SpaFinder Releases 2011 Global Spa Trends to Watch Report With Exclusive Commentary From SpaFinder President Susie Ellis


NOTE: Only on Exclusive spa-focused commentary by Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder, is included in this news item explaining how some of these trends can be translated into your spa in order to stay on the cusp of your clients needs and stay profitable.

SpaFinder, Inc., a global spa and wellness resource, recently announced its annual spa trend forecast, now in its eighth year. SpaFinder’s Spa Trend Report identifies global spa trends that will influence spa experiences for both consumers and the industry in the coming year and for decades to come.

The report is based on analyses from a large team of experts who visit hundreds of day and stay spas each year; interviews with top industry analysts; ongoing research across the spa, travel and beauty sectors; and data derived from SpaFinder’s relationships with more than 9,000 spas and salons across the globe.

The Spa Trend Report is developed under the direction of SpaFinder President Susie Ellis, who is also the author of an influential blog and column. “As someone who’s watched the modern spa industry from its infancy, I have never seen the aggregate level of creativity and talent in the field, as wellness, fitness, beauty, design and cuisine are blended in unique new ways, just as the economy begins its upswing,” Ellis says.

1. Aging ... Raging

Baby boomers are the fastest-growing demographic in the world. In the United States alone, 39 million consumers account for nearly $2 trillion in annual spending. This is not lost on spas, which are showing ever-more awareness of the needs of older spa-goers. Modeling after pioneers such as Canyon Ranch, many spas are now beginning to incorporate exercise physiologists, chiropractors, orthopedics and naturopaths who focus on rejuvenation of joints, pain relief and mobility. Thermal bathing is seeing a renaissance, particularly with this growing group, as the benefits of soaking are rediscovered.

But woe is the spa that attempts to label this active, and often affluent, demographic. The days of “over 65” as a catchall category will soon become ancient history. After all, there’s a huge difference between a 70-year-old who plays tennis three times a week and an 85-year-old seeking pain relief.

Forward-thinking examples include: Fairmont’s Willow Stream Spas; Scandinave and Le Nordic models in Canada; and the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun in Japan. For the Aging ... Raging trend, how do you recommend that smaller spas incorporate more comprehensive, whole-body wellness into their businesses? If they don't have the space in their spas, how would you recommend they collaborate with area businesses that do offer these service (exercise physiology, etc.)?

Susie Ellis: Even smaller spas and spas that don't have the resources to add new, dedicated practitioners, facilities or equipment to address the specific needs of the vast, aging baby boomer generation, can implement many things that will speak to and attract this critical clientele. For instance, spas can partner with and enlist special practitioners to come in on certain days. For example, practitioners who perform therapies such as Active Release (acupuncture for pain relief) or an exercise physiologist who could perform physical therapy before treatments.

Additionally, spas can work out a mutually beneficial arrangement with practitioners, such as exercise physiologists, the involves referals of their patients to your spa for relevant treatments, and you reciprocate by referring clients to them.

Spas can get creative; they just need to keep this aging demographic in mind when designing their offerings, marketing and communications. They should consider adding pain relief massages to their menu of services, and beauty services that focus on anti-aging or corrective benefits. One way to announce your offerings and commitment to this market would be to do some evening lectures or events around all kinds of aging issues and education, whether physical, mental, spiritual or financial.

2. All Eyes on Asia

Asia has had a profound impact on the spa industry: yoga, Thai massage, ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture are staples on many spa menus, and the “zen” nature of Asian design can be seen in spas worldwide. But historically, it’s been a tale of the mass exportation of Asian spa influences. Now a powerful new story is unfolding: The explosive growth of hotel/spa development within Asia (a market of 4.1 billion people), especially within the two fastest-growing world economies, China and India. These markets and others are developing at a breakneck pace, unleashing extraordinary new class mobility and massive opportunities for hotel/spa development. Consider just two facts: Asia-Pacific has the largest number of spas and hotels under development of any region in the world, and by 2015, China will have 100 million outbound travelers, many seeking a luxury lifestyle that includes a Westernized spa experience.

Stay tuned as the new “Spa Road” runs from China to India and beyond, and hotel/spa developers look to please both tourists seeking authentic ambiance and indigenous treatments and local spa-goers looking for Western-style spa-going.

Keep your eye on: Starwood Hotels & Resorts, 60+ hotels in China and 86 in the pipeline; Marriott International, 89 new hotels in India by 2015; Mumbai-based Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces, 47 luxury resorts in the pipeline.

3. Salt Rooms and Salt Caves

Healing traditions that involve basking in salt caves or water may be centuries old, but they are truly coming of age in some of the most modern spas. The benefits to skin, breathing and rejuvenation are making salt therapy—or halotherapy—one of the hottest trends to watch in 2011. More than folk tradition is behind the spa-salt resurgence: Clinical trials reveal it’s beneficial for respiratory illnesses like asthma, considered a global epedemic, and skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis.

Spas are finding stylish new ways to recreate the natural salt cave microclimate, infusing salt and negative ions into the air. Some examples have encrusted, stalactite-drenched grottoes (comprised of tons of imported Himalayan salt crystals). With decreased need of a therapist’s involvement, the treatments are attractive to spas from a cost side. Bottom line is that salty is sweet for spas and consumers in the coming year.

For a healthy dose of salt, see: 1,000-plus traditional Eastern European salt caves/spas; CastaDiva Resort (Lake Como, Italy); and Salt Therapy Health & Wellness Center (Ontario, Canada). For the salt caves trend ... Is there any way spas can offer the benefits of this trend without going to the expense of building on a salt cave? If there is a way to incorporate the salt caves trend into treatments somehow, what's a good way to market it?

Susie Ellis:  The building of a salt cave room or facility, of course, works best for larger spas, and resorts/hotels that have the space and resources to install these often dramatic spaces. Also, there are dedicated salt therapy centers, such as Halo in New York City. But there are other ways to bring elements of the salt experience and its benefits into a small spa. Very inexpensive are salt pipes, (under $50), which are small, personal salt inhalers that allow clients to breathe tiny salt particles into their mouths and out of their noses to get the benefits into their respiratory system. People can use them for 15-20 minutes a day, and they are marketed as mini, portable salt rooms. They've gotten some big press lately (featured on shows such as Dr. Oz) as a great, affordable, natural therapy that's noninvasive, natural and drug-free. A spa could have people use them during or in the post-treatment relaxation time, and could bring in a nurse to demonstrate them and their benefits. They could even be sold in the spa store.

There are also salt lamps available online or through salt therapy centers for purchase. They seem to run around $100 and are typically made from the same crystals used to build the more grand salt rooms. The makers of salt lamps point out that the air around the lamp is allergen free, and the lamps release salt and negative ions (neutralizing negativity). Spas could certainly use these in treatment rooms and around the spa, educating clients about how they work and the benefits; after all, improved breathing seems logically a great fit with a relaxing massage.

There are also numerous devices (on the market and online) such a saline device that purifies the air and adds salt microns into the room. Although it can't exactly simulate a salt cave, these are the next step up, using technology to infuse salt in correct percentages into rooms. Many people will buy these for asthmatic children, as salt inhalation is known to have benefits for that condition.

Marketing it right means educating people about not only the long, centuries-old tradition behind the salt inhalation approach, but also about the medical studies proving it can be beneficial for respiratory illnesses such as asthma and allergies, skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis, and even cystic fibrosis. There's a big client base that would care: Asthma is a global epidemic, and 300 million people worldwide suffer, with 40% estimated to be children.

4. Spa Brandwagon

Traditionally the province of standalone spas, the industry is moving rapidly in the direction of branded experiences. The year of 2011 will be a watershed year for franchised/branded spas, as consumers seek the consistency of treatments they know and love, and major players expand into new markets.

A stratified market offers consumers choice, and like the global coffee chain Starbucks, a predictable experience wherever they travel. From the cool, urban Bliss or Exhale to the eco-luxury of Six Senses, or the lavish opulence of Mandarin Oriental to Mandara’s more affordable Chevana brand, look to see a brand new world of spa lines going global. Fueling the “spa brandwagon”: globalizations, strengthening economies, and consumer demand for the “know-ablity” factor.

Brands on the move: Banyan Tree, 63 locations; Body Minute, 221; Clarins, 136; Massage Envy, 600; Red Door, 32; and Leading Spas, representing 90 properties.

5. Deals Gone Wild

Gone are the days when coupons were unfashionable things people snipped out of the newspaper, and spas wouldn’t think of using the term “deal.” Well, put an “e-” or “group” in front of “coupon,” and you suddenly have the Internet mania of 2010, poised to accelerate at an even more dizzying pace in 2011. Online group-buying deals have burst onto the global scene, and the old-fashioned “deal” has morphed into a hip online industry. With spa and wellness deals a mainstay of generic sites like GroupOn or LivingSocial, it’s a sure sign that spa-going has achieved mainstream traction.

Also, with so many spa deals being blasted into inboxes, an extraordinary effect has been that millions of people are now expanding their spa horizons, trying new spas and experiences they wouldn’t have without the “50%-75% off.” With savvy marketers backed by hundreds of millions in venture capital, deals will certainly remain a huge deal in 2011, but SpaFinder forecasts change is on the horizon.

Watch for: Consolidation and a “dot-deal” shakeout (on the dot-com model); personalized and spa-specific deals from spa-specific platforms like SpaRahRah; manageable offers that don’t overwhelm spas with customers; deals “on the spot,” thanks to mobile apps; an intense focus on retention of the “deal” customer; and even deal fatigue. Ultimately, having a regular spa appointment with a favorite therapist at a familiar spa will trump the few dollars saved in the deal frenzy. For Deals Gone Wild ... You mention some of the downfalls of Groupon-type deals for smaller spas. What suggestions would you have for smaller spas that want to take advantage of mass discounting but are worried about the downfalls?

Susie Ellis: Spas should, of course, investigate deal sites beyond just Groupon, many of which can offer more flexibility (offering lower, or no minimum number of people for each deal to be “on”). Many sites also take a smaller percentage cut, as well as targeting a more exclusive market of customers and spa-goers than just the mass, generic hordes of bargain hunters. Just for example, Living Social offers deals without a minimum number of participants, takes a smaller percentage, attracts a very social-media-savvy crowd and, if a consumer gets three friends to sign up, their deal is free: encouraging social posting and Tweeting.

And truly targeted luxury or spa-specific sites like SpaFinder's new Spa Rah Rah (in three cities, and rolling out across the country) or a Gilt City, reach much more discriminating spa-goers, which protects your brand, while attracting dedicated spa enthusiasts that you would want as clients and that are far more likely to seek and recognize real value and real quality rather than just seeking the lowest, rock-bottom price. They care about the spa they go to and the treatments being offered. In general, before you dive in, make sure the parameters and audience of the deal is manageable and exclusive enough for your business.

In every case, spas need to take a hard look upfront to make sure they can service (and service well) all the treatments they sell, so they should be able to insist on a cap. And they need to put together a truly attractive offer, but perhaps one that is slightly more expensive than an insanely low price on a single treatment where you can lose money every time you sell one. A spa could package things such as amenity areas or a product (that could cost $25 without the treatment). A good rule of thumb: Don't put together a package where you lose money on every one you sell, and consider giving a steep discount on a treatment where a series works best. For example, if you normally sell four laser hair removal sessions in a row, do a deep discount on one laser session.

And most importantly, no matter what the deal, spas need to focus intensely on pleasing, engaging and retaining this business (which can feel like mobs) after they come in. They need to capture all their info, follow up with thank yous and incentives to return. Really own the follow-up communications with that customer to turn them into a regular client, or what is the point?

6. The Science of Spa

Is there scientific proof that massage reduces stress? Are mudpacks and mineral baths medically proven to alleviate pain? The answer, in many cases, is increasingly “yes.” Get ready for a new era where more questions about the effectiveness of spa therapies will be asked, as the emphasis on evidence-based medicine and the “science behind spa” heats up.

Just a few recent examples: The New York Times reported on a Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles) study revealing that a 45-minute massage resulted in a significant decrease in stress hormones, while boosting immunity. And an American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation article documented the positive effect of mudpacks and mineral water baths.

With more medical professionals embracing integrative/alternative medicine (and with greater awareness that the expensive traditional health care systems are less focused on “staying healthy” and more attuned to “disease management”), look for clinical studies to accelerate next year. These nascent evidence-based initiatives may ultimately prove the bedrock for future, perhaps unimagined, industry growth. The Science of Spa ... If your spa offers a scientifically proven treatment (such the ones mentioned in the trend report), what is the best way for a spa to capitalize on it? How can spas market these treatments using scientific research to improve business?

Susie Ellis: This is such a crucial move for spas to jumpstart, as consumers are increasingly extremely open to their alternative/wellness approaches, but also increasingly want the facts that they have proven benefits. A spa can begin in very small, but still impactful, ways. They can make visible and distribute major articles such as the recent New York Times article “A Good Massage Brings Biological Changes Too” revealing a 45-minute massage results in a significant decrease in stress hormones, while boosting immunity. Have relevant articles such as this laminated and placed in various areas of the spa, or give copies to clients, or add them to bags when someone makes a purchase. Many more articles and studies are appearing each month about the benefits of so many wellness approaches that spas offer.

Educate your staff about some of the major evidence that exists for various services you offer, and have them communicate the hard facts to clients. Obvious modalities include exercise, good nutrition, relaxation therapies such as massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga and more. Research backup is readily available online ... a spa can even have someone on their staff, or perhaps an intern from a university, pull together some of the key evidence for each (or most) of the spa treatments you offer and have that available. You could add it to your spa menu and include it on your website.

The key is to get a culture going in your spa where this is part of the conversation ... on the phone, with the client, and before, during and after treatments.

It’s just as important to be transparent about which spa treatments do not have as much research behind them. The model should be having your staff learn to be comfortable with saying:"There haven't been any clinical trials on this yet; however, we are hearing that a lot of people are sleeping better after experiencing this treatment."

Look for the launch from the Global Spa Summit of an “Evidence Based Database for Spa Modalities” to be accessible by summer 2011. This will be an ever-growing resource that will help the spa and wellness industries access the evidence that so much of what they do works … leading to more—and more loyal—customers.

7. Hyper-local Spas

A current trend that complements—rather than countervails—the move toward branded spas is the desire for authenticity and immersion in the traditions and elements of a spa’s local environs and culture. A maple scrub in Canada, organic food from the spa garden, or facilities built of local stone, while not new, were, until relatively recently, novelties.

But spas are now trending with the “farm-to-table” movement, offering farm-to-massage-table treatments. Locally sourced fruits, herbs and honey are grown on site, and then dished up in both meals and in spa treatments. Even the well-known branded spas are sure to reserve a portion of their services for locally infused treatments, as consumers look to take advantage of the diversity of their surroundings.

Think: Hay Barn Spa (Cotswolds, UK); Hotel de la Paix (Siem Reap, Cambodia); and The Farmhouse Inn & Spa (California, U.S.). SEE MORE EXAMPLES

8. Extreme Beauty: Spa Edition

The common element in spa beauty these days is that beauty-seekers are taking it to the max. We are far beyond Botox; stem-cell facials and plasma therapy (yes, that’s where blood is drawn and re-injected) are new buzzwords.

But let’s also look at extreme pain, which people are tolerating more and more as long as it delivers results. Derma-rolling hurts, chemical peels can be uncomfortable and the zapping of lasers is no picnic. And facials aren’t just for faces anymore; now they are being applied to every extremity, including “booty” and “vagina” facials.

Then there are boot camps, Rolfing and Bikram yoga, where pain meets pleasure. Even organic and natural products are being taken to the extreme, with raw food cuisine gaining popularity during intense detox retreats.

Finally, what might be considered the most interesting extreme: People seem to be able to partake in both the "yin" of the natural and the "yang" of science and invasive cosmetic procedures at the same time. In the end, what people demand are extreme results, and they’re happy to pay the price for it: A staggering $679 billion annually, by far the largest share of the estimated $1.9 trillion wellness market*.

9. Spa, in a New York Minute

“In a New York minute” is jargon for how things move faster in hectic New York City. It’s also the name of a suite of mini (15- to 30-minute) spa treatments (designed to be performed simultaneously by multiple therapists) at the new Auriga Spa at The Setai Fifth Avenue (NYC). In our stressed-out, 24/7 world, we seem to be morphing into New Yorkers. The spa industry is responding, helping people spa anytime and offering “sample” and simultaneous treatments.

Suddenly, a 9 PM closing time is the new spa norm, and “open late” now means midnight, 2 AM or all night. The trend is also towards earlier: For instance, most major Las Vegas spas (i.e., Canyon Ranch SpaClub, Qua Baths at Caesars Palace or Hard Rock’s Rock Spa) open at 5:30 AM or 6 AM, while the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, London, opens at 7 AM. This attracts both business people jump-starting their day and revelers calling it a night.

And the trend toward “express,” “sampler” or “mini-sized” treatments will continue to rise in 2011, pleasing time- and budget-crunched consumers. The explosion of airport spas worldwide plays into the “express” trend neatly, as does the decline of elaborate rituals at many spas, to get right to the heart of the matter: the therapeutic treatment.

The quest for efficiencies is also reflected in new directions in facility design, with locker rooms on the decline and even check-in counters being rethought.

Finally, the pursuit of stress-free spa efficiencies will mean more spa-goers embracing 24/7 online appointment booking, and mobile apps helping them find and book spas on the fly. It’s all about letting spa-goers have it their way.

10. Surprising Special Events

Increasingly, spas are developing distinctive specialty programs to draw patrons seeking a unique group experience. While destination spas have been offering yoga and healthy cooking weeks for years, retreats now span everything from a high-flying “Trapeze Experience” to a creative jewelry-making class to the more sober and grounded gathering for survivors of loss. Celebrity authors and artists may headline these programmed stays, like the recent “Dine and Dive Week” in the Maldives headed up by Jacques Cousteau’s son, Fabien. We expect this trend to flourish in the coming year, as spas and resort destinations find creative new ways to prove that unique is indeed spa chic for the savvy consumer.

Trending spas: Miraval Arizona’s “Sisterhood of Survivors” retreat (Arizona, U.S.), for those who have survived a loved one’s suicide; “Raw Food Week” at Canada’s Spa Eastman; and Solace Spa at Boyne Mountain’s “Trapeze Experience” (Michigan, U.S.). SEE MORE EXAMPLES

*2010 International Report, Spas & the Global Wellness Market: Synergies & Opportunities

Click here for a detailed version of SpaFinder’s 2011 Spa Trend Report.

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