March 10, 2005

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Spas, once mistakenly thought to be only for the well-to-do, are finally getting the recognition they deserve. You see them everywhere – airports, doctors’ offices, on television commercials and in cities both large and small around the world.

The numbers are clear – the fourth largest leisure industry in the United States, $11.2 billion in annual revenues, more than 12,000 locations, 136 million visits — the spa industry has arrived.

Spas clearly have something to offer for everyone and it goes deeper than the expected massage.

  • Top athletes understand the positive effects of spa treatments on sore muscles.
  • Men make up more than a quarter of spa clients.
  • Cancer patients are finding a much-needed place for reprieve at spas.
  • Families are enjoying spas together as quality time to bond and relax.
  • Teens are going in groups and learning lifestyle lessons on skin care and proper nutrition.
  • Man’s best friend has even clawed his way into spas.

“Spas are absolutely mainstream. Everyone is busier than ever before and they’re realizing they must take time out to recharge their batteries and de-stress,” said International SPA Association President Lynne Walker McNees. “And, spas are no longer seen as places just for pampering. The two main reasons that people go to spas are to relieve stress and feel relaxed.”

With one out of five Americans having visited a spa, chances are that if you have not been to one, it’s at least on your radar now as a possible vacation idea. But is the confusion revolving around spa etiquette holding you back? Most people learn about spa etiquette from their friends and co-workers, which can lead to a lot of misconceptions. What do I wear? Do I have to be completely naked for a massage? Can I request a female or male therapist? Do you tip the therapists?

As the longstanding association for spa professionals, ISPA and its 2,300 members want you to have the best spa experience possible. To take the guesswork out of an experience that is meant to be relaxing, ISPA has compiled the following “Spa 101.”

Before you go to the spa:

  • Are you confused about the difference between day spas, destination spas, club spas, etc.? Check for the definitions and to determine which spa experience is right for you.
  • Ask questions and do your homework. After you’ve determined the type of spa you want to visit, call the spa and ask them all your questions before you arrive. Professional spa operators will be happy to answer your questions and put you at ease.
  • Check to see if the spa is a member of ISPA. In order for a spa to become an ISPA member, the facility must meet requirements pertaining to staffing, safety, guest relations and service per the association’s Standards & Practices and Code of Ethics.
  • Spas are for everyone and they are affordable. Just as you can find a hotel or restaurant at various price points, you can also find a spa experience in any price range. Nearly all spas list their prices online or simply ask the cost when booking your treatment over the phone.
  • Spas offer a menu of services that describes each treatment and its therapeutic value. Becoming familiar with the service you are having performed will make you more comfortable. Also check out for a full glossary of spa terms and their definitions.
  • At the time of booking, express whether you prefer a male or female therapist. And, also ask about the spa’s cancellation policy.

When you arrive at the spa:

  • When should I arrive? It’s a good rule of thumb to arrive 30 minutes prior to your treatment in order to check in and begin decompressing.
  • It’s important to ask a spa’s tipping policy at the front desk when you arrive. Spas have different policies on tipping, but generally it is accepted. Some spas automatically include the tip on the bill as a service charge.
  • Spas will never compromise your modesty. Most often, you will be given a robe to change into before your treatment. Under the robe? It’s up to you. Therapists will only expose the portion of your body that is being treated at the time. If your treatment involves water therapy, such as watsu, a swimsuit is appropriate. If you are having a Thai Massage, wear loose, stretchy clothing. If you are having a treatment for the first time, feel free to ask the spa staff how you should be dressed.
  • Upon arriving at most spas, you will be given a tour of the changing and relaxation areas. You also will typically be provided a locker key, robe and a pair of slippers for your use while visiting the spa. While those robes are fluffy and the slippers are comfy – they are not yours! Please leave them in the changing room. Typically, there are designated areas for which to discard them such as baskets or shelves. Most spas offer their robes and slippers for purchase in their retail areas.
  • Last note on clothing. It’s best to remove your jewelry before a treatment or leave it at home. You’ll also want to remove hats, caps, etc.
  • Spas may have saunas and pools in their relaxation areas. If you are unsure if you may use these facilities, just ask the spa staff.
  • Shower fresh. To allow products to absorb well, it is recommended that you take a brief shower at the spa before your treatment.
  • Spas are meant to be relaxing and quiet. Cell phones, pagers and loud conversations are not appropriate. And, leave your PDAs in your spa locker or at home. This is your time to be away from outside distractions.
  • Most spas are co-ed, but offer separate changing facilities for men and women.
  • Water and light snacks are provided in the relaxation room of most spas.

During your treatment:

  • There’s no pressure to talk during a treatment. It’s entirely up to you. If you have questions or would like to talk, certainly do so. The staff takes their cues from you. If you’re quiet, they will be too.
  • If your therapist’s touch is too rough or too light – speak up! They are there for you and their goal is to provide you with a perfect spa experience. Also, tell your therapist if the temperature of the room bothers you, the music is too loud, etc.
  • If you have a particular injury or physical condition, explain it to the therapist. They can suggest the appropriate adjustments or enhancements to treatments.
  • This is your time. If you feel uncomfortable at all during a treatment, tell the therapist and then leave the room. You should then speak with the spa director or manager and tell them what you were feeling.
  • Although your therapist may recommend products that enable you to continue your spa experience at home, you are definitely not obligated to buy them and should not feel pressured.
  • Your therapist may leave your treatment room for a few moments (once or twice during your treatment) either to mix up a product or to let you relax. They should let you know before they leave the room and make sure you are comfortable with your surroundings.
  • Should I stay or should I go? When your treatment has just ended and the therapist extends an invitation to “take your time getting up” while they leave the room, just how long is it acceptable for one to continue lying there reflecting on the experience? In most instances, the treatment room will be needed in the next 15 minutes or so for the next guest. It is certainly appropriate to take your time while dressing, such as five to 10 minutes. Your therapist will meet you outside of the room and will escort you back to the changing/locker area.

After your treatment

  • How long can I stay? As a spa guest, you are welcome to stay at the spa as long as you like. Relaxation rooms, steam baths and other water features add to the relaxation of lingering.
  • It is recommended to drink a lot of water following a massage to help flush the toxins that were released into your system during the treatment.
  • Spa changing/locker areas are typically stocked with toiletries to help you freshen up before you leave the spa.

About ISPA

Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2005, the International SPA Association strives to advance the professionalism of the spa industry by providing invaluable educational and networking opportunities, to promote the value of the spa experience to society and to be the authoritative voice of the spa industry.

Spas are entities devoted to enhancing overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit.

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