ISPA History

In September of 1991, ISPA (known then as the International Spa and Fitness Association) was officially launched as a non-profit trade association.  The inaugural 1991 ISPA Conference took place September 11-14 and attracted approximately 150 attendees representing ten countries with no exhibitors the first year.  Deborah Szekely kicked off Conference with an inspirational keynote speech that prompts newly elected ISPA president Werner Mendel to appoint her an “Honorary Chairman for Life.”

Members of the inaugural Board of Directors included:

ISPA’s rich history over the years has included an impressive list of accomplishments led and made successful by passionate spa professionals from across the globe and a dedicated headquarters staff and a leading association management partner, Associations International.

While it is impossible to feature all of the many milestones and historical firsts, below are some highlights worthy of recognition.

1995 – The first ISPA Media Luncheon focused on  “the role of spas in preventative wellness” was held in New York, New York. Sixty-three journalists were present to hear ISPA President Alex Szekely and Dr. Pamela Peeke speak.

The first annual ISPA Conference silent auction was held in Dallas, TX, at the Wyndham Anatole.

1997 – The ISPA Conference was held in Banff, Alberta, Canada, at the Banff Springs Hotel.  A European chapter was established.

1998 – The ISPA headquarters moves from the Wayne Smith Company in Alexandria, VA, to management under HOST Communications in Lexington, KY.  In one year, membership nearly doubled, which marked a 1,000 percent growth since ISPA began.

ISPA’s first online digital appearance was made when was launched. The International Spa and Fitness Association Inc. drops “Fitness” from its name, and the new logo incorporating the lower case “i” and capital “SPA” is created.

1999 – The ISPA Education Foundation (now the ISPA Foundation) is created from an initial seed grant of $30,000 from Vincenzo R. Marra of Innovative Beauty Innovations.  Pulse evolved from a newsletter into a magazine and an online job bank was launched on the ISPA website.

2000 – ISPA’s long-standing relationship with PricewaterhouseCoopers began with the launch of the first Spa Industry Study which reported spa revenues of $5 billion. ISPA’s new website,, is launched along with an online membership directory. The first perfect-bound copy of Pulse magazine is published.

2001 – The spa industry united in Palm Springs, CA, following the attacks of Sept. 11. More than 1,400 Conference attendees banded together in a showing of support and unity in the industry. ISPA’s Hands of Hope Relief Fund raised more than $10,000 for the Sept. 11 Fund.

2003 – ISPA officially launches in-person Knowledge Networks to formalize their roundtable discussion model. ISPA’s current mission and vision are announced and the ISPA Foundation launched the Supervisory Skill Builders Program. The Alex Szekely Humanitarian Award, renamed in honor of Alex’s many contributions to ISPA and the spa industry, is awarded for the first time.

2004 – The first ISPA studies on the Japan and UK marketplaces are released and the term “spa” is officially defined.  Student membership were created and the ISPA Foundation launched the Uniform System of Financial Reporting for Spas, WageWatch and the Compensation Workbook.

2005 – ISPA celebrated a record-breaking 15th anniversary ISPA Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, NV with 3,302 attendees.

2008 – ISPA research is offered as a complimentary member benefit and the first ISPA Snapshot Survey is created to help spas tackle the Great Recession. Both of which are still offered and highly touted as two of the most valuable member benefits.

2010 – ISPA launched its first ever Conference mobile app as it celebrated its 20th anniversary in at the 2010 ISPA Conference in Washington, D.C. The Financial Management for Spas textbook was released.

2012 – The ISPA Foundation released the Spa Consumer Snapshot Initiative to help members keep their fingers on the pulse of consumer trends.

2013 – The annual ISPA Innovate Awards were created to celebrate the many innovative accomplishments of the member community.

2017 – The ISPA Reveal Box was launched and delivered directly to the doorsteps of premiere ISPA members to help them find new products to explore for their spas.

2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic required ISPA to cancel its annual Conference for the first time since the inaugural event took place.  ISPA launched an award-winning Reopening Toolkit, a series of virtual Town Hall session and virtual chats with Resource Partners to help members navigate extraordinary circumstances. 

2021 – The COVID-19 pandemic required ISPA to cancel its annual Conference for the second year in a row.  ISPA pivoted and launched a virtual ISPA Stronger Together Summit to ensure spa leaders had access to education and connections during a time of need. 

2022 – The annual ISPA Conference returned to an in-person event after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.  More than 2,200 spa professional gathered together for what felt like an industry family reunion. 

ISPA Past Chairman’s Circle

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