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European Spas: Tradition and Inspiration

By Bryan Durocher
Posted: April 14, 2008, from the November 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

Everybody tours Europe differently. Some people head straight to the museums, galleries and opera halls for a dose of old-world culture, while others study the dining guides and book tables at the finest four-star eateries in the continent’s dining capitals. Some like to rent a villa and spend their time luxuriating beside a sparkling pool, and still others grab a credit card and a currency exchange cheat sheet and hit the fabulous shops.
       Another European must is visiting as many spas as possible to uncover new ideas, approaches and strategies to take back to the States. It is important to learn about the latest ingredients and services, and experience new products and treatments. Study the décor, the protocols, the customer care strategies, the cultural influences and the distinct touches that make these places unique. Be on the lookout for those distinctions that will give you something to make your business stand out among the crowd at home.
       For the past few months, I have traveled extensively, and have had an opportunity to visit wonderful spas in London, Paris and Germany. What I have concluded, now that I’m home, may surprise you. It certainly surprised me!
       In the United States, more and more spas are relying on the latest, quickest strategies for instant results. This particular spa experience is all about injecting, buffing, sloughing, peeling and prodding the skin. Effective, yes, and strident anti-aging treatments are what many clients want. But, based on my European experiences, I believe that many spas are losing sight of something very important—namely, the traditional spa experience. What makes this memorable? Four things: quality, customization, service and the opportunity to spend uninterrupted, self-focused time away from a life that’s full of endless distractions.
       A recent International SPA Association (ISPA) study polling spa-goers and non-spa goers in the United States and Canada revealed a core group of about 3.5 million dedicated spa devotees in this country: these are the clients you want to attract and keep. To do so, and in order to stand out among the U.S. spas that are trending more and more to the clinical and the impersonal, a business owner would be well-advised to stop, take a look back and determine how the traditional aspects of the spa experience could serve a modern establishment. And what better place to study these aspects than Europe, where many spa concepts actually originated?
       Five of the spas I experienced recently serve as prime examples of how quality, customization, tradition and service never go out of style. Here’s a peek inside each.

Spa Studio
The Lanesborough, a St. Regis Hotel, London
Summary:  Intimacy, privacy, seamless treatment flow

       Overview. This richly appointed intimate spa in one of London’s most elegant hotels has only two treatment rooms. The facility is a brilliant marriage of traditional English- and Far Eastern-inspired styles. The Serail Room, created by the German-based Balnea group, is a beautifully tiled aromatherapy steam and shower room, illuminated by a ceiling of twinkling lights. 

        My experience. At Spa Studio, I opted for the Serail Mud Treatment with Indian Head Massage. Completely contained in the Serail Room, the treatment began with a self-application of colored, detoxifying muds as essence-infused steam permeated the room. After 20 minutes, a gentle warm rain washed away the mud and a therapist performed a balancing massage using lypolipic oil with mint and bitter orange. An Indian head massage with cedar and lavender completed the experience.
       The takeaway. I took note of several important things at Spa Studio. First and foremost were the intimacy and the privacy of the experience. Every element of the treatment—wet and dry—was performed in the Serail Room, eliminating the necessity to move around during the course of the service. In addition to the convenience of the multipurpose room, a single therapist, well-trained in multiple protocols, performed every segment of the treatment, maintaining intimacy, privacy and consistency.
       The flow was impeccable. Two hours passed seamlessly and I never felt rushed, or as if the technician was ticking off a mental checklist as she worked. Additional details worth mentioning are the fine aromatherapy products used in the shower room and the treatments; the ultra-thick, luxurious towels; and the presence of a button in the treatment room that allows the client to discreetly signal the therapist when ready for the next phase of the treatment. This smart feature eliminates the need for knocking and negates the possibility of the therapist entering the treatment room at the wrong time.

Ark Spa
Wimbledon, England
Summary: Getting personal, outstanding training, nonintimidating service

       Overview. One of four Ark Spa locations, the Dermalogica Signature Spa in this delightful English village reflects the modern, airy, California-informed esthetic of the American-based skin care company. Fresh and vibrant with light wood floors and white walls, Ark Spa is comfortable, friendly and welcoming. Located on a lower level, the treatment rooms are quiet and immaculate.
       My experience. At Ark, it’s all about personalization and customization. A comprehensive intake form, which thoroughly assesses lifestyle and health matters, as well as personal preferences, allows the therapist to take the spa’s core facial treatment and customize it with specific products and procedures. The consultation also delves deeply into exactly what the client is experiencing on the day of the visit, which can affect treatment choices considerably. For example, although I have an oily complexion, extensive travel and jet lag had left my skin quite dehydrated, and the technician adjusted the products and her approach accordingly. When I left, my skin was revitalized. What’s more, as a male, I appreciated the fact that the product fragrances were pleasant but subtle.

       The takeaway. Ark skin care therapists are incredibly well-trained, with two years of undergraduate education and extensive ongoing postgraduate sessions. As a result, they instill confidence through their knowledge and abilities. That confidence is enhanced during the treatment because they thoroughly describe and explain every step and each product that they use. At Ark, one receives five-star quality and customer service at an affordable price in an extremely nonintimidating environment.