Accor’s Magdaleena Nikolov on tech, wellness, and the future of spa

Magdaleena Nikolov

Magdaleena Nikolov, General Manager of Spa, Wellness and Retail at Fairmont Century Plaza talked with Spa Executive about the exciting new spa, technology, and the future. 

The Century Plaza Hotel was called “The Hotel of the Future,” when it opened in 1966. Designed by one of the most prominent architects of the 20th Century, Minoru Yamasaki, the mid-century modern hotel was the first to have color televisions in all of its rooms and was the tallest building in Los Angeles’ Century City.

The cultural landmark closed its doors in 2016 for a $2.5billion renovation and reopened in September 2021 as the Fairmont Century Plaza, part of Accor. The property now houses two 44-story towers, boutique shopping, privately-owned luxury residences, and 400 guestrooms. According to a media release, “The hotel pays tribute to its star-studded history while ushering in a new age of glamour, infusing cutting-edge amenities with pioneering guest experiences.”

The 14,000 square-foot Fairmont Spa Century Plaza is the hotel’s piece de resistance, reinventing wellness culture with offerings that unite ancient modalities with state-of-the-art technologies. General Manager of Spa, Wellness and Retail, Magdaleena Nikolov, has curated an array of custom-designed offerings, first-to-market products, and results-driven treatments.

We spoke with Magdaleena Nikolov about the Fairmont Spa Century Plaza, how she is incorporating technology into the wellness experience and, because it’s the “spa of the future issue,” how she envisions the future of spa and wellness.

Can you talk about the spa at Fairmont Century Plaza and what makes it unique?

Magdaleena NikolovThe Spa is a completely renovated and re-imagined space by Yabu Pushelberg and is home to nine treatment rooms which include two suites and two double treatment rooms. There are three esthetic treatment rooms, one of which is the home to the first US-based Dr. Rita Rakus Clinic.  The locker rooms are outfitted with aromatherapy steam rooms, Hammam, salt room, experiential rain shower and a sanarium. This hydrotherapy circuit is not only visually stunning but has many health benefits.  The sanarium, aromatherapy steam room, salt room and experiential rain shower offer not only physical benefits but mental support through calming of the body and mind.  The steam room and sauna offer increased circulation, stress reduction, muscle recovery, skin health, and helps to boost the immune system. The salt room, also known as halotherapy, cleanses and detoxes the lungs supporting the respiratory system as well as invigorating the body with increased lung capacity and oxygen intake all while boosting cell rejuvenation and improving your skin.

The salon area has facilities for hairstyling, make-up application, and manicure pedicure stations. There is also a fully equipped gym with the latest Technogym equipment.

In everything that we do here the magic is in the details. In the luxury market the expectation is to get a great service or have a beautiful facility so the curation of the details is what will always set you apart, and targeting the senses is the place to start. The subtleties in how something feels, tastes, smells, and looks is the best part of what we do, the element of surprise and delight, and often times the guest may not even realize it is happening but it is the entire cumulative curation that creates a new and memorable experience. So, as a guest at Fairmont Spa Century Plaza, from the moment you arrive you are welcomed by our signature sunset aroma, in your treatment you will be draped in luxurious wellness sheets on custom made treatment tables. A special local handmade tasting follows in our relaxation space with many other moments to surprise and delight. We also fill the spa with binaural beats with healing frequencies and I often smile to myself knowing that we are helping to heal people and they don’t even realize it!

What are some of the technologies you’re using at the spa?

We have creatively incorporated technology through our biohacking program as well as integrating technology throughout the massage menu. A couple of the newest things that we are introducing to guests are NuCalm and Normatec. NuCalm is the world’s only patented neuroscience technology clinically proven to resolve stress and improve sleep quality by using biochemistry physics and neurophysiology to rapidly and reliably relax brain and body functions. Normatec is dynamic air compression with a patented Pulse massage pattern that employs three key techniques – pulsing, distal release, and gradients that effectively mimic the muscle pump of the legs and arms. This technique enhances the movement of fluid and metabolites out of the limbs relieving muscle aches and pains and increasing circulation.

We also use percussion therapy by Hyperice with their Hypervolts, Venom, and Hyperspheres which are devices using percussion and vibration therapy to relieve muscle pain, tension, and soreness. Percussive therapy also promotes flexibility and aids in muscle recovery.

Each biohacking session has been co-created by Dr. Oz Garcia and myself and includes the Oakworks Curva Lounger Anti-Gravity Chair featuring a NASA-inspired curve and tilt that promotes relaxation and helps the recipient slip into a meditative state; NuCalm’s neuroacoustic headset to calm the mind and nervous system; an Infrared PEMF Mat that relaxes the nervous system by regulating energy stored in the body; Normatec by HyperIce compression boots, which increase circulation and reduce inflammation ensuring the body can function at its highest capacity; and LED Face Visors which use a combination of red, blue and amber light to increase blood circulation, generate collagen and improve cellular turnover

You have found creative ways of diversifying revenue streams. What are some of these?

Some creative ways we have been able to diversify revenue streams is through touchless and DYI services as well as retail partnerships. Creating treatments like biohacking or scrub kits for the amenity space has allowed us to offer guests dynamic and effective experiences that don’t require therapists or additional space. In fact, these are treatments or experiences that can often be offered during peak times when perhaps there is not availability for a therapist.

In the retail area, we have curated a selection of products but more so these brands have become our partners. They are very engaged with our space for events, trunk shows, social media and filming. You will find that these partnerships will consistently provide guest engagement and more importantly employee engagement, which will always in turn increase retail sales. We have also added many of these retail items to our DIY or touchless treatments such as Komuso breathing necklaces to be used in the salt room or light therapy visors while you are meditating in your biohacking session.

What do you think the spa of the future will look like?

This is an interesting question because my answer is actually twofold and ironically on opposite sides of the spectrum. I believe that spas will increasingly be the go-to for socializing, community and human touch. These are all things that we crave as humans and cannot be provided solely by technology or in the privacy of our own homes.

However, as much as these will be the focus of spas I feel that there will also continue to be an increase of the use of technology and touch-free experiences. Science continues to make progress daily and there are and will be amazing tools for us to use to help relieve stress, improve mental health, and lead us to an optimized self. This is not only in treatments themselves, but in the transactional areas of the spas. We will continue to automate many interactions including checking in, checking out, locker services, etc.  We will reduce human interactions in many ways while at the same time increasing socialization, community and group activities with an increased focus and improvement to physical treatments. For example, communal areas of spas will be expanded with more group interactions like hammams, snow rooms, bathing rituals, and sound baths, while transactional areas will be reduced in size.  I believe this to be true even in the luxury sector.

Nothing will ever replace the caring touch of another person, the sharing of stories at a mindfulness event, meeting with friends that you haven’t seen in a while for some much needed downtime including hugs, laughs and even tears.

What challenges will the industry face?

I think the spa industry will continue to face staffing challenges.  Finding therapists and leaders will continue to prove to be a challenge globally. A major implication will not only be to find people for these roles but to find quality, educated and inspired people.

What do you think a future generation of spa and wellness leaders will need to do to succeed?

The future generation of spa and wellness leaders will need to take care of themselves first. We are making such strides in the advancement of treatments and experiences from wellness retreats to urban day locations and often times the leaders and leading therapists focus solely on providing for the guests while neglecting their own health and wellness. Burnout is real and the future generation of leaders need to make this a priority and have more means than ever before to do so.

What skills will they have to have?

A top skill for leaders of the future will be human empathy. I am finding that team members are valuing a caring approach and have the need to be heard and understood more than ever before. In fact, they are expecting and demanding it. A leader will need to be cognizant of the mental health and wellness of their team members and show genuine concern and interaction.

What are you excited about?

Anyone who knows me knows that I get excited by pretty much everything! With that being said, the things that I am most excited about are the technological advancements we are making in health and wellness, the fact that wellness has such a farther reach outside of the spa walls, and on the other side of the spectrum we are turning to ancient modalities more and more proving their importance and efficacy.


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