Interview with Martin Goldmann, Chief Wellbeing Officer at ASPA International
Martin Goldmann the Chief Wellbeing Officer at ASPA International, has almost 25 years of experience in the spa and wellness industry. Martin has been at the forefront of many changes and trends and has worked on numerous hotel wellness construction projects across the globe advocating the advancement of the spa and wellness industry as a whole, as well as the importance self-care and wellness for individuals and communities worldwide.
Within your specialism of spa development and bespoke spa and wellbeing concepts, you have a particular focus on advanced wet areas and innovations to make spas more sustainable, with great energy saving concepts. You have been at the forefront of the wellbeing industry for almost 25 years – what inspired you to want to work in wellbeing originally?
I was born in South Africa, and the one thing that the English left behind them was a fantastic education system. So, I was very privileged to attend some very good schools and there were always sports involved, so I’ve always had this passion for sports. By nature, you fall into a wellbeing way of lifestyle, going down to the local health and racket club at the weekends to play squash and they had saunas. So, from the age of around 10 you’d have a full day of squash and then end up in the sauna. This was my first touchpoint of wellness.
I grew up in South Africa and left in 1987 to join the family business in Portugal, which had been established in 1983 and was focused on private wellness (and then subsequently also kitchens and bathrooms), such as saunas and steam for luxury villas. In the Early 2000’s after the financial crisis, we had a huge change in direction and moved into purely wellness for both the franchised home spa business (HOMESPA™) and commercial wellness, initially working with resorts in Portugal, and then expanding to Africa with Mozambique, Angola and Portuguese speaking areas.
We survived Covid thanks to a super, super team – we made it! Last year (2022) we took it slowly, but now we’re in a growth stage again. This year we’re beginning to add skillsets to the team again and staying working remotely. It works, modern technology allows us to go around the world.
We have several current projects in hotel wellness construction, including West Palm Beach Florida, Portugal (covering the north, central and the Algarve), as well as Southern Spain, Malta, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Zanzibar. We’re currently tendering projects in the Philippines, Vietnam and Central Africa.
For our hotel projects we work on the basis of ‘5 pillars of success’:
- Design- This is the main focus, as we are predominantly a design company who employ architects, craftsman and engineers, all who have vast amount of experience within the spa and wellness industries
- Supply of specialised equipment, for example hammams, steam cabins, flotation pods, cryotherapy etc
- Turnkey, this means all the smaller elements, for example hanging of the curtains, getting the right slippers and robes, creating menus etc.
- Preventative Maintenance, this means we’ll come back every month, every quarter, biannual or annual depending on the hotel, to look after the specialist equipment.
What do you think the biggest changes have been in the industry within the years you’ve been are the forefront of the wellness industry?
It’s a tricky question, but what I’ve noticed is there is a swing away from the treatment rooms. 10 years ago, treatment rooms were really dominated by the skincare brands, who demanded a number of treatment rooms in a spa and a minimum stock order. I think this has gone out of favour and people are thinking more about the process, and rather than looking to brands to capture people’s attention, they are looking at the issues their guests are coming into the spa with. So, people are more stressed or sleep deprived, how can we fix or help this? This has resulted, especially in the last twelve months, of very high-tech solutions coming into spas. I believe there is a fine line between gimmicky and actual results, so when choosing which ones to go with there needs to be a focus on efficacy to avoid any ‘snake oil’.
I believe people aren’t told how to use sauna and steam cabins properly, no one tells you how to properly use the ice in the ice basin! I think the focus has been on up-selling cosmetics and skincare for too long and actually we should be training staff to teach guests how to get the most benefits out of their sauna and steam experience, for the best health benefits. I’m very passionate about it! Saunas have been around since 10,000 BC, it has to be doing something good for the human body – Finland is the happiest nation in the world again this year and they are practically born in saunas!
What do you think are currently the biggest challenges faces spa and wellbeing businesses?
I think the biggest challenge is education. If you educate the spa work force (so the whole entire team) it gives us two things; firstly, an educated person can earn a higher salary, creating stability in the industry because we see a lot of instability in the industry. You can justify the salary by what they can give back to customer. Secondly, there is a need to try and educate our customer. That isn’t an easy challenge; they often don’t have time or think you are trying to sell them something. So, it can be a long, hard process of the customer building confidence in the spa team.
We should be visiting spa once a week, even if it’s just a thermal area, a quick massage, the gym, or sauna. Isn’t a luxury product, it should be for everyone.
ASPA is dedicated to creating ‘Wellness temples’, please tell us more about this concept?
I believe that hospitals need to become a place of recovery and recuperation, healthy buildings with light and fresh air coming in where people can have access to a steam or a walking track to go on. We took the clinical model and a wellness model and merged it, to create a ‘Wellness Temple™’. We’re creating a model that can be rolled out to 38 locations across the world.
This means working on things such as colour and aroma, two vitally important things for the human body. The quickest way to reach the amygdala is through smell, so we’re working on ways to break down the aroma to fine particles, so it enters the lungs and helps you, rather than sitting in nasal passages. We know the powers of Rosemary, Lavender, and Peppermint. They’ve been with us for thousands of years and are tremendously powerful.
So, we designed healthy buildings, filled with light, and in most of the buildings we had tropical gardens for people to walk through, filled with birds such as Parakeets and Lovebirds that make beautiful chirping noises. There are also libraries for visitors, and a kitchen with a dietitian who can give advice. We’re always bringing it back to education. There are many ways to heal the human person, not just with an operating theatre.
What is the ASPA approach to sustainability and how do you think the wellbeing industry’s approach to sustainability is going to evolve in the next few years?
We recently launched a project in Zanzibar, which we consider to be the greenest spa in Africa. The focus was on sustainability, defined in this project as reducing energy costs and conserving water use. We put in systems on the sauna and the steam cabins and hammams, to save energy. If the door is not opened for 30 minutes, the sauna system goes into hibernation and drops down to 60 degrees automatically closing the ventilation. The moment the door is opened, the sauna is restarted and back up to 80 degrees in three to five minutes. This also works for steam cabins or hammams; the door can stay open for two minutes and if door remains open the cabin is shut down, so no steam is pumped out into corridors. It is these basic, small things that make a huge difference.
In terms of what’s new in sustainability, we’re running tests to put pipes through the roof of the steam cabin, to collect heat and push back to vitality pool. It’s proving quite successful!
Our Steam cabins use recycled water from basin and shower water, this is recycled and it’s used for irrigation and washing, then also as steam. It has been proven safe and odourless. When the spa is closed, the entire pool filtration system hibernates, for example it slows speed down on the pumps to reduce energy consumption. When spa reopens, everything goes back up to 100% and all the features start working.
In Bahrain we had a project where we recycled the water from the sensory showers and then we used that water for water features around the spa. A sensory shower would usually use 80 litres per min, but we’ve reduced to 8 litres per minute by using different nozzles and injecting peppermint! It gives a cool, refreshing feel and reduces water use.
There is still a lot to be done! We’re looking at saunas and our sauna heaters. Heating elements are split into two, so we use both heating elements until a higher energy point and then one switches off to reach the final temperature. This saves energy waste, and we can switch on the second if needed (for example if a door opens and closes a lot), this saves a tremendous amount of money as you aren’t constantly using both.
What is a project that you’re really proud of?
There are a number! The Zanzibar project because of its greenness and use of technology. We researched the oldest hammam in Africa so we were able to create a very authentic experience. The technology there is brilliant and worth it’s weight in gold in terms of sustainability.
I’m very proud of the boutique Hotel Villa Joya on the Algarve from 2005, it’s a three-star Michelin boutique hotel with a great little spa that is still running as beautifully as when it launched.
How important is it for you to coordinate with other leading wellness companies, such as Raison d’Etre?
It’s fundamental! I see the work we do as complementing Raison d’Etre, we’re like a sub consultant for them who can help make every idea possible. We love being able to collaborate and share ideas!