Understanding the International Spa Market

By Elaine Fenard Partner & Chief Operating Officer, Europe and U.S., Spatality | February 22, 2010

According to the recently released report, "The Global Spa Economy 2007,"* the international spa economy is estimated to be worth a staggering $255 billion per year, $46.8 billion of which are directly related to spa services and operations. Suffice to say, the spa industry has grown tremendously in the past several years as demand throughout the world continues to increase. As developers, owners and hoteliers look beyond their own borders in which to invest and operate, it becomes increasingly important to understand the various markets and their implications on specific spa operations. Whether you are making a forray into new markets, or simply trying to market your existing location to a more international audience, the complexities, sensitivities and expectations for spa around the world will vary considerably, and proper attention should be paid to the nuances in order to ensure success.

Cultural Considerations

While there exist general rules of thumb about all regions and cultures, it is wise to first embark on a markets research and feasibility study to gain a clearer understanding of what "spa" means to your new audiences. Such a study should include a segment on guest research and expectations, thereby guiding you more specifically on a number of considerations such as:

  • Gender: What is the expected guest ratio of women to men? Should the treatments vary between the genders? Are co-ed lounge or wet areas acceptable? Do strict divisions between the genders need to exist? Are treatment menus by gender advantagous?
  • Treatments: Does the mix of treatments reflect the preferences of a given culture? For example, while visiting a spa, U.S. spa guests book massage 55% - 60% of the time while many European countries view spa as synonymous with bathing.
  • Spaces: Are spaces allocated not only to maximize revenue but also to reflect cultural preferences? For example, in Italy, pedicure treatments are often conducted inside of the treatment room, where in the U.S. most pedicures are provided in a separate manicure/pedicure area.

Spa Brand Types: Hotel Brands and Corporate Spa Partners

Paying attention to cultural preferences and expecations is critical in understanding the international spa market, as is selecting the overall type of spa: A bathouse concept, dayspa model, full service resort-style spa? Determining the spa type is one of the most important decisions you make. Be careful not to simply follow market trends without a sound business plan. As tempting as it may be, jumping at a current trend could prove unwise if not thoroughly researched on the front end. The simplest way to ensure you are assessing the opportunity, while also being progressive and guest-focused, is to stay true to the hotel brand and core values. This is evidenced in Fairmont's Willow Stream Spas; Jumeirah'sTalise Spa; Hyatt's Stillwater Spas; Westin's Heavenly Spas; and W Hotels' Bliss.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.