When you look at Roberta Griffiths’s CV, it’s no surprise that she was chosen to take up the mantle of spa manager at award-winning spa retreat Dormy House in the Cotswolds. Griffiths has worked on several expansive spa projects at well-known wellness destinations such as Mandarin Oriental in Singapore, Mövenpick Resort & Marine Spa in Tunisia, and Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa in Cumbria, UK, covering everything from refurbishments to pre-openings.
“I’ve got experience in lots of areas – from guest demographics and market segments to new openings and working with different personalities, ages and nationalities – and I think that gives me a massive overview of how to run spa operations successfully,” says Griffiths. “Hopefully I can pass this experience on to the spa team at Dormy House and help develop them as I’m there to support them – my leadership style is very hands-on.”
Before moving to Dormy house, Griffiths worked as spa director at Armathwaite Hall Hotel and Spa for five years, which she loved. However, she was ready for a new challenge. “I had been following the Farncombe Estate [where Dormy House is based] and Andrew Grahame [the chief executive] on LinkedIn and I really liked the way they viewed hospitality and treated their staff. I liked their whole philosophy,” she explains.
“The bigger roles in the spa industry don’t come up that often so when I saw the spa manager job at Dormy House advertised, it was a no-brainer. However, I couldn’t visit the site before taking the job on because of Covid-19 restrictions, so when I arrived in April 2021 it really was like unwrapping a Christmas present.”
Plan of action
As spa manager, Griffiths manages a team of 18 (including therapists and front-ofhouse staff) and her main goal is to get the spa back up to speed after the past year and a half of disruptions caused by the pandemic. However, she said that this has happened quite quickly already “because the hotel is fully booked, and our spa days are booked right up until September”.
Part of this fast bounce back has been down to the fact that the property is a household name which has always enjoyed a high occupancy rate, but part of it is also due to the situation the country is in. “This year, most people can’t travel abroad, so UK hotels and spas are going to do very well out of that,” says Griffiths.
“We’ve seen an increase in staycations as people have been looking forward to breaks for such a long time now and everyone is keen to do that as much as possible. Even when people are here for the first day of their trip, we’re finding they’re already booking their next break with us as something to look forward to.”
The hope is for the spa to be completely back to normal by the end of the year, but Griffiths says next year could also throw up some challenges.
“People are valuing experiences more now, so will book additional time away over the coming year with loved ones. However, I think 2022 is where the spa industry will face more of a challenge as most people will then want to go abroad, so staycations could be affected.”
Another key challenge for Dormy House, and the spa industry in general, is that guest expectations are much higher, as Griffiths explains. “People have very high expectations in what they are looking for now in terms of hospitality. I’m quite confident in my team, and in their willingness and ability to give the best service, but it’s one of the key elements I’ll be looking at going forward.”
As such, the spa is investing in more VIP and personalised services to entice clients in. One example of this is the spa’s exclusive treatment partnership with farm-to-face natural product brand Tata Harper, which is sustainably sourced from Tata’s organic farm in Vermont, USA. The partnership officially launched on June 1. “At Dormy House, we are very particular about the products we choose and why, and we knew Tata Harper was a good fit with us because of its philosophy – the brand is a natural range, vegan, based on botanicals and very keen on sustainability,’ says Griffiths. “Plus, it’s exclusive as we are only the second company that it is working with in the UK.”
Helping clients to understand why spa visits need to be programmed into their lives in regular weekly/monthly sessions is another important area of focus for Griffiths. “I think this [route] will really expand the spa industry and that’s quite exciting, and it’s something we can look at developing,” she says.
“Different hotels will do this in different ways, but it’s not something that can just be a tick-box exercise. True wellness can’t be that. Wellness is a word that I don’t use lightly as I think it has been overused, but people are looking at it more, and not just as a luxury anymore. Spending time and money to maintain your health shouldn’t be a luxury. It shouldn’t be left for holiday times; it needs to be regular.”
The generation game
Like other big spa establishments, the recruitment challenge is also on Griffiths’s mind, but she has a plan of action in place – Dormy House will be working with local colleges this year to inspire the next generation of beauty therapists.
“To be brutal, recruitment is a major challenge and it’s only getting worse. It’s a combination of a lack of people coming through but also the standards. I think we need to reassess what’s trained in colleges and what the important elements are,” she says. “People need to know the possibilities in this industry because it’s very special and there’s so much scope in the things you can do and the places you can work.”
Over the summer holiday, Griffiths and her team will be preparing the material so that the spa is raring to go in the autumn when colleges return, but she said it’s difficult to say at the moment whether there will need to be a virtual element to it because of the pandemic.
She adds: “We’re not doing this partnership necessarily for the numbers, it’s about getting the right people to choose our industry and for them to be in the right frame of mind. That’s what we’re really looking for.”