I just returned from the SpaTec event in Orlando, Florida where I was invited to give the keynote address on “In Defense of Pampering.” For the past few years I have been arguing that the spa industry, in its attempts to be more relevant in a down economy has been turning its back on the one thing that sets spas apart from other healing institutions in our society (you can read about this positioning here or see a video of another version of this talk here .)
My position on this issue is somewhat controversial as many people in the spa industry want to move away from pampering, for fear that it is not perceived as relevant by consumers. They feel that spas should be more focused on health and wellness so they rise in importance in our consumers’ minds and the perceived value of the spa experience will be greater.
I get these concerns. I really do. Wellness is important. And I think spas do have a strong role to play in bringing greater wellness options to consumers. But the spa industry does not have to move away from pampering to offer wellness.
In an attempt to be taken more seriously, spas that try to move away from pampering and towards wellness find themselves competing with a variety of other healing institutions that are focused on offering scientifically validated “medical” healing interventions. But spas have an opportunity, by embracing their pampering identity, to set themselves apart from these other health institutions. Spas offer wellness that feels good, that people look forward to, and that considers the emotional and spiritual aspects of our wellbeing in addition to the physical. Spas do not have to choose either pampering or wellness; they can use pampering as a pathway to wellness.
Some of this is semantics. Pampering, by definition, is an “excessive” indulgence. And maybe my definition of pampering is different than yours. But it is interesting what we think of as “excessive” in today’s culture. In today’s world, time is a luxury. Silence is a luxury. Separation from technology is a luxury. The things that we experience in the spa are luxury indulgences because they are hard to come by in modern life. Nurturing is scarce. Time is a commodity. And digital barriers are diluting human contact at every turn.
In the spas that I operate, we offer wellness and we offer pampering. We believe they go hand in hand. I think of spas as places that people can go to heal themselves. But it doesn’t work if it doesn’t feel good. People need a place to go to slow down, to connect with and be touched by other human beings, to have time for quiet reflection and contemplation, and to experience a variety of positive emotions through a beautifully indulgent sensory experience.
Although the spa world is ashamed of its own identity, we are the leaders in providing healing that feels good. We are the only healing institution in our society that people look forward to visiting and that they enjoy while they are there. Hospitals are learning that beautiful spa-like settings and higher levels of customer service have a positive impact on the health of their patients. And a growing body of scientific literature supports the links between feeling good and being well.
So my message to the spa industry is to stand tall and be proud . . . pampering is not a dirty word.
by Jeremy McCarthy