I recently spoke at the New York Spa Alliance (NYSPA) annual symposium (see the SpaTrade blog here, and my blog on another session from the conference here). The theme of the symposium was “Pampering versus Wellness,” a debate which has been raging in the spa industry for the past few years. Actually, it hasn’t been much of a debate, since most people in the spa industry have turned their back on pampering and prefer to send the message, “spas are about wellness not pampering.”
This is a dialogue that is based on fear. In a competitive marketplace where consumers are increasingly reluctant to spend their money on frivolity, it is critical for the world of spas to establish its importance to the welfare of its customers. The spa industry was challenged by the marketplace to show what it is made of and professionals rallied around the question: “Are we about pampering or about wellness?” Given those two choices, the industry did the only thing it could. It chose wellness. Pampering be damned.
The problem is the whole pampering versus wellness debate is based on a false dichotomy. It presumes that you have to be about either pampering or wellness, but spas are about both. Not only is pampering an important part of the spa experience, it is an essential part of what makes up a spa. To illustrate this point, simply imagine your favorite spa. Remember how it made you feel the last time you went. How much did you look forward to it? Once you were there, how did the staff treat you? What facilities or amenities did you enjoy? What treatments did you experience?
Now imagine removing everything from that experience that you might think of as “pampering”. While we are at it remove anything that is “luxury” or “indulgent” (other taboo elements to a “serious” wellness experience some might say.) And remove anything that has not been scientifically validated as a health intervention using randomized placebo-control trial experiments. What is left probably no longer looks like a spa. It looks something like . . . a hospital! Now think about the last time you went to a hospital (or any other healing institution for that matter—doctor’s office, clinic, emergency room, or lab.) How much did you look forward to that healing experience? Chances are it wasn’t quite so enjoyable.
This is what is unique about a spa, creating healing experiences that are enjoyable, that we look forward to, and that we want to return to often. Rather than trying to remove the pampering out of the spa experience, we should be asking why DON’T we get pampered in the other healing institutions in our society. If hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices are all designed to make us feel better, why are spas the only ones we look forward to going to?
Do spas risk losing customers by embracing pampering? A quick twitter search of “pampering” and “spa” would suggest otherwise. Consumers seem to be craving more pampering, and recognize the spa as a place to get it. Science supports pampering as well, with research linking warm touch, loving kindness, positive emotions, kind conversations, and nurturing relationships to wellbeing. Science is discovering more and more that “feeling good” and “being well” are highly related. Rather than turning away from pampering, spas should embrace their unique place as a healing institution that knows how to make people feel good, while making them feel better.
References and recommended reading:
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Lynch, J. J. (2000). A Cry Unheard: New Insights into the Medical Consequences of Loneliness. Baltimore, MD: Bancroft Press.