Specializing in selling spa vacations is not necessarily relaxing, but it can be rewarding. Spa travel can be a solid business niche for travel sellers but, as with most specialties, it takes a lot of research and ongoing education to keep up with a changing product and market.
To learn how to succeed in the spa niche, Travel Market Report spoke with an agent who counts spa vacations among their specialties –Jill Leeds of Just Spas and Adventures in Bolton Landing, N.Y.
Foundation of her business
Leeds said her own experience visiting spas changed her life. “I had been retired for two years and going to spas was part of why I decided to start this business.”
Leeds saw a product that appealed to her– and a market niche with business potential.
“Travelers don’t want to just sit on a beach anymore. They want more active travel. Why not start a business that incorporates what the next niche will be and have expertise in that area. The Internet was just coming into being, and I thought I would become the go-to person online for a certain kind of trip.”
After selling spas for a while, she said, “I was able to expand to other products – villa rentals, cruises and river cruises. It’s all about providing great personalized service to clients.” More than half of her current business is from returning clients who are planning other types of travel.
Incorporating spas into other trips
And the variety of spas is expanding. “There’s a place called SHA (SHA Wellness Clinic) in Valencia, Spain, where they have a macrobiotic diet. Ranch at Live Oak Malibu has a seven-day program with lots of exercise and diet. It’s like an ashram, only it’s luxury.”
The consumer market for spa travel has moved well beyond the traditional one of women traveling together. One extension of that is mother-daughter groups.
More target markets
Leeds noted that more and more men are going to spas, “The last time I was at Miraval about 18 months ago, a third of the people were men – and it was not a special men’s week.”
Weight loss too
Leeds has also expanded her business to include weight loss, which has become a “big part” of her business, she said.
“Spas like Red Mountain have excellent programs for people with serious weight loss issues. I have been to others – like Pritikin in Miami and Blue Pearl in Laguna. I can talk to clients about the food and accommodations in these places.”
Though the market for spa vacations is wider than ever, agents still need to qualify their customers to match them to the appropriate spa.
Prospective spa clients may contact her with a vision of what they want, but they still need to be qualified further, Leeds said. “They might call and say they heard of one spa, but I ask a lot of questions. I might tell them they don’t want to go to the original spa they mentioned but to another one. It depends on their expectations.”
Marketing spa travel
The Internet drives most of Leeds’ spa business. “I really focused on SEO in the beginning. That’s how I get 99% of my business.
“If you search for weight loss, I come up pretty early on Google. I started on Google with pay per click, but eventually I began to come up in the natural search.
“One thing that sets me apart is that I have been to just about every destination spa,” Leeds said.