As the wellness concept gains momentum, particularly with the expanding middle classes of India and China, it seems the spa business can do no wrong. But with greater competition and diversification, what does the future hold for the industry, asks James Stephen.

Once almost exclusively the reserve of enlightened types, the wellness concept is now firmly embraced by those looking for a health boost beyond faddy diets and interminable treadmills.

It is also one of the few areas where the hotel industry, not known for its fast response to potentially lucrative trends, jumped on the boat relatively early – with the result that spas can now be found at many higher-end properties, both business and lifestyle.

Today’s consumers are increasingly discerning, however, and know their Ayurveda from their Zen. They expect more than just a menu of massages, they want added value in the form of complementary services, a holistic wellness approach and differentiation in the form of unique and signature treatments.

The industry is well aware of this growing sophistication and is in turn offering ever-greater diversification and integration of spas beyond hotels and resorts into healthcare and other areas of tourism.

Mother of invention?

Susie Ellis, chairman and CEO, Global Wellness Institute says that in the mature markets of the US and Europe: “There is just so much diversification and creativity going on in the spa and wellness world, it’s astounding. You see spas doing everything from adding mental wellness and mindfulness programming – creating hybrid models with spa services and boutique fitness classes – salt therapy rooms, hammams, infrared saunas, flotation tank experiences, wellness and nutrition coaching, healthy cafes, and medical partnerships for cosmetic procedures and preventative medical testing. When spa industries get crowded, it spurs innovation.”

“I don’t see a saturation point but I do see the competition growing, which means that diversification will be a critical strategy for success,” notes Jeremy McCarthy, group director of spa & wellness, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

“There is a lot of sameness in the spa industry with most spas offering very similar services, products and facilities. I think we will see a lot more boutique spas targeting a specific niche or focusing on a particular aspect of the spa experience. We already see this trend in fitness today and I think spas will follow the same suit.

“The spa industry offers services that are increasingly rare in modern times: silence, calm, touch, absence from technology. I expect that these things will continue to be in demand and that the spa industry will continue to grow and evolve.”

While Maritza Rodriguez, global vice president, marketing & communications, Pevonia International/Pevonia Natural Skincare, agrees that saturation is unlikely thanks to growing interest in the wellness industry, she adds that it must grow strategically in order to meet demands.

“By instilling a greater understanding and core values for increased health and wellness into the next generations, who are reaching buying power potential, we are expanding the lifeline of our beloved industry. However, in order to remain competitive, more traditional spas will need to expand their approach to include opportunities for customised experiences based on guest needs and demands as well as self-expression.”

She adds that with leading and speciality spas adding a myriad of service offerings and experiences, any spa business model wishing to compete must rise to the challenge.

“Traditional or standard spa services must morph into physically and emotionally connected experiences that are perceived as healing, meaningful, and unique and a connection to wellness is most definitely intrinsic to the spa industry’s ongoing evolution.”

A new world of spa

Ellis agrees that although the trend is definitely towards more holistic health and wellness at spas or hybrid spa/wellness centres, there is always room for simply massage-focused spas if what’s being delivered is first rate. Clients may not expect more comprehensive wellness, but far more people are seeking it in the spa setting.

“So we will see many things like meditation exploding into the accessible mainstream: from dedicated ‘drop-in’ meditation studios to far more mindfulness programming at hotels, retreats, spas and cruises. Wellness retreats and spas are even bringing in psychotherapists and neuroscientists!”

She adds that part of this shift towards mental wellness includes spa destinations using doctors to design sleep-inducing programmes and a new focus on creativity and the arts – as there is evidence that creativity and happiness are intertwined.

And like Mandarin Oriental’s Jeremy McCarthy, she believes a big future focus will be on ‘silence’ and digital disconnection, so spas that can create true and powerful disconnection (and immerse people in nature) have a bright future.

“Another big opportunity is what you might call ‘spa+’ destinations – so stay spas adding more adventure programming – whether hiking, cycling, surfing, climbing – and all married to restorative spa treatments. This is extremely appealing to male travellers, as well as women.

“In Asia, in places like China and India, boutique fitness classes (whether CrossFit or Barre or the endless yoga or Pilates varietals) will boom – just as they have in the West. Hybrid spa and boutique fitness businesses are a big opportunity, as are hot springs spas, where Asia-Pacific is the overwhelming global leader.”