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The Spa in the age of reason

After a period of expansion in all directions, has the spa now reached cruising speed? The concept has firmly established itself among customers’ habits and hotel offerings. It has succeeded in proving that it is not a passing mode, but that it has a place in the wellness quest, and is in synch with the desires of clientele at this onset of the XX1st century.

In the United States, the spas attendance ranks fourth among the most important leisure activities. Spamania has not lost ground but has established itself as a durable phenomenon. Why? Because it is perfectly in keeping with the times. But the very concept of the spa is perpetually changing. It is not a stagnant one. And this is what gives it such a “trendy” and innovative character although it is now a fixture at virtually all 4* and 5* hotels worldwide. Furthermore, the other segments are also beginning to equip themselves. Once a privilege of an elite selection of luxury connoisseurs-amateurs, the spa has managed its way by penetrating mass culture through countless articles and coverage by the media. Today, the phenomenon even has a specialized press and a cohort of hardcore “spa-goers” who experiment through a constellation of blogs and forums online. The information vectors are not to be under-estimated: a property’s demise can happen as quickly as its demise there.While they don’t replace the real “well-being institutes” that are the big spas, these installations really administer the treatments that are the most appreciated by the general public and allow a hotel to say “spa” without being deceptive about the concept. It remains to be seen to what extent the spa can be democratized without losing some of its “magic” or its trendy character. In this regard, the biennial salon Equip’Hotel, to be held in Paris next November should be rich in information about the future evolutions of the sector...The International spa association, ISPA, has carried out an in-depth survey profiling well-being aficionados around the world, and in particular those who have been called “spa-travellers”, meaning tourists who make the spa a destination or at least a major amenity in their stay. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they are regulars year round. The results, which were recently made public, are rich in lessons and do away with a few clichés. First of all the study makes a clear distinction between “spa-goers” and “spa-travellers”. While the prior are regular clients at spas for whom spa-going is part of their quest for long-term balance and health – one could almost say a way of life -, the latter are much more impulsive about it. They are looking for immediate satisfaction, throughout their stay, or even just one session. This category represents the majority of clientele at “spa destinations” and “spa resorts”, two labels that are still often confused. The first refers to properties that are fully dedicated to wellbeing for full immersion in the spa universe, with no other goal, like a stay at a thalasso centre. The second refers to a hotel that has full spa installations but also offers other activities and hosts clientele that are not necessarily interested in the spa.Regardless, for spa-travellers (of which 36% are now men), hotels are the most popular for body care (81% in the United States and 73% in Canada). But the day-spas – the privileged fiefs of spa-goers – can represent competition for hotels when they have a good reputation locally and advertise to tourists (23% in the USA and 37% in Canada). The most popular treatment remains the massage (for 88% of those interviewed). Next follow facial massages (which are a category in and of their own), body treatments (oils, aromatherapy, vinotherapy, etc.) and manicures/pedicures. It may also be observed that spas have succeeded in eliminating the last barriers that continued to discourage some from going to them. For example, the embarrassment of undressing or being touched by a stranger’s hands, has found a compromise in the adoption of new techniques such as Shiatsu (a Japanese technique that involves pressure of fingers and palms on strategic points of the body while fully dressed) or reflexology, which concentrates exclusively on hands and feet. The same is true for cranio-sacral therapy, which concentrates on the head, neck and shoulders to produce deep calm.There is no real peak season for spa vacations, which is advantageous for equipped hotels, ensuring occupancy even during slow seasons.Spas-travellers choose above all nearby destinations (such as Mexico and the Caribbean for American clients) but spa travel is becoming increasingly compatible with a jaunt to Europe. In fact, the cultural gap between America and the Old Continent when it comes to the spa is closing. But subtleties in technique persist nonetheless: properties on the Old Continent increasingly promote the medical character of the spa, thermal springs, pure relaxation, whereas American and Asian spas tend more towards offering an “experience” that is as spiritual as it is physical, with ethnic music and candles contributing to the ambience.In America the fitness dimension is also more present, as is a culinary aspect (bio, dietetic) that is developing at high speed. But the gap is closing and in America a city such as Budapest is even considered the worldwide spa capital thanks to its incredible concentration of thermal springs (118 in all). Its rich history in the field dates back to the Roman era and, more recently, services provided at local palaces such as the Hotel Gellert and the Grand Hotel Margitsziget, both of which are managed by the Hungarian group Danubius, as well as the Corinthia Hotel Aquincum, have succeeded in taking advantage of and even strengthening the city’s aura in this regard thanks to their first rate equipment.In recent months the spa has been democratised for the whole family. Women have converted their daughters at adolescence, as well as their husbands. The next stage will surely include activities designed for children within the same spa. Although the customer profile is changing, motivations remain the same. The spa benefit that is the most sought-after and the most popular is stress release. After that come slightly more “esoteric” discourses regarding spiritual regeneration, reconciliation with the body, etc. The absence of any schedule or obligations other than treating oneself well is also a powerful driver. The four most pertinent points in the consumer’s choice are -in this order-: accommodations, the type of equipment and treatments available, the value for price and the destination’s friendly/affordable character/caractère abordable de la destination.The spa is a brand in and of its own, whose presence permeates the hotel (beauty product kits, welcome gifts, oils and a variety of samples) and adds to its overall atmosphere as well as to its reputation. It is not surprising that it overflows from the simple well-being space into rooms. Relaxing spa-like water jets may be incorporated into any bathtub. Gentle bubbles or powerful jet stream, the massage bath is available right in the room. Aromatic candles and the right lighting complete the client’s impression of having a personal spa. At Spa-Sud, an importer of upmarket equipment, there is no impression of any major evolution in demand in terms of segment. “The 4* seg ment remains the main market. It is true that 3* hotel sector is developing, but this is still shy”. As the up market is nearly entirely equipped, sales are slowing a bit. The presence of a spa is now considered normal by clientele. It is no longer a “plus” in and of itself (but its reputation and prestige, as well as its more elaborate than average equipment and original treatments, are). This means that in 2006, the absence of a spa at a hotel can be fatal above a certain standing, leaving hoteliers with no choice. Nonetheless, not all properties have the space or budget to organize a space from the ground up and hire specialized personnel. But all is not lost for the moment. If we stick to the initial definition of spa —sanus per aquam— meaning health through water, now there is a full range of alternative solutions: built in spas. Concretely speaking these are “basins” that can accommodate 6 (the standard) to 10 people and more, outfitted with different massage jets and ergonomic seats. The jets are directed at tension points on the body to provide an optimal hydrotherapy effect. All the parameters for these mini-spas may be defined using a control panel that makes it possible to determine what type of massage should be applied to each muscle. In terms of design, it is available in a vast selection of material, from white tiles to natural wood surfaces. Underwater lighting is also available in different colours.While they don’t replace the real “well-being institutes” that are the big spas, these installations really administer the treatments that are the most appreciated by the general public and allow a hotel to say “spa” without being deceptive about the concept. It remains to be seen to what extent the spa can be democratized without losing some of its “magic” or its trendy character. In this regard, the biennial salon Equip’Hotel, to be held in Paris next November should be rich in information about the future evolutions of the sector...

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