Spa: A Comprehensive Introduction
A History of Spa and Spa Cultures
Much of the content of this chapter was provided by spa historian Jonathan Paul de Vierville, Ph.D., LCSW-ACP, LPC, TRMT, professor of history and humanities, St. Philips College, San Antonio, Texas; director of the Alamo Plaza Spa at the Menger Hotel; and founder of the Hot Wells Institute. The authors gratefully acknowledge his expertise and insight.
While many people may think of spas as a modern development of the Western world, the essentials of spa have their roots in human history as far back as the beginning of time. People have always sought out the places where water springs from the earth in order to experience water’s healing properties and restorative qualities. Other aspects of spa, in particular the human touch of massage and the use of natural ingredients like mud, seaweed, herbs, and plant oils, have also been used in many civilizations over the centuries. By studying the roots of spa cultures and traditions throughout history, spa professionals can better understand and appreciate the richness of the modern spa environment in which they live and work.
This chapter explores the origins of spa and spa practices from antiquity through the middle of the twentieth century, which many spa historians identify as the beginning of the modern, or contemporary, spa era.
The First Civilizations
Along with nomadic Stone Age and Bronze Age societies, the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Crete, and China all used water for religious rituals as well as individual and social healing rites. The earliest written sources of history include accounts of the sick using purification baths in healing waters along with drinking from medicinal fountains. Within ancient springs, wells, and stone bath works, archeologists have found votive tablets and sculptures along with an abundance of artifacts that evidence wide use of the waters for health, regenerative, curative, and therapeutic practices. With all this evidence, scholars have gained an impression of ancient spa cultures and their different types, forms, and methods of purification baths and ritual bathing.
Western Civilizations and Spa Cultures
The spa cultures of Greece and Rome during classical antiquity and the development of hot and cold bathing and water-based therapies throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance form the foundation of many spa practices of today.
New World Spa Cultures
The tradition of European spa cultures is lengthy; so is America’s. Mayan and Aztec archeological sites in Central America and Mexico have unearthed ruins of sweat bath houses called temazcalli, the oldest of which date from 1350 B.C.E. They were used as medical facilities, treating a variety of medical conditions under the guidance of a trained healer called a temazcalera, who selected herbs and determined the levels of heat and humidity needed to treat her patients. When Friar Diego Duran wrote a history of Mexico in 1567, he included a description of the temazcalli, which bear many similarities to Finnish saunas, Turkish hammam, and American Indian sweat lodges.
In the 1600s, in what became the United States, English, Dutch, and French colonists built their stone huts and wooden tubs near wilderness healing springs frequented by Native Americans. During the 1700s, natural philosophers like Drs. John De Normandie (1721 to 1805) and Benjamin Rush (1746 to 1813) traveled to various colonial mineral springs and thermal sources and pools to analyze the waters for their chemical and medicinal virtues. In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson rode his horse to the distant Warm Springs Valley, the farthest West he ever traveled, and wrote descriptions and details on the healing mineral springs and pools in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson also studied Palladio’s ancient Roman drawings and used them to design the historic Sweet Springs Spa in West Virginia.
Retail Management for Spas
During the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries numerous European spas ﬂourished and were supported with full medical staffs and professional personnel. Typically spa visitors were sent to a resort spa by their home doctors in order to “take the waters” and “make a cure.”
Spas have long centered around responding to the needs of people to ﬁnd relief from stress, improve their health, and enhance their overall wellness. Spas design their treatment menus around meeting these guest needs. The retail environment of a spa is a part of that entire package, one that complements and supports the spa’s philosophy.
Bob Hope was known to mention the beneﬁts of his daily massage for feeling so well in his later life. Unfortunately, it is the rareﬁed few who will enjoy the beneﬁts of a daily treatment. This is one of the reasons that retail ﬁts in with the overall purpose of spa.
The word “retail” covers a broad expanse of businesses. It can cover anyone who sells anything in small quantities to the person who will consume those items. Retail stores take on a lot of different appearances. They can be huge department stores, small souvenir shops, arts and craft booths, or gift shops.
Even in the spa environment there is no single picture that illustrates retail. Rather there is a collage of portraits ranging from shelves in a hallway to large boutiques to cozy lounges to shiny displays.
When it comes to retail, there are a lot of players who contribute to making it a success. There are partners, such as the media, ﬁnancial institutions, local businesses, and charitable organizations, all of which can also help a spa business grow and succeed.
Uniform System of Financial Reporting for Spas
A uniform system of financial reporting establishes standardized formats and account classifications to guide individuals in the preparation and presentation of financial statements. The recommendations set forth in this uniform system are based on a consensus of spa industry financial executives, public accounting authorities, consulting specialists, and a leading academy expert, and are consistent with generally accepted accounting principles.
Financial Management for Spas
This text is intended to provide spa beginners and veterans alike with a better understanding of financial management. Our hope is that you will learn to embrace the accounting process and to understand that, while accounting is in many ways a science, there is also an art to financial management. In the end, you will be able to appreciate the beauty in numbers.
Spa Operations Manual
The customizable manual includes comprehensive materials for spa job descriptions, new hire checklists, standard departmental information, specific departmental procedures, staff training, common spa treatments, reference guide templates and more.