Mind, body and spirit

hat does it take to start one of the first firms in the U.S. devoted to selling the spa experience an entire decade before its popularity would become widespread?

In 1985, spa travel pioneer Jenni Lipa, founder of Spa Trek Travel in New York, saw an overlooked niche worthy of promoting to the American public -- European and domestic spas.

"Spas in general were missing from the landscape, and European-style spas were relatively unknown," Lipa explained. "But by this time I had been to several European and South African spas twice a year to recharge my battery."

Jenni Lipa has become an authority on spa properties in the U.S., Europe and Africa. Lipa has lived in Paris; Florence, Italy, and New York and speaks nine languages, including Arabic, Swiss Deutsch and Afrikaans, one of the official languages of South Africa. Lipa was born there, in Johannesburg, and experienced many of the exotic spas found in her native land.

To Lipa, the importance of the spa experience can best be described by saying: "People in today's stressful world need to learn how to regenerate themselves."

And helping people find themselves is what she likes most about her job.

"When I first started my company, I could see this general trend as well as the beauty of the mind, body and spirit experience," she said. Lipa added that her favorite phone calls are from her once-anxious clients upon their return from their relaxing experiences.

Today Lipa spends half of her time training travel agents at her one-day seminars on selling spas and putting together spa fam trips. (She just finished a national workshop tour and will start offering seminars again this July).

The other half of her time is spent consulting spas on their products and concepts as well as booking travel for individual clients. She charges a $100 fee to clients who want her to organize spa trips.

Her main advice to agents is to get out and experience for themselves what spas have to offer.

"This is why I give agents 'mini' spa treatments during my training," explained Lipa. "Then I have them describe exactly what they experienced because this is what they need in order to sell spas to their clients."

According to Lipa, spa treatments are really about learning to treat yourself well. "It's learning how to have a gentler, softer way of life. It's getting down to the bare basics."

And for agents, spas represent a good piece of change, especially when packaged to include treatments, food and activities.

Lipa described the spa market as wide open for attracting almost any type of client -- executive groups, meetings, singles, families and those celebrating special events.

-- Michele SanFilippo

Branded experiences

pa expert Jenni Lipa, an International Spa & Fitness Association (ISPA) member who co-chaired the first European ISPA meeting in Baden-Baden, Germany, in 1996, offers several insights for travel agents selling the spa experience.

Her firm, Spa Trek Travel in New York, has produced a directory of up to 100 spas from around the world that she has prequalified and worked with to provide branded spa packages.

Spa Trek Travel offers a directory of Jenni Lipa's picks of spas around the world where her packages are available. These Spa Trek experiences are available to agents -- at 10% commission or more -- directly through the properties Lipa works with by asking for the Spa Trek experience.

"It doesn't always have to be a five-star property to make it onto our list, but we do have very strict criteria," Lipa said.

She added that the challenge for agents is to market packages that include at least one or two spa treatments in order to get more customers acquainted with what the experience has to offer.

Lipa also said she is spending more and more time marketing to other agents as well as consulting for the spas themselves. Her consulting fees can range from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on the type of project.

Among the trips Lipa is offering to get agents acquainted with her packages is a four-night trip to northern Italy from March 23 to 28. It visits the Palazzo Arzaga resort in Brescia; Abano Terme; Verona; Padua, and the Brente River region for $500 per person, land only.

From April 16 to 23, the Alpine Experience spa fam visits Le Mirador in Vevey, Switzerland, and Les Fermes des Marie in Megeve, France, for $500.

Spa Trek Travel also will offer an Asia trip in May and spa fams in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Jordan, and Spain this summer and fall.

For details, call (800) 272-3480 or (212) 779-3480; e-mail [email protected], or visit www.spatrek.com.

A new specialty niche?

e've seen a transition in terminology, as agents have become consultants. A consultant advises, an agent takes orders; at least that's how the thinking goes. The consultant slowly has started to develop into the vacation consultant, completely separating the duties of the commercial agent and the leisure counselor.

But do our clients want agents, consultants or counselors?

The answer may be none of the above.

Richard Turen.In a recent study of affluent travelers, 60% of respondents said they were actively seeking ways to reduce stress in their lives. And that, I believe, is a concept we ought to pause and examine.

How do we communicate what we do if we sell leisure? Leisure is not an exciting term; it has only limited connotations.

But when you tell consumers that your specialty is reducing their stress, you may be communicating a powerful sales message.

Here are four approaches to take to appeal to this crying need among today's harried, time-starved affluents:

  • Set up a division of your firm and produce a brochure totally devoted to the most stress-relieving vacations in your portfolio. Resorts with golf and spas are a good start; so are smaller hotels off the beaten track where one can truly relax for a week or so.
  • Build in stress-reducing amenities to your current programs, such as a pre-night hotel and after-flight massage package for overseas clients, or perhaps a day at a local spa provided to clients prior to their departure on a long flight.
  • Think of all the hassles involved in modern travel and have your staff come up with ways to reduce these tensions. A personally designed, antistress, in-flight amenity kit is just one small way to begin.
  • Develop your own stress rating system and include a sticker with the ratings on the brochures you offer to clients. Truth in travel would dictate that the consumer is entitled to know which vacation experiences are likely to provide the most stress-free environments.
  • Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency president. Contact him at [email protected].

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