Emma Darby of Resense on what’s exciting in wellness and what makes a great guest experience

Emma Darby

Emma Darby, COO of Resense, talks about what’s exciting and what will be challenging in spa and wellness in 2020, and about what makes a great guest experience.

Emma Darby is the Chief Operating Officer of Resense and a leading expert in the wellness world. She has more than 20 years of experience in the sector, six of which were spent as a senior spa director with Ritz Carlton, managing spas in Tenerife, Dubai and Bahrain. Ms. Darby has also been the Director of the Rosewood Spa in Mayakoba, and prior to that, manager of a non-invasive laser clinic in the United Kingdom.

Resense specializes in spa and wellness creation, development and performance. With head offices in Geneva and Beijing, the company has been involved in the creation and/or management of more than 90 luxury spa and wellness facilities around the globe.

Emma Darby is the perfect person to share insight on what’s exciting and what will be challenging in spa and wellness in 2020. We asked her about that in this month’s spotlight interview, as well as about what makes the ultimate guest experience.

How did you come to be doing what you are today?

I started in a family business. When I was 17, my brother and I bought a gym in the town where I grew up. We were running that while I was in school, but I decided that I wanted to go off and do my own thing. I studied fitness, alternative therapy, holistic therapy and beauty therapy, after which I got a job in a city as a therapist, and then the manager, at a medi spa.

We offered things like laser hair removal and rejuvenation, tattoo removal, injectables and breast consultations. We were located near a gender reassignment clinic, so we were predominantly working with men going through gender reassignment. After that, I worked on cruise ships before joining the Ritz Carlton in Bahrain. From there I moved to Mexico with Rosewood, back to Ritz Carlton in Dubai, then to Egypt and Spain. I came to Resense in 2012.

Resense helps spas increase profitability, by an average of 112% in the first year, according to your website. Can you tell me where spas are missing out on revenue opportunities?

Many spas miss the mark on promotions or special offers and with their marketing. It’s common to offer something like 25% off a massage, but this is not always an effective way of doing things. Giving 25% off is just taking 25% off your top if you’re not using that promotion to fill your off-peak times, for example. It’s more effective to create something compelling and solve a problem than it is to just offer 25% off. If you’re always busy at the weekend, don’t offer 25% off at the weekend, do a Monday promotion. You have to maximize your utilization of your therapists through your targeted marketing and your scheduling. Marketing doesn’t have to be discounting.

Then there’s booking. Why are you asking a guest what time they want when taking a booking, instead of guiding them to suit your business needs?

People should ask themselves why they’re doing something and what they want to achieve from it. Are you marketing because you need to raise your profile on social media or because you’re never busy on Monday or Tuesday? Those are two different things that require different strategies. That’s where I feel that there’s a lot of money left on the table.

What makes a great guest experience?

A spa should be creating a genuine connection with the guest and be genuinely interested in the guest’s wellbeing throughout the full experience. There should not be a time during a guest’s spa journey that they don’t know where they should be, what they should be doing, or what they should be wearing. They should be comfortable from the moment of first contact all the way through the treatment and leaving experience.

There are few places in the world where you basically are naked with someone you don’t know, and I think that genuine care, comfort, and connection is the difference between a fantastic experience and what is not a fantastic experience.

I’ll give you an example: I went to a spa recently for an IV drip. They did my consultation in front of everybody, so now the whole reception knows about my hormones and my cycle. Then they put in the drip, and that’s fine. But afterwards, they came and took out the drip, and just shut the door on me and left me in this room, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. So, I got up and I found the toilet with the help of a cleaner, and then I just left and no one even knew I’d gone, because I paid at the beginning. That is not a good guest experience. If it was the first time I’d had an IV drip, I would have felt super uncomfortable.

Everything matters. Even if you have an amazing booking experience and treatment, if the person is rude or can’t be bothered with you at the desk on the way out, and your leaving experience is miserable, that ruins the entire experience. The treatment is not the entire experience, it’s the entire journey.

What is the biggest challenge the industry is facing right now?

Recruitment and training. There is a lot of talent out there and there’s also a lot of development and a lot of openings. And there’s a gap in the industry. A lot of people come up as therapists to become managers, or the other way around, where people come from a management or hotel school. One group doesn’t have the operation experience and the other doesn’t have the business acumen.

You can’t expect a spa therapist to be a genius on Excel or to be able to do a budget when they’ve never done a budget before. You can’t make them a spa manager and then say, ‘okay, give me the budget for the next year.’ They can’t do it.

At Resense we have a lot of spa management training, and we focus on teaching certain skills. We also do a lot of succession planning and have partnered with Lobster Ink to create an innovative new spa training solution: Spa Professional. This is a role-specific training program for every role in a spa to bridge the knowledge gap between providing exceptional guest experiences and delivering commercial value.

What are you excited about in wellness right now?

Wellness is really having a moment. I see many fantastic projects coming from various consultants and companies. That’s exciting. And the whole shift in the type of travelling people are doing. The spa used to be an amenity in a hotel but now people are traveling for spas and wellness. Wellness travelers have always been there, but we’re seeing more and more of this now.

I am excited that therapies that were once a bit fringe, like sound therapy or reiki, are available in wellness centers within hotels. That whole shift towards wellness and wellbeing becoming part of people’s lives, that’s very exciting for 2020. I’m excited to be in the industry at this time.

And what are you excited about at Resense?

We have some very exciting projects in 2020 including openings in Europe, Asia and Africa and various design projects around the globe. We’re working with some new product partners and equipment partners, coming up with some crazy ideas. I’m in a great position and lucky enough to work for a company that is always open to new ideas.


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