Crystal-ball gazing is a seasonal affliction, one that seems to infect us at about the same time we give up on our New Year's resolutions. Most times these prophecies reassure us with a familiar future, but psyching out the spa industry turns out to be a little more complex. Spas have experienced across-the-board growth in recent years, and while their popularity has been great for the business, familiarity has also created a savvy, sophisticated clientele for whose favor spas must now compete to survive. It's clear that our industry is at a crossroads. The $64,000 question is, where do we go from here?

“Back to basics,” says Karen Korpi, vice president Spa Division, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. “Historically, people sought out spas for the true healing benefits they offered. Over time, spas have been reengineered and reinvented to appeal to a clientele with a much broader set of needs by companies whose focus is on a healthy bottom line. This has been a good thing, introducing solid business practices into the industry, driving growth and enabling spas to become real profit centers…A beautiful treatment menu, unique treatment names and descriptions are still necessary. However, we must make sure we deliver exceptional personal service, exceptional treatment protocols, focused at-home care to assure that our guests receive benefit to their well being.”

“Authenticity” is the word that Anne McCall Wilson, general manager of the Fairmont Hotels' Spa Division, uses to describe these not-so-newfangled basics.

“In other words they want to see and feel results, and they want to know why things work and how they can best recreate treatments at home and integrate into them their lives…For many years we North Americans may have overly abdicated our health care to the medical system. Today, people are taking more responsibility for their own care and adopting preventive health care approaches.”

Do these trends signal a return to the clinical austerity of a bygone era? Definitely not. “Back to basics does not mean just Swedish massage, although that still is the most popular treatment sold in the industry,” says Korpi.

Indeed, when I asked spa soothsayers to weigh in on what's next, I received an outpouring of predictions. I've selected a few trends, but look for a further discussion in future columns.

“Group experiences are hot,” says Jennifer Lynn of Natural Resources Spa Consulting Inc. “I see spas creating multi-functional spaces where small groups can have treatments while they relax and socialize without having to leave the comfort of the group.”

Alexis Ufland of New York's Lexi Designs says medical spas are soaring and opening in all different areas, and Tina Berger, senior vice president of operations for WTS International, a leisure management firm that designs resort spas around the world, says, “As more clients become savvy to the anti-aging products and equipment — a new one assesses the client's DNA to formulate a skin cream that addresses and corrects specific environmental and genetic skin conditions — these very expensive treatments will become mainstream.”

Bruce Taylor, CHA, director of Spa Operations, Desert Springs, J.W. Marriott Resort & Spa notes the increase in spa popularity among men. Bundling spa services with consultations with a fitness professional is another trend.

“Bring[ing] the outside in with natural light and outdoor features such as water, foliage and wildlife (bird or butterfly sanctuaries) to give guests a sense of getting back to nature” is high on the trends list of Lynn Curry, senior director of accounts, Natural Resources Spa Consulting Inc.

Greening is also on the mind of Blu Spas' Cary Collier. “With current technologies, materials/finishes and building construction management systems that cater to ‘green’ projects, the timing is perfect to set the example,” Collier said.

Addressing the spiritual needs of spa goers is the prophecy of Deborah Smith of Smith Club and Spa Specialists. “Research shows that among many spa-goers, especially 50-plus Baby Boomers, that spiritual/personal transformation is an important life goal and yearning. Spa programs might focus on the one common theme in spiritual transformation programs such as being truly present to the moment in order to realize a deeper, truer treasure that lies within, outside the bounds of the ego,” she says.

And so like the industry itself, our crystal-ball gazing comes full circle, taking us back to the historical roots of spas with this final prediction from Spa Quest International's John Korpi, “I think that the pace of professional development courses offered by the ISPA Foundation will begin to accelerate as the industry needs to move from the what, when and how of being a spa professional to the most important question of all, the why and to explore the rich history and core values of the pioneers of the spa industry.”


Polly Johnson is vice president for SpaEquip Corporate Accounts Division. Formerly known as Hydro Spa Consulting, SpaEquip offers technical spa consultants during the design phase and are a FF&E and OS&E procurement company for many of the world's finest destination and resort spas.