to advise them on the best spa packages to showcase their destination’s qualities, and on the other side we really take customer feedback seriously. I see every compliment, every complaint and every comment that comes to us and many of the initiatives we have implemented over the years have been in response to consumer demand. In the past that has meant creating solo spa experiences that dispense with single supplements, on a huge level it has meant campaigning to make the industry better equipped to support clients with cancer, and right now we are about to launch a luxury collection of the best spa experiences in the UK, which has been in response to client demand.
How has your perception of the spa & wellness industry changed since founding spabreaks.com?
Like I said before, I think the most exciting thing is that it’s being taken far more seriously by individuals. A spa break is not just considered to be something that’s nice to do (although it is), it’s also seen for its physical and mental wellbeing benefits. People are not just opting for a token 25 minute treatment, they’re booking a proper 60 minute treatment and actually, spas are not really offering those token therapies any more. There’s much more demand for high value experiences because people understand the benefits, and in turn spas are responding with much higher value propositions.
What do you look for in a spa?
It really depends on the experience I am looking for. If I want to go on a real health retreat then it’s got to be an amazing combination of great facilities that you can really spend the whole day exploring, unique treatments, a tranquil location and lots of knowledge within the spa team ranging from nutrition to specialist therapies like Lifehouse Spa and Hotel. If I am going on a luxury break with my husband then there has to be Champagne and an afternoon tea at somewhere like Luton Hoo. If the kids are coming with me then I would choose somewhere with lots of things to do like Celtic Manor. And if I was going somewhere with friends I would be looking for a spa with lots of space in its facilities and a really special private dining option like Rudding Park.
How important is the emphasis on authentic and traditional experiences – whether that is captured through the décor, the treatments or the spa products and amenities?
I really think it depends on the spa offering as a whole. There are some really outstanding authentic and traditional spa experiences available. Careys Manor Hotel and Spa for example have worked incredibly hard to provide a really authentic Thai spa experience in the New Forest and it’s exceptional. Como Shambhala spas also really draw on Balinese therapies and bring them to an urban environment and it makes for an outstanding experience.
However, there are also many spas that fuse different therapies and experiences together, drawing on different ideologies to deliver personalised experiences. For instance, it’s something Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Centre at Hotel Cafe Royal in London is really good at. So I guess overall my feeling is that authentic experiences can be incredible, but it’s most important that a spa is true to whatever it is they want to offer as a whole.
What advice would you give to those considering their first ever spa break?
Speak to my team! I know that sounds like a sales pitch, and I suppose it is a bit, but I do actually mean it. There are so many different spa experiences out there and the reason I set up Spabreaks.com with a UK-based call centre of spa consultants is because they are best placed to talk to you and advise you on where to go to best suit you. They can talk to you about locations and price points, but also what you want out of it – are you going with your partner, your best friend, your mum, several friends, or on your own? It will make a difference on where you choose to go.
On a personal note, if it’s your first time and you’re anxious about the treatment side of things, take a spare swimming costume to wear in your treatment and maybe try a facial instead of a full body massage if you’re worried about undressing. Perhaps most importantly, if you’re unhappy about anything at all in your treatment – if you’re cold, the massage pressure is too light or too hard – don’t be afraid to say something to your therapist at the time; they want you to have a wonderful time!