Spa from the madding crowd

Tighter budgets have not diminished consumers’ appetite for spa breaks.

Tighter budgets have not diminished consumers’ appetite for spa breaks. As hotels add ever-more luxurious spa facilities, we look at some of the trends, including the growing demand for wellness breaks that combine high medical care with traditional therapies It’s difficult to walk more than a couple of yards at any luxury travel show without the aromas of new spas filling your nose, evoking dreams of white towels, scented candles and strong pairs of professional hands.

Alongside the green revolution, spa, and all its permutations, is so hot right now.

Strange then that against a challenging backdrop just over a third (36%*) of consumers’ email inquiries to spa operators apparently go unanswered. That’s a lot of potentially lost exfoliation bookings given that 66% of agents worldwide surveyed by Spa Finder last year reported a boom in demand for holidays with a health and wellness focus, up from 52% in 2009.

Enticing deals continue to fend off the recessional beast and 92%** of global travel agents in 2010 believed that spa travel deals were either more aggressive than, or at least the same as, those in 2009.

Even luxury lovers want a bargain, it seems. However, “brands and services will have to be thrift-savvy to appeal to new consumer associations of quality with value rather than price,” advised EuroMonitor, commenting on “the new consumer mindset” at the annual Global Spa Summit in May 2010.

A new wave of successful European mediclinic-meets-spa hybrids includes the multi-award winning SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain, and Longevity Wellness Resort in Portugal’s Algarve.

“The SHA’s fabulous minimalist architecture, coastline views, outdoor yoga, macrobiotic cooking classes and tailored wellness programmes are truly inspiring,” says Paul Joseph, director at specialist operator Health & Fitness Travel.

This new breed of hybrid wellness clinic and spa puts the comfort back into the traditionally austere European medi-spa of yesteryear.

It combines serious medical results (think advanced mediceuticals, medicosmetics, and every food intolerance and fitness test between) in luxurious, pampering spa surroundings, with service levels and targeted wellness packages to match.

Interestingly, considering the tendency to think of far-flung places for the best of the best, Europe dominated this year’s top 10 list of most attractive environments for the developing travel and tourism industry: Switzerland, Germany, France, Austria, Sweden, the UK and Spain all made the list, with surprising global entries being the US, Canada and Singapore***. And where beauty goes, resorts tend to follow.

* Source: Email-Focus survey UK, Leisure-net, 2010** Source: SpaFinder’s State of Spa Travel Survey, 2010*** Source: The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011, World Economic Forum Spa trendsSo what are the key trends currently rocking the European spa world?

The affluent over-65s: “Physical therapy, rehabilitation, recuperation and plain old pain relief will increasingly feature on spa menus,” says SpaFinder president Susie Ellis.

Which brings us on to the drivel on spa menus.

“My pet hate is treatment menus that are gimmicky or end up confusing the client,” says Stella Photi, managing director of operator Wellbeing Escapes: “It’s a sign that the spa is not up to scratch.”

So what should a ‘normal’ spa menu contain?

“Definitely no more than 30 treatments,” says Anna Bjurstam, concepts director of spa consultancy Raison d’Etre.

Brand war: The batallion “brandwagon” of spa brands heading for global domination in 2011 includes Hilton’s new Eforea spa concept and Starwood’s spa empire comprising Sheraton’s Shine, Le?Meridien’s Explore, W’s Away, and St?Regis’s Iridium spa concepts.

Meanwhile, Steiner Leisure has acquired big spa names Bliss and Mandara Spa – the latter having made its UK debut at London’s Park Plaza Westminster Bridge.

Eco-chic meets technology: Six Senses continues to soar with its hip, locally sourced ingredients and treatments. “Farm to table” and “farm to spa” are key artisanal buzzwords to brandish as your face is coated with herbs fresh from the garden.

Other back-to-basic, hippy-vibe treatments include “monochrome color healing and sound healing, together with super-technical body shaping and beauty treatments such as Oxygen facials,” says Bjurstam. Yet a quality Swedish body massage is still the treatment people hanker after most. Inner health: “It isn’t enough for consumers to treat just the outside – there has to be a combined inside-out and outside-in effort,” adds Bjurstam. “These can include nutritional beauty programmes, cosmeceuticals [creams with active ingredients] and product brands offering a facial with a tincture that works on the inside.”

Scrutiny: “Prepare for a new era where more questions about the effectiveness of spa therapies and spa products will be asked,” warns Ellis.

“A spa must have a healthy non-harmful product alternative today,” adds Bjurstam.

“The mass media has not yet exposed the toxicity aspects of many beauty products, but once it starts, expect consumers to scrutinise labels and ask pointed questions.”

Salt: Never mind booking clients a sea view room – a spa worth its erm, salt, now offers guests a steamy salt room, bath, cave or stalactite-filled grotto – salt being the wonder-condiment for easing asthma and allergies.

Sinai Egypt’s Taba Heights Resort has a new Dead Sea Salt Cave, and Lake Como’s elegant new Castadiva Resort Spa has a salt therapy area.

Sleep: Last year’s trend for traditional Turkish hammams has given way to spas offering insomniac-busting residential packages. These include the medical sleep diagnostic at Switzerland’s revamped Grand Resort Bad Ragaz and the more holistic sleep programme at the Almyra Spa in Paphos, Cyprus.?

?Ouch: Botox is so last year; beauty masochism is the new black. From plasma injectables and stem cell facelifts to the painful inner-cheeks Buccal Technique facial massage, plus cryotherapy, which involves staying for three minutes in an ultra-cold sauna chilled to -110c until everything shrivels, including the will to live.

Multi-tasking: For the cash-rich, time-poor, time-saving combos such as “eyelash extensions and reflexology in one treatment” are growing in popularity, says Bjurstam.

Hot Bamboo Massage: “This is the new hot-stone massage, because bamboo is easier to heat and work with, while still providing the same incredible deep tissue penetration,” advises Ellis.

?Spa apps: Spa operators are likely to develop smartphone apps that enable clients to book treatments from the palms of their hand. “More spa-seekers will embrace 24/7 online appointment booking and mobile apps that let them locate and book spas on the move,” says Ellis.

Agents should prepare for this threat by ensuring they can back up their own quality advice with the ability to make bookings 24 hours a day too. Just make sure you’re ready when the spa claims it didn’t received the booking. Q AND ADo UK luxury consumers revolve their trips around a spa or is it an add-on? Consumers increasingly seek a combined holiday and spa break, when before they’d be separate trips. Offering combined holiday/spa programmes brings more value to the traveller than discounts: targeted programmes of escape and experience-driven travel, with treatments addressing specific wellness issues such as stress, weight loss and sleep.Anna Bjurstam, Concepts Director, Raison d’Etre ?Which are the hottest spa brands at present? A big number of celeb clients are choosing Spain’s SHA Wellness Clinic for their spa holiday – it’s currently the “in” place. SHA has made the philosophy of macrobiotics sexy and people go there to lose weight and increase vitality. Another reliable spa brand is Six Senses. They have good training, protocols and you can rely on their spas to deliver a consistent service.Stella Photi, MD, Wellbeing is the future of spas? Demand for hotel holidays that incorporate spa facilities continues to grow. At SpaTravel we see the future of spa holidays in two ways: the retreat-style spa holiday for people looking for help to make lifestyle changes, and hotel holidays offering spa facilities for beauty and relaxation. Michael Tabona, founder of and owner of Fortina Spa Resort, Malta