A Global Perspective


During the past few years, the spa industry has trult become a global affair. With a growing interest in health and wellness—not to mention beauty—in the rising world population, the spa is one of the first places a growing number of people are turning to for treatments and services aimed at keeping them youthful.

This has fed the boom of day, medical and destination spas throughout the world, as well as a continued interest in traditional skin care and wellness therapies from distant countries, and the rise of the spa experience being an active part of life. Together, these factors have helped the market grow by leaps and bounds.

However, it has also meant an increasing number of influences and trends to follow, more competition within the industry that has grown beyond national borders to include spas from the other side of the world, and an ever-present need for a discerning eye in order to differentiate a fly-by-night fad from something that is truly worthwhile and here to stay.

With a spa business that crosses borders and a background that gives her an international flair all her own, Rima Ariss, managing director with Nufolia, helped sort through the confusing clutter by offering her global view of the world’s spa industry.

Worldwide trends

Although there are a never-ending number of trends currently affecting the global spa market, Ariss shares some of the issues that are making the greatest impacts on the industry.

Natural and organic. “One trend that is continuing to grow worldwide is the interest in organics and naturals,” says Ariss. “Many counties are using their local resources for spa products now, and this has helped the trend become even more popular.”

The desire to help decrease its carbon footprint—or the measure of the impact the activities of a business has on the environment—has led many spas to adopt greening policies, as well as turn to more holistic and natural ingredients and products.

Ariss explains that, in addition to aiding the planet, going green in the spa has spurred local economies because of the increasing use of regional agriculture and labor, and it has brought global issues to the forefront, helping owners and managers make more responsible decisions and put more conscientious policies into practice.

Ariss identifies spa-growth nations such as India, South Africa and Australia as some that have taken the natural trend to heart, merging their homegrown vegetation, minerals and other indigenous resources with their traditional therapies. “Some, such as India and its ayurveda, have a natural base to start from,” she says. “It’s like them going back to their roots. Only now they have the opportunity and resources to make things much more refined. And the end-users—the spa-goers—are becoming very astute about what they are putting on their skin.”

Medical spas. Ariss also sees the number of medical spas in the world continuing to rise. “Medical spas are still very big,” she notes. “With their anti-aging offerings and the amount of baby boomers and others working to stay looking young, medical spas are some of the most lucrative spa businesses out there.” She has seen medical spas opening worldwide, including in the growing markets of the Middle East, South America and Asia.

However, there is still the distinct need and desire for day, resort and destination spa services, Ariss explains. “Depending on what clients want, medical spas don’t always offer the right kinds of treatments. They rely on laboratory-like results, so if someone really wants to get rid of wrinkles or have a more advanced skin treatment, a medical spa might be right for them. But for those who want to relax and rejuvenate, they will probably be looking to frequent a more traditional spa.”

As one of the biggest growing sectors in the spa industry, however, medical spas and the variety of treatments they offer are a market force to watch for years to come.

A sense of independence. All of this growth of medical spas hasn’t only left room for chain spas, though. “I don’t think that’s the way the industry is going at all,” says Ariss. The familiarity and customized offerings only a day spa and its knowledgeable staff can provide remain a key draw for clients. “People are still interested in seeking out something special, and spas are still working to develop their own signature treatments, their own fingerprints,” she says.

Ariss explains that, in order to draw in new clientele and keep it loyal, spas everywhere need to create their own atmosphere. “Spas are really looking to differentiate themselves with a unique offering,” she says. “It’s how they keep people coming back for more.” So developing a distinct style, menu and environment have never been more to a spa’s advantage.

Unmatched service. Of course, nothing can match the satisfaction of an exemplary service performed by a well-trained and well-tempered spa professional. In fact, Ariss still sees quality spa service as one of the essential components of a good spa visit, no matter the global location.

She also believes that the countries that offer the best service are the ones that are growing the most. “The luxury of the experience matched with the quality of the treatments in Dubai is phenomenal,” she enthuses. “And the service in India is just incredible, too.” This has helped these two locations grow to be spa giants in the world market, helping them garner some of the world’s top facilities, professionals, products lines and even clientele. “Other places just can’t match them,” Ariss explains. “People are going out of their way to visit spas in these places.”

The world scene

Different regions of the world are experiencing various phases of growth when it comes to the spa industry, each identifying their own resources and solutions, customer needs and cultural offerings that harmonize with the business of skin care and wellness. By covering the scene one piece at a time, Ariss brings attention to the regions of the world where the spa market is booming, places where it is on the verge of taking off and, finally, spots where spa has settled in as a solid market.

Booming business: The Middle East and Asia. With their rising population numbers and growing wealth, two of the largest markets for the spa industry are the Middle East and countries in Asia.

Examining nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Ariss says, “All of the Middle East is booming like crazy right now. Its countries’ economies are growing, and they have emerging countries, which are leading to a very large spa market.”

She identifies Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates, as the hot spot of the Middle East’s spa scene, noting its exquisite therapies, high-caliber service and reputation as a dazzling destination city. “People go to Dubai for many reasons—it’s the talk of the global market and everybody knows about it, so Dubai now is focusing on attracting people through tourism by offering luxury services through hotels, spas and other forms of recreation,” Ariss says. The spa scene in Dubai has developed as a model for the surrounding Middle Eastern nations, according to Ariss, because many other countries are following that city’s lead in looking to draw in wealthy travelers and businesspeople.

Turning to the spa offerings from countries on the Asian continent, Ariss notes their continuing influence on treatment trends worldwide. “Asian trends have reverberated throughout the world for the years now,” she says. Traditional Chinese medicine, yoga techniques and Reiki treatments are just a few of the therapies that have originated in Asia and are experiencing a renewal of interest at spas in every country. And many of the traditional Asian treatments also pair nicely with the trends of natural and organic, as well as wellness.

As one country that has particularly capitalized on its resources and traditional therapies, India is seeing growth that nearly matches that of Dubai. “India is also a country that is growing exponentially in terms of spas,” says Ariss. “Their economy is growing as well, and they have a background and history with spa and spa-related therapies that really anchors them as a power now.”

The immense population of China has also created a desire to build the spa market there, but Ariss sees that country as currently more geared toward the cosmetic market. “It’s more of a question of social status in China,” she says. “Anything that is considered a luxury brand or has global name recognition or a lot of global equity is popular there. It’s all about them trying to make a larger social statement.”

Sheer numbers aren’t the only influencing factor in the Asian spa market, however. Ariss identifies Thailand as another hot spot in the region, and notes that it has given the world such distinct spa practices as Thai massage. Thailand has also worked to create its own unique spa image and experience—a beautiful, enriching, immersive atmosphere. “People going to India or Thailand are often going for that spiritual experience,” Ariss says. “That’s something a place like Dubai can’t offer.”

Emerging markets: Africa and South America. The spa industry has also inspired some developing nations to get into the mix, although many are just starting to get their feet wet in terms of creating their own spa identities, presence and trends. Two of the areas of the world seeing this particular part of the growth cycle are Africa and South America.

With Egypt’s proximity to the Middle East, it is seeing a similar booming trend, but budding spa growth on the rest of the African continent is also beginning to expand. Ariss notes that South African spas are coming into their own, showing a flair for using local resources. “They’re very strong in the natural trend, and they have very good local resources through agriculture for ingredients and products,” she says.

Africa is also emerging as a tourist destination with its wilderness and stunning natural beauty, helping some of its hotels and resorts score top spots on the 2008 World’s Best reader survey in Travel + Leisure magazine. “The market is still being sought out there,” Ariss explains. “Many more people are going to Africa because of tourism, and just a handful of them are going to experience the spas there. You mainly hear about travel to Africa for safari and charitable missions, but not spas.” This, however, makes the area important in the future growth of the spa market.

Another continent just picking up steam in terms of the spa industry, Ariss says, is South America. “In South America, there is a lot of opportunity just starting to emerge,” she explains. “Brazil in particular is growing in the spa industry; that country is seeing spas opening like crazy. South America is full of opportunities and money to be had.”

This opportunity outlet is allowing for the new development of distinctly South American trends and treatments. “They’re still young and scrambling to get a firm, knowledgeable grip on the industry,” Ariss notes. “They aren’t yet quite as sophisticated as spas in Europe, but they are distinctly working on building their own branding. There is enormous potential there.”

With the growth of the luxury industries in these countries, more and more people are seeing them as vacation destinations, making the African and South American spa markets on the verge of breaking open in the near future.

Going strong: Europe and North America. Spa industry leaders, such as Europe and North America, shouldn’t feel pushed out, however, as the world’s growing markets continue to vie for segments of the business. They are still key to keeping spas in the public focus, and each are helping to bring the knowledge of spa services to people worldwide.

“Europe is still going strong—there is no slowdown there,” says Ariss. She notes high-end spas are particularly popular in European countries, because their luxurious, elite options abound, and the development of their natural market is also making them leaders in the green trend.

Additionally, Ariss sees the United Kingdom in particular as being at the forefront of the European spa market. “You know how the French are famous for fashion? Well, the United Kingdom is leading spas and beauty products in Europe.” She also notes Switzerland’s thriving medical spa scene continues to draw clients from each corner of the world.

It is really the normality of the spa lifestyle that is of important note throughout Europe. Because it is such a typical thing to do—a normal part of a healthy, well-balanced life—this has helped the European market thrive, and develop more specialty and niche spas.

Another area of the world also honing in on specialties is North America and the Caribbean. According to Ariss, “North Americans are fine-tuning what they are picking up from the Asian world. They pick apart a treatment and use what is best for them, such as how they would use a particular treatment style or a cream.” Those in the United States in particular are who Ariss sees as putting a point on distinct styles. “Americans are very good with fine-tuning things, and I typically find that Canadians are followers of the Americans,” she says.

Both Europe and North America are also seeing the continual development of the men’s market, and both also keep on top of the anti-aging and sun care segments of the industry, as well. Ariss notes these concerns are seen worldwide, and will likely become more of a trend as the industry continues its upward growth in the world.

The world awaits

As the spa industry clearly comes into its own as a business force in the global marketplace, it brings with it the buying power of millions of interested people worldwide. Trends will continue to develop and fade, and countries’ markets will rise and fall, but the enormous amount of knowledge and learning opportunities the worldwide spa industry has created makes for an interesting, evolving, incredible marketplace, and is helping to bring the spa business to untold heights.

Taking advantage of any global connection your business can is one of the smartest moves you’ll ever make for your spa, but remember to keep your business true to its roots. Because even though it’s possible to travel the world, people will always come back to the place that feels like home.

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