A few weeks ago, I was at the Global Spa and Wellness Summit at the Aspen Institute in Colorado. The theme of the conference was “Innovation through Imagination” and thought leaders from across the spa and wellness industries discussed the future intersection of spas and wellness.
It is only natural in industry conferences such as this that the conversation turns to the destination spa model. These are spas such as Canyon Ranch, Miraval and Rancho La Puerta, which offer programs lasting several days or more including nutritionally balanced cuisine and nutritional counseling, fitness programming and personal training, medical health assessments with the oversight of an on-site physician, and a variety of mind-body programming from meditation to lectures on lifestyle or stress relief (see my article on “Four Big Ways Spas Contribute to Greater Health and Wellbeing” featuring Mark Liponis, the medical director for Canyon Ranch.)
These spas serve as the ideal that many of us in the spa industry aspire to, offering comprehensive and integrative wellness programs that make a real impact on their customers. Visitors at these spas learn positive skills to drastically change their lifestyle. They adopt new diets, start exercise programs, lose weight, practice mindfulness, and reconnect with their values and goals in life. It is truly transformational.
Unfortunately, however, these destination spas only make up (at least in the U.S.) about 2% of the industry. So while it is great to connect with thought leaders in health and wellness and discuss this inspirational destination spa model, what does this mean for the other 98% of spas that don’t have these comprehensive programs and facilities? How do we offer a wellness experience at a small, hotel spa, or a day spa in a shopping mall, or a beauty salon? The answer to this question is the real key to unleashing the potential of spas as a harbinger of wellness.
When we dig into the potential of the 98% (not to be confused with “the 99%”) we will be able to truly leverage the power of the spa industry as a force for wellness in the world. As an example, consider my experience at the hotel spa (the Remède Spa at the St. Regis Hotel) that I had upon arrival to Aspen. I had a splitting headache from the altitude and was feeling pretty miserable. Upon arrival to the spa the staff immediately expressed concern for my wellbeing. The spa manager, Julie, suggested I take an aspirin every day until I adjusted to the altitude. And then she invited me to relax in the facilities, offering me water, fresh fruit and a selection of healthy teas. She also suggested I try their oxygen lounge, which is also helpful in the higher altitude.
After an hour in the spa including stretching in the steam room, alternating between the hot tub and the cold plunge and relaxing in the lounge, I felt like a new man. I didn’t have a chance to get a treatment or even to try the oxygen. They reminded me to avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water until I had acclimated to the altitude. I walked in feeling absolutely wrecked from a day of travel, and I walked out with a blissed out body, a clear mind, and a few new strategies for dealing with the altitude.
I realize that not every spa is going to have the wonderful water facilities that they have at the Remède Spa in Aspen. But I think what made this a wellness experience were some simple core experiences that almost any spa could offer:
1. The staff was nurturing and concerned for my wellbeing.
2. They offered time and space for relaxation and reflection.
3. They provided experiences that were pleasurable, stimulating positive emotions.
4. They provided guidance and suggestions to help improve my wellbeing.
5. They gave me tips that I could continue to follow, even after I left the spa.
Spas get a bad rap for being a luxury indulgence, only about getting pampered or beautified, all fluff and no substance. But after meeting with the thought leaders of this industry, I can assure you: they are singularly concerned with the wellbeing of their customers (and beyond.) And this is not only true of destination spas, but the entire spa industry, offering wellness experiences that we all desperately need: touch, silence, separation from technology, separation from urbanization, time and space for mindfulness, reflection and contemplation, and a kind, gentle nudge towards a healthier lifestyle.
by Jeremy McCarthy
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