12/27/2012 11:24 am ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

Do Most Hotel Spas Deserve 5 Star Status?

The other day I performed a waxing service on a new client and began to chat with her to distract her from the discomfort of the service. We started to talk about our experiences at many five star hotels around the world and we laughed about our mutual discomfort with having a butler on call. She shared with me that her father had introduced her to high luxury by taking her family on numerous posh vacations when she was a child, primarily in and around India. But then she said, "You know, I don't get that many spa treatments anywhere when I'm away. They're just not that good."

I had to concur with her assessment.

Here's why: I believe that maintaining five star status is a moving target. There's always another goal to meet, always another area in which to become better. The hotel employees who are front and center, like the doorman, front desk receptionist and concierge, are observed constantly and their performances most certainly help to define the five star experience. But what happens in the privacy of a treatment room when a client is alone with the esthetician or massage therapist? What is the level of engagement and knowledge? How often is the service ball dropped? And make no mistake, at a five star property it will rarely be dropped enough to warrant a poor review or a complaint to the spa director.

But if that client is not dreaming about their next treatment with the same therapist or planning how to return to that spa as soon as possible, then consider the ball as dropped.

What's going on in that treatment room? And who's monitoring performance?

Recently I had a conversation with the manager of a five star property who told me that his spa team's performance was audited by their senior esthetician who was a top retail seller. Sounds good, right? The problem is that her breadth of experience never took her beyond that hotel so she was not aware of what she didn't know. Also, high sales do not necessarily translate into the ability to train others. And most certainly because this young lady was still working in the same capacity as her team members, it is a bit unrealistic to expect her to share her "secrets.". After all, her teammates are still her competition.

Many spa directors and hotel managers make the dire mistake of thinking that a lack of customer feedback indicates that everything is okay. And with their busy schedules it is understandable that if a service area does not present an immediate measurable problem it would not be addressed. But in fact if a spa is not receiving stellar reviews from clients, this indicates that the services are simply not worth writing about. Don't take my word for it -- compare the number of reviews written about the restaurants at most five star hotels with those written about the spa.

In 2013, spa training, assessment and feedback should be mandatory for all therapists at five star facilities. If you are a spa decision maker, know that product training is never enough to ensure that your clients receive the best performance from your therapists. Invest in your spa team (the cost is worth it) and if your hotel is at some exotic far flung location it may cost you less than you think.

Use what you've got to get what you want. After all, you have a five star reputation to uphold.