After months of lockdown spent juggling working from home with parenting, health concerns and financial woes, many of us have been left feeling anxious, fatigued and highly strung.
If there was ever a time for self-care it is now. The ultimate spa experience is something many of us are desperate to indulge in, with our sunlight-starved skin and poor posture longing to be pacified by the hands of a professional while surrounded by lavender scented spritzes and soft music.
Just like hairdressers and beauty salons, all spas have been closed since Boris Johnson imposed a nationwide lockdown on 23 March. Now, the government has announced that spas will be allowed to open as early as next week, with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announcing on Thursday that beauty salons can resume business as of 13 July.
The date for the grand reopening of personal care establishments was subject to the government’s five objectives being met, which include making sure the NHS can cope; a ‘sustained and consistent’ fall in the daily death rate; rate of infection decreasing to ‘manageable levels’; ensuring supply of tests and PPE can meet future demand; and being confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS.
The hospitality industry has previously stressed that businesses had not been given clear guidance as to when they could officially open their doors and that while they had been aiming towards the previously touted opening date of 4 July, they have not wished to move ahead without clear safety guidelines.
“The impact of the lockdown has already been absolutely crippling to the entire sector, which contributes around £7bn to the UK economy and many businesses will just not survive closure for much longer,” says Lesley Blair, chair of BABTAC (the British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology). “It is an impossible situation because, while our industry is desperate to get back to work, we are also an industry that takes our duty of care for our clients very seriously and thus must be guided by scientific and government research and comply with them.”
While both industry insiders and spa-goers are keen to return to business as usual, health and safety remains the first priority for both parties and, given the need for such close proximity and physical touch, many people have been left wondering if spas will be able to function the same way they did in the days before coronavirus.
No magazines, health checks and PPE all-round
By their very nature, spas have always had extremely strict hygiene protocols, so this is already an inbuilt part of the way they work but while existing protocols will remain in place, there are also going to be additional updates and extra precautions taken to protect the wellbeing of both guests and therapists.
The British Beauty Council has consulted with some of the UK’s leading beauty industry bodies to produce a summary of suggested guidelines for reopening with card only payments and PPE for all staff and guests just some of the rules outlined in the report.
Other measures that have been suggested include the strict management of communal areas such as locker rooms, the implementation of hand sanitising stations and floor markings to encourage social distancing throughout.
As for changes that will directly impact customers, Cecily Spa in Hertfordshire says anyone visiting a spa should expect to have their temperature checked before starting treatment and be willing to sacrifice some key luxuries such as magazines, phone chargers and food or refreshments.
Andrew Stembridge, executive director of Iconic Luxury Hotels, which manages a collection of hotels and spas including Chewton Glen in Hampshire, explains that the booking process may also look slightly different to guests who will be asked to complete a health check prior to their appointment.
“The consultation process will be undertaken prior to arrival and will now include an additional health check relative to any symptoms the guest may have versus ongoing conditions or health issues,” Stembridge explains, adding that other spa safety measures will mean introducing a one-way system where possible and sanitising loungers, door handles and hand rails every 20 minutes.
According to booking service Spa Breaks, some establishments may also require guests to shower pre and post treatment, while handshake introductions will be replaced with right hand to heart gestures or Thai greetings with palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion
Facials are off the menu
Spas are synonymous with intimate experiences but as we enter a “new normal”, it seems unlikely that businesses will be able to accommodate guests in the same way they did before.
While salons and spas will be conscious to make customer experiences as personal as possible, due to social distancing restrictions many outlets are anticipating offering heavily reduced menus. So, what types of treatments will you be able to have?
Helena Grzesk, general manager of the UK Spa Association says that while most massage options will be available to guests, other services like facials will be prohibited.
“We expect a phased approach, with limited facilities on reopening,” she explains. “Rightly or wrongly, its generally expected by the industry, that facial treatments might need to be suspended temporarily. There is reasoning that a body massage may be a better option for spas to offer, as the guest will face away from the therapist.”
Stembridge agrees, adding that while facials are less likely to happen immediately upon reopening, with appropriate PPE, including face masks, visors and scrubs, they should be possible further down the line.
A recent survey of industry professionals conducted by the UK Spa Association showed that this appears to be a nationwide approach with facials, eye treatments and aesthetics among the treatments businesses are considering temporarily removing from their menus.
In order to ensure that massage and touch treatments can take place safely, many spas will be asking both staff and guests to wear face masks during each session to further reduce the risk.
In addition some will be using electrostatic “foggers” to sanitise the air and ask therapists to use essential oils containing antiseptic properties, while others will opt to completely remove any bed skirts, duvets, pillows from treatment rooms.
When it comes to the reopening of thermal treatments such as inhalation rooms, ice rooms, saunas and jacuzzis, spas are still waiting for confirmation from the government. However, Spa Breaks suggests that these should be off limits depending on the region and severity of the outbreak. If wet areas are available for use, it states that spas should consider implementing strict social distancing measures by limiting the number of guests allowed to use them at one time.
Take time to make wellbeing a priority
Despite the fact that spas may not be able to function at full capacity upon reopening, it seems that the majority of people are looking forward to returning to their favourite spot. According to a survey of 5,000 spa-goers conducted by Good Spa Guide in association with the UK Spa Association, 80 per cent of participants said they will return to spas straight away or in the next couple of months, with the same number expecting to spend the just as much time and money at spas as they did before the health crisis.
Grzesk says she believes this sense of urgency to return to a spa environment is largely based on the shift in public perception of such businesses being solely based on pampering and more about anatomy and physiology, including the care of muscles, the nervous and immune systems and a preventative approach to mental and physical health and wellbeing.
“Now more than ever, the public are becoming vastly aware that this industry goes hand in hand with mental health and providing alternative health care offerings which assist on many levels,” she explains. “Spas and wellness centres (along with the gyms and leisure industry) are community hubs, providing a sense of kinship, as well as providing measurable assistance with stress reduction, improved sleep, nutrition and exercise – all areas I am sure you will agree are vital in today’s circumstances.”
Mike Ogden, spa manager at the Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa in Bath, says the pandemic has caused many people to start prioritising their health and wellbeing, adding that spas have exactly the expertise many need to help them de-stress.
“During this epidemic more and more people have been focusing on their health and fitness, from online training to outdoor activities, so it will be great to help them to build on this when ‘normal life’ kicks back in,” he says. “Many people have missed the opportunity to enjoy luxury and relaxation, and I think we will see many people in need of some physical and mental TLC after weeks of stress and uncertainty. So spas must be ready and staff prepared so that customers can be welcomed back to enjoy, relax and focus on their health and wellbeing.”
Whether or not the new set up will be conducive to relaxation is something only guests will be able to determine. But, with the last few months having proved exceptionally stressful for so many, giving yourself a chance to forget about the outside world, even for a moment, can only be a good thing.