Houston, Texas (Oct. 21, 2012): Students studying hospitality at the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management had a pleasant surprise this semester when they were given gift cards for massages in one of their classes. Su Gibson, lecturer in spa management and organizer of the Houston Spa Association, has developed a partnership with a Houston-area spa company. This partnership allows students enrolled in her Introduction to Spa Management course to go “undercover” and enjoy spa treatments as secret shoppers.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to experience spa treatments as customers and to think like a spa manager at the same time,” Gibson said.

As part of the course, students are assigned audits for one or two spas in the area. They book treatments and show up for their appointments—just like any other customer would. Once they have their treatments, students complete audit forms that measure the customer experience for all service “touch points,” from booking through check-out. They also discuss their experiences in class and write papers on their recommendations. Later in the course, students are given information about the audit’s least and most successful spas and are able to connect to their own experiences as secret shoppers. Now that the program has been in place for several semesters, performance from the audits can be compared over time and between locations. Students have completed approximately 100 audits over the past year through the program, and at least that many are planned for this academic year.

“I can lecture to my students about spa treatments and the customer experience, but it’s not until after they’ve done their audits that I can really see a difference in their responses and interactions,” said Gibson. “The process really enhances their learning and illustrates the concepts we discuss in class.”

At the end of the semester, spa owners participating in this secret-shopper program will be invited to a presentation of the findings. The presentation will be conducted by members of the student chapter of the Houston Spa Association.

The Introduction to Spa Management course is part of the undergraduate curriculum at Hilton College, and is a required course for those students graduating with an emphasis in spa management.

The Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, which offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in hotel and restaurant management and hospitality management, has become a world leader in hospitality education and is consistently ranked one of the top-ranked hospitality programs in the world. Currently, students from 34 countries study there.