Unveiling the Big Five
by: Josh Corman


IN A TYPICAL YEAR, ISPA Conference & Expo attendees would have recently gathered in eager anticipation as Colin McIlheney of PriceWaterhouseCoopers revealed key metrics concerning the spa industry’s year-over-year performance. The unveiling of the “Big Five” statistics has become a welcome ritual for an industry that has seen such strong growth in the decade following the Great Recession.

Needless to say, 2020 hasn’t been a typical year for the spa industry—or anyone else, for that matter—and like so many rituals altered or postponed by the coronavirus pandemic, sharing the results of our annual U.S. Spa Industry Study is going to look just a bit different this time around.

The Big Five statistics—total spa revenue, number of spa visits, number of spa locations, revenue per spa visit and total spa industry employees— reveal an industry that, at the end of 2019, was continuing a trend of steady growth. Spa revenues rose 4.2 percent in 2019, from $18.3 billion to $19.1 billion, and revenue per visit saw a similar jump, rising 3.1 percent, from $96.5 to $99.5. Spa visits, meanwhile, increased from 190 million to 192 million (+1.1%), and the number of spa locations increased as well, from 22,160 to 22,430 (+1.2%).

By January of 2020, the total estimated number of employees in the spa industry was up to 383,700 from 377,900 in May 2018, representing an increase of 1.5 percent. Interestingly, the large majority of those gains came from full-time positions, which increased from 172,000 to 177,100, a gain of three percent.

Of course, the growth indicated by these impressive figures must now be viewed within the context of the pandemic’s unprecedented economic impact. In the U.S. alone, unemploy-ment rates jumped from below four percent into double digits, and the nation’s GDP fell by nearly a third in just a few months. Spas faced lengthy shutdowns and worked tirelessly to adapt to the demands of running busi-nesses while keeping guests and staff safe. Most have reopened, but the industry continues to navigate an uncertain economic climate. It’s enough to make those end-of-year statistics from 2019 feel like they belong to another lifetime.

But in fact, it’s essential that this year’s Big Five not be disregarded or treated as irrelevant in light of the pandemic. Not only do those statistics offer us an opportunity to accurately evaluate the pandemic’s impact on the industry, but they also provide a clear benchmark against which we can measure its recovery, which has already begun in earnest.

In the months and years to come, it is essential that ISPA continues to provide its members with the kinds of robust, methodologically sound research made possible by our foundation and our partnership with PwC. It allows spa leaders to act with confidence, knowing that their deci-sions are supported by high-quality data as they step toward the future.