Top 10 Spa Trends to Watch in 2009.
Saturday, 20th December 2008
Susie Ellis President of  SpaFinder predicts the worlds of spa and medicine will further blend as consumers become more health and price conscious, while new generational trends take hold.

SpaFinder, the global spa resource, has announced "Top 10 Spa Trends To Watch In 2009," the company's sixth annual forecast of the emerging concepts that will shape the world of spa in 2009 and beyond.

The global spa industry's extraordinary growth and resiliency has been fueled by important new ideas in health, wellness, fitness, beauty, design, and cuisine. Despite a turbulent economy, SpaFinder President Susie Ellis believes 2009 will prove no exception, with the industry continuing to innovate, including developments such as the ‘in-transit' spa experience, new offerings for the exploding Gen X and Y demographic, bolder eco-friendly initiatives, and the ramping up of global spa brands.

In particular, one clear ‘macro' trend is emerging: the interweaving of medicine and spas in unprecedented ways, with spas poised to increase their roles in wellness and healthcare, while hospitals evolve to embrace spa-like offerings and hospitality. As the expensive, "sickness-oriented" western healthcare model comes under intense review, spa innovation and influence on both traditional and alternative/complementary medical fronts is growing. With consumers increasingly receptive to preventative wellness solutions and effective non-western wellness modalities, spas are seizing the opportunity—and the spa-medicine relationship has never been richer or stronger.

As Susie Ellis, President of SpaFinder, Inc. noted: "In a few short years I've watched spas go from a narrow focus on pampering to become a vastly expanded category where dozens of wellness solutions are explored. They've become, in essence, our alternative ‘laboratories' for testing new health and wellness approaches--from fitness, nutrition, acupuncture and yoga--or more recently, sleep and fertility solutions. And for 2009, whether it's energy medicine or brain health offerings—or the rise of wellness tourism or diagnostics—there's never been more breeding going on in the spa Petri dish."

As the point of connection between thousands of spas and millions of spa consumers, SpaFinder has a unique vantage point across the world of spa. The company's annual trends report is based on analyses from a large team of experts who visit hundreds of spas each year, interview top analysts, and conduct ongoing research in the consumer, travel and spa sectors.

SpaFinder's Top Ten 2009 Spa Trends:

  • Energy Medicine
  • Casinos & Spas
  • The Medical and Spa Tourism Shuffle
  • Eco-Embedded Spas: A Deeper Shade of Green
  • Trains, Boats & Planes: In-Transit Spa-Going
  • Brain Health and ‘Mind' Gyms
  • Learning Labs for Stress Reduction
  • Mindful Spending
  • Move Over Baby Boomers: Gen X & Y Are Spa-ing Their Way
  • Brands, Brands, Brands
1) Energy Medicine
Everyone's ‘talking about energy,' and for 2009 the spa industry will follow suit, with a lot of high-voltage buzz around ‘energy medicine' and therapies like Reiki; Qi Gong; chakra balancing; healing touch; magnetic, light and sound therapy; and acupuncture. While there's charged debate about how to define these practices, whether they're in fact ‘new,' or whether there's enough scientific evidence to warrant our attention—the energy medicine trend within both the spa industry and the medical establishment is clear. For instance, Dr. Oz of Oprah fame recently argued that ‘the next big frontier of medicine…is energy medicine,' and former Surgeon General and Canyon Ranch CEO Richard Carmona recently reported that energy medicine is one of the emerging science areas they're pursuing for their forward-thinking medical resorts.

The discussion on the medical side (centering on electromagnetic forces and laser beams), is of course quite different from terms like ‘qi,' ‘chi,' ‘prana,' ‘chakras' and ‘doshas' used in the spa sector, where the emphasis is on clearing imbalances in a body's energy field to promote healing of body, mind and spirit. Interesting spa examples emerging: bite-size doses of energy medicine along with traditional massage at properties like Conrad Maldives Rangali Island—the extensive use of visiting consultant-‘practitioners' at Thai resorts like Trisara, Chiva-Som and the new Six Senses Destination Spa Phuket—Canyon Ranch Resorts' ‘Healing Energy' menu with offerings like Polarity, Acutonics (think tuning forks…) and Jin Shin Jyutsu, which is said to balance energy pulses via a practitioner holding various energy ‘locks.'

Acupuncture was ushered onto the U.S. stage via Nixon's high-profile visits to China in the 70s, and the buzz around energy medicine today stems from an increased receptiveness to healing traditions from other cultures courtesy of phenomena like the Internet and the recent Beijing Olympics, etc. Look for a whole spectrum of energy medicines to be increasingly ‘on the table' in the experimental theater that is the modern spa. The enlightened approach? An open mind, along with encouragement for solid scientific verification. After all, there's a great deal we still don't know about the ‘body electric.'

2) Casinos & Spas: A Good Bet
Placing a high-end spa in a casino hotel was a long-shot idea when Elaine and Steve Wynn (both Golden Door regulars) opened the first at the Golden Nugget Casino Hotel in the 1980s. But today, spas in casinos have hit the jackpot, representing the most profitable spas in the world. These world-class facilities are situated within hotels with hundreds (often thousands) of rooms, catering to a captive, free-spending clientele that both appreciates pampering and sees the value of balancing both high-octane indulgence and recharging, healthy pursuits.

The new Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino has expanded to 69,000 square feet and 90 treatment rooms, making it the largest spa in the world. It features a super-opulent thermal suite circuit, complete with sauna butler and more. Across town, the new Fountainbleu Hotel & Casino (slated to open in fall 2009), promises the 60,000 square foot Lapis Spa, reportedly one of the most expensive ever built. In keeping with the over-the-top luxury of the original Miami Beach site, they plan spectacular water features, including an experiential 'rain tunnel' with steam mist and penetrating water jets, mineral bathing areas, and gender-specific spa areas for men and women.

And some casino operators are designing fun, more approachable facilities catering to inexperienced spa-goers, such as the Northern Quest Resort in Washington State (opening late 2009) and Ameristar Resorts of Black Hawk and St. Charles, MO. The mood is playful and welcoming and avoids creating that atmosphere of intimidation that first-time spa-goers can feel when entering a super-luxury spa.

The trend is exploding in Asia…Outside the U.S., Macao has recently surpassed Las Vegas in terms of annual gambling revenue, and its gargantuan Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel (the second-largest building in the world) now features the impressive V SPA. While in Singapore, which recently legalized gambling, Sentosa Resort & Spa is adding a casino, Banyan Tree plans a casino-spa resort, and the Marina Bay Sands project is in the pipeline. Casinos that have rolled the dice on luxury spa facilities have seen big wins for ‘the house'…so look for more blending of casino excitement and luxury spa experiences in 2009.

3) The Medical and Spa Tourism Shuffle
Two years ago SpaFinder named medical tourism, the phenomenon of people traveling to medical spas in another country or region for aesthetic or traditional procedures, a top trend. Two years later, the concept of ‘medical travel' (or ‘wellness tourism,' ‘holiday surgery' or ‘spa tourism') has evolved in powerful, myriad ways. Today, imagine a deck of cards, each representing a different type of establishment: from a large Indian hospital performing hip and knee replacements at a fraction of Western prices— to a hotel spa in Brazil featuring a nursing staff, catering to pre- and post-surgery patients (Kurotel Longevity Center)—to a Mexican destination dental clinic—to a Traditional Chinese Medicine practice in China or Ayurvedic Center in India—to a Philippine prevention center that banks people's stem cells—to a Swiss luxury spa with a popular plastic surgery business (Clinique La Prairie)–to a new concept like Paradise Makeovers, where women join groups to journey to places like Bali for yoga, meditation and spa services combined with non-surgical rejuvenation treatments. Down the road this increasingly full ‘medical travel' deck of cards will be shuffled, with some big winners, and its fair share of problems and losers, but it's a category brimming with opportunity.

Forces fueling the trend: crises within the traditional health care system (skyrocketing costs, millions of uninsured)—the rise, with the Internet and globalization, of a more consumer-centric model revolving around greater choice and price transparency—and fluctuations in international currencies opening up attractive new markets, even within the U.S. Whether people are traveling between countries, within countries, or even in their own region, consumers are seeking lower prices and cutting-edge medical/wellness offerings…and spas are right in the thick of things.

Picture a hospital with serene gardens, feng shui designed private rooms, 24-hour room service with organic local cuisine, on-demand massage and a menu of alternative and healing therapies. At places like the Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan, the ‘patients' have become ‘guests,' healthcare and hospitality are united, and spa elements have invaded the once drab hospital walls…not only to meet consumer demand, but as a differentiator in a brutally competitive industry. To boost the bottom line hospitals are unleashing programs to attract not only the sick and old, but the young and well: from integrative programs, prevention centers, executive physicals, to aesthetic procedures. And this cross-pollination of ‘medicine' and ‘spa' also includes the significant rise in ‘wellness diagnostics' within the medical spa environment, from services like imaging, genomics, stress tests, blood and urine analyses, to futuristic banking of one's own stem cells.

So watch for the line between spas, medical spas and hospitals to become ever more creatively blended. The era of the ‘spa-spital,' with global consumers traveling to access the services they want, need, and can afford, has arrived.

4) Eco-Embedded Spas: A Deeper Shade of Green
Back in 2005, SpaFinder identified the eco-spa boom, crystallizing the first industry definition still widely used today. In our 2007 forecast we noted the eco-spa trend had shifted from being industry- to consumer-driven: with spa-goers now demanding a meaningful, aggressive environmental position from spas. And in 2009, we're tracking a clear new direction—call it spa environmentalism 2.0—or the ‘eco-embedded spa.'

By ‘eco-embedded' we mean expanded green initiatives and eco processes that are quietly and meaningfully enmeshed throughout the entire spa, so there's no demanding efforts required by the spa guest, who is, after all, there to relax. While the spa consumer skews very green, consumers in general are suffering from green fatigue and sustainability stress. So, goodbye showy, loud, and superficial green gestures—as well as those that tax or confuse the spa-goer—in tandem with spa eco initiatives that are far bolder than ever before.

The examples are endless. Across European spas, hotel room key slots trigger time-delayed sensors to turn off lights and air conditioning in rooms. At El Monte Sagrado Resort in New Mexico the property is heated and cooled 100% geo-thermally. At Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in Australia (and elsewhere) there's optional half flush toilets. Rancho La Puerta serves cuisine from its organic farm, and embeds exclusively organic products (from cleaning supplies to spa products) throughout the resort. And then there's the new breed of spa like Rock Resort Spa at Keystone Lodge in Colorado, built, from the ‘earth up,' with sustainability in mind: using wind-powered electricity, building from recycled wood, etc. And more spas like the eco-boutique Chill Spa in Hotel Terra Jackson Hole, or Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa, are now achieving the very highest levels of LEED certification.

As an industry we're ‘seeing green' everywhere: More spas are branding themselves with names like Green Spa (NY), Eden Organix Spa (NJ), GreenBliss EcoSpa (CA), etc.; the industry now boasts a Green Spa Network; and a relatively new magazine called Organic Spa.

Consider a health club like Green Microgym in Oregon where the energy created on cardio-fitness equipment is captured and reused to light the facility—or perhaps the most innovative 21st-century eco destination spa, the Six Senses in Thailand, where guests can eat all of the resort landscaping. Now that's ‘eco-embedded'!

5) Trains, Boats & Planes: In-Transit Spa-Going
With overbooked flights, tight security and longer delays, there's no doubt that the stress of modern travel has increased. Thankfully, spa-ing while traveling is reaching a whole new cruising altitude: trains with fully equipped gyms and spas, planes with in-flight spa showers and massage treatments, health and wellness-oriented cruises, and more. What began as a novelty has turned into big business, targeting the uniquely captive, over-stressed traveler.

Southern India's Golden Chariot train already features an onboard Ayurvedic center with fully equipped gym and spa, while China's new Tangula luxury train will also include a spa when it launches in 2009. Today almost every major airport boasts a spa, many first class lounges incorporate spas, and Dubai's Emirates Airlines even promises to include spa services on their new Airbus A380. London's Heathrow Airport alone has four spas to choose from: the Cowshed Spa at the Virgin Atlantic Club, an Elemis Travel Spa at the British Airways Lounge, a Molten Brown Travel Spa at the Air France Lounge and an Urban Retreat Spa!

Cruise ships are broadening their health and wellness options beyond the spa facility itself. Costa Cruises has launched Ristorante Samsara, a specialty spa restaurant with organic and natural vegan cuisine; Crystal offers dedicated Mind-Body-Spirit cruises; and even Disney has joined the trend by offering a "Detox for Weight Loss" program. New ships under construction are adding staterooms that effectively serve as mini-spa cabins.

6) Brain Health and ‘Mind' Gyms
With a vast, aging Baby Boomer population, well-publicized medical reports revealing that with brains you've got to ‘use them' or ‘lose them,' and an Alzheimer's pandemic, brain health is increasingly on the spa-goers' mind. So don't be surprised if next time you scan the spa menu you see offerings relating to ‘mental fitness' or ‘brain workouts' in addition to traditional body therapies like massage or facials.

While research concurs that many spa cornerstones like healthy food, exercise, relaxation techniques and healthy sleep are key to long-term brain health, spas will really step it up in '09 to add activities, education, and new technologies and therapies that function like ‘gyms for the mind.'

Whether it's exercising the grey matter through brain boosting games or juggling, or spa educational programs where neuroscientists discuss books like My Stroke of Insight, brain ‘work-outs' are increasingly popping up on both day and stay spa menus, and the examples are diverse. Mind Spa Mental Fitness Center in Florida has added a Neurobics Center, featuring computer stations with scientifically developed brain exercise and biofeedback programs, as well as Neurowave chairs to stimulate brain function. The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa in Iowa worked in tandem with a brain research institute to develop the ‘Raj Prevention Program for Alzheimer's,' a full program to prevent the onset of age-related cognitive disorders. Canyon Ranch's medical director regularly lectures on ‘Boosting Brain Power' and preventing memory loss to the resort's clients. Westin Resorts recently unveiled a hotel-wide program dubbed BrainBodyFitness that disperses puzzles and brain-teasers throughout the entire hotel experience, as well as offering brain workouts in the fitness center.

If you think about it, it's a pretty logical next step for the spa…

7) Learning Labs for Stress Reduction
The number one reason people hit the spa is to relax and de-stress, and in nerve-wracking times, the impulse is significantly magnified, especially if the price and overall value is right. ‘Stress' is a huge spa buzzword, and at SpaFinder.com, for example, nearly four times as many consumers entered ‘stress' into the search bar in the last four months, than in the four months prior.

Spas, out of necessity, will increasingly become ‘learning labs' for stress reduction, and this means it's time for both the industry and its guests to realize that it can take less than one hour (or a ton of expensive time and treatments), to elicit the critical relaxation response. Look for: spa staff to increasingly become teachers of take-home, DIY ‘relaxation responses'—and a shift from emphasizing trendy spa rituals-of-the-month, to effective stress therapies like breath work, hot baths, meditation, exercise, massage, MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) programs, and even an emphasis on psychological support and the sharing of feelings. Mini-treatments like ten-minute chair massages will grow in popularity, not only because they're relaxing on the wallet, but because of the increased awareness that stress reduction is critical to overall health, and can be accomplished quite quickly with the right techniques.

The medical evidence continues to mount that chronic, unresolved stress (which continually triggers the release of ‘fight or flight' hormones like adrenaline and cortisol) can be physically destructive, contributing to weakened immune systems, a susceptibility to viruses, stroke, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, periodontal disease and even some forms of cancer. As the medical evidence gets publicized, more people will seek innovative stress-busting therapies at the spa…as if their life depended on it.

Look for more day spas to incorporate the term ‘stress' in their offerings (‘stress relief massage' etc.). As well as stay spa programming like Miraval's 'Mindful Stress Mastery' experience, offering spa-goers a customized stress-fighting curriculum, incorporating breathing therapies, psychological training to ‘live in the moment,' and take-home resources. And as spas increasingly serve as our culture's alternative non-denominational chapels—or places of spiritual respite and retreat in anxious times—look for more spas with ‘soul,' focusing on connection, community and spirituality, and unleashing new programming like life coaching, transition retreats, and mindfulness experiences as well as challenge courses and labyrinths. And don't be surprised if a "slow spa" movement takes off…

8) Mindful Spending
In a challenging economic year, spa-goers will obviously be looking closely for value and tangible results. Spas will be experimenting with creative ways to attract the consumer, earn their trust and exceed their expectations. Look for concepts such as "daycations" and "spacations" to move from mere vague catch phrases to realities.

The spa industry has proven fairly resilient thus far, but consumers will increasingly be price shopping. Discount massage and facial businesses will enjoy more popularity, and significant spa deals and added value pricing will appear on most spa websites. Luxury facilities will need to work harder at demonstrating how their unique experiences and special treatments merit the greater expense.

We will likely see three- and four-star hotels, where more people will be staying, get into the spa arena with competitive spa service offerings. Spas at these locations will be aiming to help first time visitors feel welcome and comfortable, bringing many new lifelong spa customers into the industry.

9) Move Over Baby Boomers: Gen X & Y Are Spa-ing Their Way
The shift from a core spa clientele comprised of Baby Boomers to one made up of the Gen X and Y generations represents more than a simple demographic switch. As Gen X (born 1965 to 1980) and Gen Y (born 1981 to 1995) hit spas in record numbers, they're shaping the experience to meet their unique wants and desires. The trick for spas will be to continue to attract aging Boomers, who fueled the first ‘spa wave' with their considerable spending power, while simultaneously re-evaluating facilities and programs in order to meet the expectations of an entirely new generation of spa-goers.

Marketing analysts draw attention to striking characteristics of each demographic. Gen X'ers, the first tech-savvy generation, are often the children of divorce, tending to replace family with friends, while postponing marriage and parenting. They engage in lifelong education and are less brand-loyal. Gen Y, the true tech-obsessed market, likes to multi-task--demands instant gratification—communicates via IM, text message and blogs—are socially and environmentally responsible—exhibits even less brand loyalty—and are the most ethnically diverse of any prior generation.

Both Gen X and Y, who came of age watching their self-absorbed workaholic parents hit the spa, are ‘no excuses, spa-entitled' generations, and perceive spa-going as a necessity rather than an occasional indulgence. They seek wellness, rather than pampering, and often head to the spa in packs—giving new meaning to the ongoing trend of social spa-ing. These generations also exhibit an unprecedented comfort level with cosmetic med-spa procedures, and are adopting them for prevention ("Give me Botox in my 20's, so I can prevent wrinkles in the first place.")

To compete, spas will need to rethink everything from design, to treatment menus, to standards for use of personal communication devices. Some spas are now allowing iPod usage during massage, adding party-size treatment rooms, and trumpeting philanthropic endeavors and their commitment to sustainability. All spas will need to learn to embrace new technologies, such as encouraging online bookings through sites like SpaBooker and sending mobile alerts when last minute, spa deals become available.

Cutting-edge experiments are underway at the new Ciel-Spa at SLS in Beverly Hills, with its very playful social lounge experience, organic savories and myriad light and technology options. A $400 million renovation of the Dolder Grand in Zurich includes a spa with futuristic elements like a meditation walkway, a ‘chill-out space' with suspended basket chairs with headphones, and quirky features like a ‘snow paradise room,' and stone lounges called ‘Tsunaburos' where people can bury themselves in heated pebbles.

10) Brands, Brands, Brands
With almost 72,000 spas around the world, consumers may ultimately need some help distinguishing between them. Can the casual spa-goer tell the difference between a Mandarin Oriental Spa and a Shangri-La Spa? Spas that establish and broadcast a truly unique brand identity will enjoy a powerful competitive advantage, and should attract more guests at a time when consumer budgets are under pressure.

Previously, any establishment with attractive décor, quality service, and talented therapists had a good shot at success. But today, large companies are bringing strong branding savvy into the spa game (think Dove, Nivea and Shiseido), and high-end luxury brands are expanding into spa as well (think Bulgari, Prada, Dior), highlighting the importance of standing for something special.

And look for the distinctions between emerging brands to become more pronounced. For example, Shangri-La's Chi Spa brand has successfully incorporated signature elements throughout their collection (13 spas at last count), while retaining enough uniqueness at each property to make every Chi Spa a new – and yet familiar – experience. Their approach features "Five Element" pre-treatment evaluations; bold, red-colored décor; and "spa within a spa" treatment rooms complete with changing rooms and showers. The ESPA brand has also established a strong identity across a vast number of spas around the world and they have mastered the art of training spa therapists to provide highly consistent, quality treatments.

To learn more about SpaFinder's 2009 trends forecast, or to speak with SpaFinder Inc. president Susie Ellis, contact: Betsy Isroelit @ RBI, (213) 300-0108, betsy@rbicom.com

Copyright © 2008, SpaFinder, Inc.

About SpaFinder, Inc.:
The world's largest spa media, marketing and gifting company, SpaFinder, Inc. connects millions of wellness-focused consumers with thousands of spas worldwide. SpaFinder's media properties include the award-winning Spafinder.com, SpaFinder Lifestyle Online Magazine (published in six different languages), the Spa Enthusiast newsletter and the annual worldwide spa directory, Global SpaFinder. Spa Finder Gift Certificates and its new gift division, Spa & Salon Wish, offer spa gift certificates and cards that are redeemable at a combined network of over 7,000 spas and salons worldwide and available at thousands of retail outlets. The company's software division innovates new solutions that help spas build and streamline their businesses, including the popular SpaBooker online booking system. SpaFinder Europe and SpaFinder Japan offer regional spa marketing and gifting programs, including localized, native-language websites. Founded in 1986, the privately held company is headquartered in Manhattan.
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