Nearly 15 years in business, 900 UK & International spa destinations bookable online and over 6000 Spa breaks booked each week… Meet Abi Wright of Spabreaks.com. The luxury website started in London in 2007 when Wright, Co-Founder and Managing Director realised there was a gap in the market for showcasing spas differently. She envisaged a world where spas were more accessible to everyone from the booking capability to price points and package offerings – whether you’re visiting for a spa day with afternoon tea, as a mum to be or after cancer treatment – things that had not been readily available before.
But just how does the mum of three do it, and what does she look for in her next destination? I met with Abi to find out more.
CT: Abi, great to meet you. Can you tell me why you got into the Spa business?
AW: My journey into the spa world started a long time ago. I trained as a journalist after university and when I realised that my skills were far better related to marketing, I found my way into a small collection of hotel spas where I worked for a number of years. It was there that I realised how much variety there was in the spa industry that people just didn’t know about. I realised that there was an opportunity to change the way spas were marketed, and to alter the perception of spas as the domains of the privileged few, by working with spas to help realise their commercial potential whilst still showcasing the integrity of the industry.
CT: How many spa partners do you have to date?
AW: At the moment we work with up to around 900 spa destinations in the UK and overseas at any given time depending on whether they have up to date offers available. As a result, we arrange around 6000 spa days and breaks each week.
CT: Being a mum of three and running your own business is tough for anyone – how do you manage personal and professional life?
AW: We’re now nearly 15 years into the life of Spabreaks.com and these days it’s a bit more manageable, because the team has matured, I have a fantastic infrastructure with amazing people around me. For a long time though, the reality of it was that I would never have let my children lose out and I would never have let my team lose out, the result was that I lost out on time with friends and time for my own wellbeing. The internet and the ability to have conference calls or do emails on the train was a huge benefit, and I have been lucky enough more recently to have an incredible nanny for the children. People always thinks it gets easier when children get older, but while they need less minute to minute looking after and they are obviously at school now, their needs as they get older become more complex, so the balance is constantly changing – just when you think you have it sorted something changes! I think the key is probably being flexible and taking things as they come.
CT: When booking a spa for you personally, what do you look for?
AW: It really depends who I am going with and what type of spa break I am looking for. If I want something that’s a total treat, then I will look for something with afternoon tea included in the package. If I am going with friends, I want there to be enough space for us all to spend time together, but if I am going with my husband then I will want somewhere more intimate. If I am by myself, I might go for something more health focused like Living Well at Homefield Grange where I know I will meet other people who are also on their own. Overall however, I think the key things to look for are at least an hour of treatment time, a meal or afternoon tea included and check out details like the facilities and whether children are allowed in the pool so I can plan my day according to the experience I want to have.
CT: How important is taking time for yourself for mental health? How can visiting a spa help someone’s mental health?
AW: I think anyone would agree that time to yourself is fundamental for maintaining good mental health, in whatever that means to you. For years for me, the time I have spent walking the dogs in the early morning has been integral headspace that allows me to gather my thoughts and be the best version of myself. I think the wonderful thing about a spa is that it’s an environment that really facilitates that headspace. Invariably you can’t or shouldn’t take mobile phones into spas so there’s a focus on being away from all the digital white noise. Treatments also really help you to get out of your head and into your body, and I think there’s something very healing about the power of a kind and caring touch that you get in a spa treatment.
CT: People tend to think that spa trips are a treat for women in groups – you have so many different package options for solo trips, men’s trips, families etc – it’s clear that inclusion for all is an important part of Spabreaks.com… What’s your views and how important is this for you and business?
AW: For us, this has been everything. From the start, the point of Spabreaks.com has been to open up the spa industry and make it more accessible to more people. That has meant everything from price points to improving information and education to enable people who were previously marginalised from spas for reasons beyond their control, like illness, to experience them safely. By packaging up spa experiences in different categories for different occasions or audiences, we are able to work with spas to tailor experiences for different preferences and requirements and our team are always on the other end of the phone or online chat to offer advice on where to go as well. The amazing thing for us is that by doing that, we now have a much broader demographic of clientele than ever before, lots more men, and people of all ages from 18 to 90!
CT: Tell me a little more about the Elysium Collection, why did you create this?
AW: The Elysium Collection is the realisation of a personal passion that I have had for more than 15 years, since the start of Spabreaks.com. I wanted to create a collection of exceptional spa experiences that really celebrate the best of the UK’s spa world and that weren’t defined or inhibited by price. I wanted the UK and Ireland’s most exquisite spas to have the opportunity to show the best of everything that they are, and in doing so, share the enormous variety of wellness experiences available, from the totally indulgent to the height of health retreats. I’m really proud of how it’s been embraced by the spas and our clients as well as our team, and the result is a collection of experiences that’s unlike anything the spa world has seen before, which is so exciting.
CT: What’s the most important message for your customers and potential customers?
AW: That I really do believe there’s a spa experience for everybody. Whether you’ve been to a hundred spas before or are going for the first time. No matter your age, size, shape, colour, gender, whether you want to go on your own or with a group of friends, the variety that’s available is incredible, and our team are there to help you navigate that. Also, just because you have had a particular experience at one spa doesn’t mean it will be the same as another, so stay open, explore and above everything else, have fun.
CT: Go on, tell me… Do you have any favourite spa’s you like to get away too?
AW: Too many to say! I have been so privileged to have incredible experiences at so many places and I am in total awe of the different treatments and experiences that spas continue to develop. Classics that I have loved for a long time have to be the likes of Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa in Surrey, while new ones that are just incredible are the likes of Rudding Park in Yorkshire, Barnsley House in Gloucestershire and South Lodge in West Sussex. But really it depends on who I am going with and what kind of experience I am after.
Pictured: Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa, Surrey United Kingdom
CT: What makes a successful spa / business to you?
AW: I think we really need to get away from the idea that ‘commerciality’ is a bad thing or somehow undermines integrity. I firmly believe that you can have a spa that’s a good business and also has real integrity when it comes to its offering and there are some fantastic examples of that. So really, I think the key to being a successful spa business is knowing what you are all about, believing in that completely and marketing that effectively, by which I mean following it through all the way from your advertising and marketing materials to your messaging, your spa packages and into the spa experience itself. As an extension of that, I think it’s so important to stay in tune with the wants, wishes and feedback of your clients and potential clients, and tone willing to evolve. These are all the things that our product team help the destinations we work with to achieve by working closely with them to create the spa experiences that are featured on our site. It’s not just a question of throwing a package on the website, it’s the result of working together to create experiences that best suit that destination and their target market.
CT: What are your plans for Spabreaks.com for 2020 and beyond?
AW: How much time do you have? In 2020 we are looking to really address the issue of solo spa breaks and make it easier and more enjoyable for people to go to spas on their own. We are working with spas to tackle the issue of single supplements for example, and really creating meaningful, rewarding, valuable experiences for solo spa goers, that are still commercially viable for spas. In addition to that, we are continuing to develop the Elysium Collection, and we are taking the accessibility of the spa industry for individual needs up a notch with our Personalised Wellness messaging and campaigning – watch this space!
Discover Spa Breaks website – www.spabreaks.com