The Weekend Australian "Home and away" by Susan Kurosawa

The cool and chic Halcyon House, at Cabarita Beach on the NSW north coast, has opened a serene wellness spa featuring T+I’s favourite skin and body care brand Sodashi. The Halcyon Spa sanctuary has been conceived by specialist consultant Naomi Gregory, whose projects include Kamalaya in Koh Samui, Thailand; and designed by architect Virginia Kerridge with interiors by Brisbane’s Anna Spiro, whose distinctive decorating style is found throughout the 21-room seaside property.  Spiro describes the look and palette as being drawn fromthe ocean, “peppered with shades of blue, turquoise, pale pink, coral, beige and seafoam”.  There’s a relaxation lounge with covered balcony, a dome-shaped steam bath and stylishly decorated treatment rooms, including configurations for couples. Spiro has also used her bespoke textiles, which feature

prominently as upholstery and soft furnishings in guestrooms, along with decorative encaustic tiles. Australia’s Sodashi produces a wide range of 100 per cent chemical-free products; book its Samadara Ultimate Age-Defying facial (105 minutes; $285), for the ultimate in renewal or go the whole holiday hog with a Halcyon Day of Youth (five hours, $495), including head-to-toe therapies and lunch at Paper Daisy, the acclaimed inhouse restaurant.

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Halcyon Spa... spa lovers rejoice!

Halcyon Spa flung open it's doors on December 18th, 2017. Located at one of Australia's most loved coastal hotels, Halcyon House is located at Cabarita Beach, and it's only a hop skip and a jump from Coolangatta airport.  We had the privilege of working with Virginia Kerridge Architects who nailed the brief and Anna Spiro who's interiors and styling are nothing short of exquisite.  The extensive spa menu uses local chemical-free skincare champion Sodashi, made in Freemantle, WA.  There are full facility change rooms and a stunning steam bath to use prior to a treatment.   There is also a dreamy boutique with gorgeous resortwear, hats, jewellery and of course all spa product must-haves, to take home.

Head over to to check out what's on offer.

 Images © Kara Rosenlund

Images © Kara Rosenlund

Sigourney visits spaQ Gold Coast

Thanks for the great write up Sigourney.  Always a pleasure to host you and I know Sarah and Jenny were thrilled to look after you!

"Spread across the first floor of the fun and lively QT Gold Coast, spaQ is a welcome respite from the frenetic pace of Surfer’s Paradise. In fact, the whole hotel manages to respectfully reflect the best of the nearby famous strip (the beaches and the chilled-out vibe) while cosseting guests from the worst (the nightclubs and the tourist traps). And spaQ is like a cool oasis of comfort from all of it.


Stepping out of the lifts on level one, I quickly spot the neon signs of spaQ – beckoning me to a bright, welcoming space furnished with pops of colour and beachy cane decor. I’ve just checked into the hotel for two nights with the family and am already slipping into holiday mode. When I left Damien on kid-duty poolside (on a big white daybed, mind you) no one even complained. Cue: backing away slowly and bolting for the lift. 

Now, as Sarah, the Spa Manager, welcomes me calmly and shows me to my locker, I start to feel the stress from the hectic flight slip from my shoulders. I don a white satin robe (not unlike the ones a boxer wears to a championship fight) and a pair of cushy rubber slippers and pad out to meet Jenny, my massage therapist.


On the way to my treatment room (there are 6 at spaQ – and external non-QT guests are welcome to book treatments) I peek my head into the Hamaam. Arrive ahead of your treatment time and bring your swimmers if you want to spend some time there. There’s also a row of manicure stations overlooking the pool, a lovely array of Uspa products alongside Issada mineral makeup and trendy Louvelle shower caps. 

As a firm-massage aficionado, I’m ashamed to say that in the past I’ve been guilty of judging a masseuse by their stature. One look at Jenny -  a pretty and petite brunette - may suggest her technique might be more light nudge than heavy kneed, but minutes in to my thermal massage, I could tell I was in for something special. She explained that the U-Spa oil she was using contains a blend that would help relieve the tension from my muscles while relaxing my mind. At least I think that’s what she said, because by that stage my mind was hovering somewhere between the eleventh floor of the hotel and a sublime Alpha-state. The hour whipped by with astronomic speed and I almost cried when she said softly, “How are you feeling Sigourney?” – which is massage-therapist-speak for,  “Lady, your moment of bliss is O-V-E-R – but allow me to show you to the Relaxation Room.” 

The Relaxation Room was very nice and almost enough of a compensation. I snugged down into a smooshy sheepskin covered Acapulco chair and sipped my Serenity Mayde Tea. ‘You could definitely fall asleep here,’ I think as I watch some seriously cute kids playing happily in the pool below…. ‘Hey… they look kind of familiar.’ 


Kokomo Private Island, Fiji

We've been working on the exquisite Kokomo Private Island in Fiji, to bring a new spa project to life.  Yaukuve Island, the island Kokomo sits on, is part of the Kaduva group, the southern most cluster of islands of Fiji.  It's STUNNING.  We were absolutely thrilled to see this five page lead travel story on Kokomo Island Fiji in the March issue of Harper’s BAZAAR.  Kokomo is set to open March 31st, 2017.

"The spa, created by International Spa Consultant Naomi Gregory, is a destination in itself. Gregory selected the heavenly Sodashi product range and the treatment menu folds in Fijian elements, as well as utilising a hammam and wet and dry treatment bures. But it's the apres-treatment chill-out space that makes this spa spectacular.  The construction is a standout example of barefoot Fijian luxury in an open air weatherer-wood bure with roof beams bound in traditional rope and breezy low-cushioned relaxation spaces to plop into for hours" ~ Eliza O'Hare
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SPA + CLINIC How Secret Shopping Can Save Your Business



The importance of evaluating a business’s strengths and weaknesses through the experience of an everyday guest hit home for Naomi around 15 years ago, shortly before she started as manager of an aesthetics clinic. This eventually led to her establishing Catch Praise, to take the guess work out of measuring guest satisfaction, helping businesses to fine tune their services and the way they deliver them so that customers turn into their best sales people. The recent relaunch of Catch Praise represents years of collective hospitality experience in the luxury spa, hotel and resort market. Available online by subscription, Catch Praise provides measured and automated secret shopper and guest satisfaction surveying tools for spa’s and salons. We asked Naomi to talk about her passion for collecting guest feedback and why she considers the data to be her secret weapon:  

How it all began

Recognising how difficult it is for us to take a truly objective customer view of our business when we are entrenched in the day-to-day operation, I decided to evaluate my new business’s performance from an “anonymous guest” perspective before starting the role. I picked a day when I knew the manager wouldn’t be there, booked an appointment under a fictitious name and off I went. The investigative experience was less than ideal but absolutely invaluable. I deliberately arrived early to an unsuspecting team of therapists and receptionists casually leaning on the counters and retail displays absorbed in a conversation about the weekend. Big smiles were flashed as I was seated, and then the conversation resumed as if I wasn’t there except now in hushed but still audible tones. My resolve to prioritise service standards was continuously strengthened as I moved through my treatment experience, with one memorable moment being my therapist telling me “how lucky I was to be able to afford it here”. Needless to say I departed my secret shopping experience with an incredibly detailed “to do” list before starting the job. This secret shopping experience enabled me to hit the ground running in terms of prioritising improvements around service standards and the guest journey, boosting return-visit custom, streamlining the operation and ultimately improving the property’s financial performance. Keen to track my performance and determined to ensure the improvements made were consistent and ongoing, I prioritised the implementation of a regular secret shopping program. I researched professional secret shopping services to find that not only were they outside my budget, but there was not one specialising in spa services. I was committed to ensuring the performance gaps I’d identified through my secret shopping experience never happened again on my watch. I needed a cost-effective way to track and benchmark service delivery from a guest perspective so I did what so many have done before me; I created my own and never looked back. I remain a firm believer that utilising a quality secret shopping program in our business reveals the true value of a well-executed guest service journey. With guest spend decisions driven by the emotional reaction to the spa experience, when handled well, secret shopping helps improve sales, average spend, rebooking, repeat business, retail sales and general loyalty. From an HR perspective, secret shopping provides a framework to develop staff training, reward and recognition programs, reinforce performance expectations and team work, and drive motivation and satisfaction levels. It aids in uncovering gaps in the service experience, facility presentation and technical skills, providing a clear view of what property managers and owners should spend their time and energies addressing. As much as it is useful for identifying areas of improvement, I also found secret shopping became one of my most valuable tools to highlight star performance which was great for team morale and motivation levels.  

Refining the offering

Discovering the aspects guests really value can be a surprising revelation. Business operators I have worked with are frequently surprised that, while a team may be 100 percent compliant delivering defined service protocols, it may not necessarily have materially impacted the guest’s sense of welcome, happiness and content. One way to find out if your processes are truly guest-centric is to frame questions in your customer feedback or secret shopping forms so that the responses give you a clear indication of how important the particular process, procedure or behavior is to your guests and how it positively (or negatively) impacts their overall experience. In other words, a clearly mapped out journey and set of procedures that you think is pleasing your guests, may actually be frustrating them.  

Assess the whole journey, not just the technical element

Often a majority of our training investment – both money and time – is focused on technical training and we overlook the value of all the critical elements that make up the complete guest journey. The major problem with this is that the reason a customer returns to your business is not only based on the technical attributes of the service they experienced. Guests become fierce followers of your brand because of a series of touch points they experience with you, but we so often overlook the value of finding out if our guests enjoy all the elements of their time with us from reservation right through to departure.

Measure how cumulative behaviours make your guest feel

Ultimately, we are in the feeling business but often we don’t effectively measure how our guests feel. Of course we’ll generally ask at the conclusion of a guest’s service how the service was and sometimes how they are feeling, but we don’t really know how they experienced the various aspects throughout the entire “journey”. It is for this reason that I suggest that when you are asking customer feedback questions you ask not only objective questions like “was the phone answered in three rings” you also ask subjective questions like “how did you feel at the conclusion of your phone call to reserve your appointment?’ This example helps to measure the level of satisfaction and emotions that correlate to specific employee behaviors.

The Expert Myth

"Some of the greatest insights I’ve had over the years have been from people in my social circle or work community when I’ve asked them to be a secret shopper for me.”

Having an expert assess your business can be extremely beneficial. However, due to the cost, it’s unlikely you will be able to do them frequently enough to get a good cross section of feedback and sufficient volume of data to track what is happening consistently over time. Newcomers to your business (or new to a spa or salon) have great insight too. We all want to attract first time guests so that we can turn them into loyal customers, so getting real first timer feedback is very valuable. New spa or salon goers as secret shoppers will be especially helpful in establishing if your guest journey is adequately informative, welcoming and dispels any confusion or fear. Using questions such as the leading growth indicator Net Promoter Score (NPS) “Using a 0-10 scale: How likely is it that you would recommend a friend or colleague?”, will help you determine whether your first timer or indeed anyone visiting your business will help to either promote, or not promote, your brand which of course is directly linked to satisfaction.

What to do with the feedback

A secret shopping program can also really aid as a great team-training tool. It provides data that you can use immediately for coaching and gives you a solid framework for longterm performance management. Importantly, it takes the guesswork out of evaluating team performance because you are able to combine your own observations with accurately measured feedback from your guests. When a secret shopper program is used solely to “catch” poor performance or mistakes, it can do more harm than good. Rather than showcasing and reinforcing the type of stellar service you’d like to see more of, this approach creates a threatening and limiting environment for your team. Additionally, it’s unlikely you will be able to use the program to improve your standards and, consequently, guest satisfaction. While obviously you will want to address any poor performance issues immediately, the best team performance results will come when you focus on acknowledging and rewarding the positives. This is the key to having your team embrace the program, and in doing so, consistently strive to deliver exceptional service. The feedback from a good secret shopping program can do more than measure performance levels – it can also reveal the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. This means that you can tailor your training and coaching to respond to individual needs and save yourself time and money on unnecessary training. Secret shopper feedback can also highlight any operational procedures that may detract from the guest experience. Standard procedures are generally created from the operator’s perspective or to address a business requirement. This doesn’t always transfer to a guest-friendly outcome. If you can pin­ point what procedures aren’t working for your guests and why, you can often find alternatives that will give you the same business results and improve the guest experience.

Creating consistency

Your secret shopper program shouldn’t end when you get a few great feedback reports. Secret shopping is ultimately a tool to help you continuously improve and maintain service levels and reward the team. In order to do this, you need to consistently and regularly measure the guest experience. Your team will be encouraged to continually improve when they know you are committed to consistently measuring, rewarding and coaching their performance. The ideal outcome is consistently high shopper satisfaction scores. When you have the right program, are accurately and consistently measuring feedback and addressing performance and operational issues with both short and long term strategies, then feedback results should continually improve. This improvement should transfer to a more focused team, smoother operational procedures, less fires to put out, more satisfied guests and improved revenue.

Top tips for successful secret shopping

  • Ask the right questions and don’t ask too many

  • Measure how guests feel, along with general compliance questions

  • Structure your program so that you can determine what is important to your guests, therefore refining the operational standards

  • Implement experienced and inexperienced secret shoppers: both provide valuable insights

  • Get your team on board by linking results with rewards, reinforcing great performance and providing recognition across all job roles

  • Do it consistently. Every successful business doesn’t have a finish line when you are aspiring for excellence

  Published in SPA+CLINIC Article

One Wybelenna Opens

One Wybelenna is the result of Heather Sartain's passion to create a nurturing space for the community to enjoy.  One Wybelenna is luxurious, spacious and beautifully designed.   

The original home on the site, in Brookfield, Brisbane, prior to the construction of One Wybelenna, was designed and built in the 1960’s and became an iconic home in the area.

After acquiring the property in 2008, Heather developed a design brief that sought to totally redefine the property. Whilst respecting some key elements of the original property’s design, the aim was to totally redesign and re-develop the 2 acre property into a spacious and tranquil home with a contemporary feel. 

By the end of 2009, Heather had brought together a talented team for the property’s redevelopment, including Shaun Lockyer Architects, builder Bruce Mole from Thallon Mole Group, and the landscaping team from Boss Gardenscapes. The design incorporated stunning contemporary features, making ample use of bluestone and timber in the designs, abundant and varied garden zones, and the deliberate use of external areas to allow enjoyment of the sub-tropical climate. Shaun Lockyer introduced the concepts of the ‘70’s Californian modernist architects into a dramatically elegant architectural design.  The results were spectacularly successful.

In 2012, One Wybelenna won Commendation Awards at the AIA Regional and State Awards, as well as a High Commendation in the national “Houses” Awards.

And for the beautiful landscaping outcomes, Boss Gardenscapes won the prestigious “Residential 4” category and “Irrigation” category at the 2013 Landscape Queensland Construction Excellence Awards. The completed project stood as a testament to the dedicated work of many professionals who have helped in its creation.

In 2014, Heather resolved to transform the entire property. Her vision was to bring together her experiences and knowledge of health and wellness gained over the years to create a unique and beautiful holistic day spa retreat.

The five bedrooms were redesigned into spacious treatment rooms and with the assistance of Penny del Castillo of In Design International, the home was transformed into a luxurious day spa layout. The pool, spa and landscaped surrounds were also incorporated into the concept.  We were the appointed Spa Consultants and had the task of setting up the spa management systems and processes in preparation for opening.

On April 2015, One Wybelenna opened as a home-based business. In September, the full day spa launched. Heather was ready to begin sharing her vision with her guests.

Visit One Wybelenna to see the extensive spa menu and I highly recommend a soak in the magna spa before your treatment.



My "Spa Insiders" GUIDE - Published in The Australian

I was asked for some of my favourite spa's for the Travel and Indulgence section of THE AUSTRALIAN, published this weekend. Here's what I came up with.



BEST ECO: Pristine coastline, spectacular views and treatments inspired by Aboriginal Dreamtime healing await at eco-friendly Bay of Fires Lodge Spa on Tasmania’s northeast coast. The peat mud bath is a must and can be shared by two. The walk-in, walkout (hiking) location makes it a spa experience you’ve earned;

BEST SUNSET: Injidup Spa Retreat is perched high atop a cliff looking across the Indian Ocean in Yallingup, Western Australia. With whales to be spotted, an incredible view and the most spectacular sunsets imaginable, the awe-inspiring setting in the state’s southwest makes it near impossible to shut your eyes (even during Sodashi’s Samadara Ultimate Age- Defying Facial);

DESIGNER: Moody style meets designer cool with a quirky mix of installation art and vintage finds: a Sydney sojourn is incomplete without a visit to spaQ at QT Sydney hotel in the iconic Gowings and State Theatre buildings. Top tips: Mastery Massage for showcasing personal skills of highly trained therapists and the straightedged razor shaves at The Barber Shop for the gents;

NATURAL: Spa aficionados are spoiled for choice in Victoria. The mineral waters of Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa in Hepburn Springs have welcomed guests since 1885 and Peninsula Hot Springs on the Mornington Peninsula offers more thermal pool options than you can imagine;;

FLY AWAY: Forty minutes from Queenstown, on New Zealand’s South Island, and a world away from the everyday, lies luxe Aro Ha Wellness Retreat. Vegetarian cuisine, healing bodywork and mindfulness are complemented by eco-luxe accommodation and world-class programs;

MY LOCAL: Byron Bay’s Gaia Retreat offers diversity of treatments like no other, thanks to the region’s penchant for attracting therapists specialising in a broad array of wellness methods. Top tip: Enjoy lunch post-treatment at the retreat’s  tranquil  Kukura House;



Naomi Gregory is a specialist spa consultant who works throughout Asia-Pacific conceptualising, designing and operating day spas and wellness facilities. She is responsible for brand development and operations for spaQ, a judge for industry awards, and a former board member of the Australasian Spa & Wellness Association;

 Insiders editor: Graham Erbacher