In the United States, many spas followed the classical European tradition of taking the waters. Such historic spas as the Greenbrier, Saratoga Springs, The Homestead, Glenwood Hot Springs, and French Lick and West Baden Springs were all centered around mineral springs. As traditional medicine developed more treatments, drugs began to replace traditional water cures, leading to the waning of spas in America.
The renaissance and renewal of wider public interest in spas, especially in the United States and Canada, can be directly linked to the emergence and development of the health movement and fitness boom of the 1960s and 1970s. As the fitness fascination took hold, some spa professionals began to notice that there were “fit” people who were not “well.” This shifted the paradigm from merely being physical toward a focus on wellness and emotional well-being, which in turn, opened and broadened the way from fitness clubs to the contemporary spa.
One of the central figures in this shift from fitness to spa was Sheila Cluff, a professional figure skater and high school physical education teacher. Cluff introduced “cardiovascular dance” to the world in the 1950s. Later her methods were refined by fitness practitioners, including Dr. Kenneth Cooper and Jacki Sorensen, and would come to be called aerobics. Cluff went on to found The Oaks at Ojai in 1977. This American fitness movement would lead many people to see and think about spas in a new and wider light than the classical European model with its primary focus on the waters.
Today’s Spa Industry
An increasingly hectic daily life with ever increasing pressure to earn more and more money has spurred the growth of the spa industry. Specifically for women, pressure was at a zenith in the 1980s with baby boomer women breaking out of traditional roles in droves and pursuing careers as well as family life. The “I can have it all” attitude of the time, which persists today, was a lot to sustain, and combined with the information overload of the 1990s, created a “perfect storm” of stress in the daily lives of millions. The antidote: Spa.
Relaxation and stress reduction always have been and continue to be the primary drivers of spa visits. As technology grew exponentially, and people became constantly accessible and available, stress and the need for relaxation increased. People began feeling less human and more like numbers or bytes of data. The high-tech world needed to be balanced with high-touch. This remains the foundation for the relevance of spa today and into the future.
Proliferation of Spa
As the twenty-first century dawned, the term spa was more clearly understood than ever, the spa lifestyle was more incorporated into the mainstream culture and the idea that the word “spa” could add value to nearly any business concept resulted in a proliferation of the word “spa” in many unlikely applications.
Spa had come to connote luxury, enhanced value, pampering, nurturing, and health. The term spa began to show up in surprising places. Legitimately, dental practices, airports, hospitals, malls, residential communities, private clubs, and other businesses all began to incorporate elements of the spa experience into their business models.
Branding the Spa Experience
Branding is the natural hallmark of a maturing industry. The spa industry is no exception. As it developed and grew, certain brands naturally evolved. There was also increasing interest on the part of investors and owners to brand the spa experience to increase market share and profitability. The first recognized spa brand was The Red Door, which evolved from the original concept Elizabeth Arden established in the early 1900s. Other brands, such as Canyon Ranch SpaClub and The Golden Door, grew out of the strong name recognition they had earned as popular trendsetters.
New and Emerging Spa Concepts
As the number of spa locations has increased dramatically over the past two decades, a flurry of classifications have become necessary to categorize the array of spa experiences being offered in the market. It also became necessary to distinguish spas from those businesses that simply offered one or two spa services as an adjunct to their main business.
Spa Culture and the Service Ethic
To characterize excellent service before the proliferation of spa, one might use words like professional, detached, smiling, gracious, and polite. Many of these words can still be used to characterize excellent service today, however, consumers might add: caring, personable, engaged, empathetic, and genuine to that list.
When spas became a part of hospitality, the service ethic changed as a result of shepherding guests through a variety of intensely personal experiences. It had the effect of closing the distance between the server and the served. Spa technicians were more than specialists, they were entering a gray area that was part servant, but also part therapist, part healer, part hand holder, part confidante. Spa therapists learn things about the people they work with, and being known opens people up to a different experience of service, and different expectations of being served.
Spa culture continually challenges the service ethic to be more aware, more empathetic, and more sensitive to the core components of leisure: reconnection and total well being.
Spa professionals are healers for people and society. They are also business people. While spas continue to embrace their origins and roots as places of healing and spiritual renewal, spas are maturing as a business, industry, and profession. Increasingly sophisticated and profit-focused organizations are entering the market, influencing the others in the market to think more about the financial bottom line and how to generate a sustainable profit. Manufacturers and product distributors have become more creative and innovative in their marketing and branding. Investors are more aware of spas and why they are worthy of investment.
From almost the beginning of time, spas have provided renewal, regeneration, and rejuvenation. They have been special places where people go to find themselves. They go to rest, reflect, and rediscover themselves so they can later re-enter the world with a refreshed body, mind, and spirit. Over the centuries, spas have evolved, experiencing sometimes rapid proliferation into mainstream culture. During the past two decades, spas have witnessed a rapid growth and expansion around the world.
The growth and changes in the spa world over the past decade have created a highly competitive environment for spas and resource partners (vendors).
Spas are deeply affected by the world around them and by the same market conditions that affect any other business. Three primary market issues shaping the world of spa are human resources and staffing, the uneven application of standards for the industry, and increased competition from both within and outside the industry.