Benjamin Donat, Spa Director at Park City, Utah’s St. Regis Deer Valley talks with Spa Executive about future plans and reaching for that Fifth Forbes Star.
Park City, Utah’s St. Regis Deer Valley is one of the world’s most luxurious mountain resorts.
Featuring design that echoes the beauty of its location amidst the picturesque Wasatch Mountains, in winter, the resort offers convenient ski-in/ski-out access with a private ski valet, and in warmer months, guests enjoy mountain biking and hiking.
In July, 2020, Benjamin Donat took the reins as Spa Director at the resort’s Remède Spa, an incredible 14,000-square-foot facility with 11 sophisticated treatment rooms and Four Forbes Stars. Remède’s certified spa therapists offer a full suite of body treatments combining ancient healing arts with modern techniques and high-quality products in a soothing atmosphere dedicated to relaxation and tranquility, enhanced by water-inspired amenities.
In the few months he’s been on the job, Donat has been setting a high bar and working to create an exceptional experience for every guest, providing superlative treatments and successfully incorporating a vision of the increasing importance of self-care.
We spoke with Mr. Donat about his plans for the Remède Spa and reaching for that 5th Forbes Star.
Tell us about your career background.
I’m from Germany. My background is as a sports scientist and I moved into hospitality. My first job in the industry was at the Hotel Erbprinz, in Germany, a long-time luxury establishment that opened in 1788. That’s how I learned old-school luxury and how to take care of guests.
I moved to the United States and worked for MGM Grand and then ARIA Resort & Casino. I had to reinvent myself a bit in the US and learn to understand the American way of looking at spa.
In Europe, there is more of a focus on the amenities, rather than the treatment, to give the guests reasons to stay all day or just come for a spa day without even booking a treatment. In America the treatment is the focus, and the locker room can sometimes be an afterthought or regarded as not as important. Though I do see a bit of a shift here towards the European way lately. I think my experience with the European way helped the ARIA, in small parts, to achieve its Forbes Five-Star rating.
I then worked for Choctaw in Oklahoma and the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. Now I have the chance to prove myself at the St. Regis.
Talk about your spa at the St. Regis Deer Valley and some of the things that make it unique.
We are an 11-room spa in the mountains and our experience changes with the seasons. In the winter, we are super busy because of skiing and, in the summer, there is amazing mountain biking and hiking.
Our staff has to be very well versed in adjusting to the sport that the guests are doing. We all have to be very aware of our guests’ needs. We offer morning yoga on the weekends for our guests to start the day on a healthy note, maybe make them get up a little bit early and do something for body and mind, and then start the day fresh with a nice breakfast or a visit to the spa.
We’re currently fighting for our Fifth Forbes star. If we become a Five-Star spa we will be the first Five-Spa department in the hotel, so that would be a big achievement for my team. We are just trying to be better every day.
What changes or extra efforts are you making for that?
I’ve gone through our past Forbes reviews to see what opportunities are in there for improvement. We’re trying to upgrade and tweak everything a little bit, like ensuring that the linen is luxurious. We have new, lighter weight towels that will save thousands of gallons of water during washing but are higher luxury than our old towels.
Also, how do we greet the guests and how can we elevate that guest experience? We start every Spa visit with a Wellness Shot and end every treatment with a Beauty Shot.
We’re working on keeping track of guest information for the massage therapists. If the guest has had a birthday, for example, we can greet that person with a ‘happy birthday,’ and say ‘we have something ready for you to check out.’ We are focusing on the little things.
I am also working with my vendor partners and asking how they can help me elevate either their products or our services. Ten brains think better than one brain. It’s not all me. It’s working with my staff and my partners.
Have you noticed a recent increase in demand for wellness and a shift in guest expectations?
The need for wellness and for people to get out, relieve stress, and do something for themselves is more prominent now that people have been home more. Guests are coming in with so much baggage on their shoulders now. Our goal is to release a little bit of that baggage so they can walk a little bit more freely and hopefully make their day a little bit better.
Then there’s this issue of being conscious of germs while also wanting to be touched. The spa treatment offers the endorphin release and stress reduction that guests are longing for, but people need reassurance that our areas are clean and sanitized, so they can actually connect with us and feel the relaxation. This is a balancing act I think many spas are having to perform.
What challenges do you think the industry will face in the foreseeable future?
The staffing challenge has been and will be a big one. I have been understaffed through the season and it’s hard to find qualified candidates. This affects both the guests and the existing team; guests because sometimes they need a wellness or spa experience, and we can’t provide it at the time they want because we’re overbooked, and staff because I have to be careful not to overwork them and cause burnout. We’re in Park City, in the mountains, so as long as it snows and there is skiing we will have guests. We’ll always have guests. My major concern in staffing. That’s one of my biggest challenges.
What industry developments are you excited about?
It’s exciting that, because there were so many issues in the last year, people got creative to find solutions. I’ve seen some great ideas, including touchless therapies and treatment options which can help us provide the services guests need and also solve the staffing problem a little bit. I love the idea of technology to help us while not eliminating the personal touch.
My staff has also come up with their own great ideas to enhance our experience for the guests. I’m excited that people are being so creative.
What makes an excellent guest experience?
Recognition is a big part of that, knowing the guest and what they want, so we can personalize the service. We don’t do a 50-minute massage protocol because we have to, but to take care of the guest in front of us. Every massage is different, depending on who you’re offering it to. Six different people will book the same service and every one of them will have a different experience. When the guest walks out and says “that was the greatest massage I’ve ever had,” then I’m happy.
Is finding and retaining talent a challenge at your spa? Get insights from industry leaders, including Nigel Franklyn, Lynne McNees, Verena Lasvigne-Fox, and Daisy Tepper when you download our report: What will it take to fix the spa industry’s staffing shortage? .
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