Revisiting the Spa Concept


Should the spa industry get rid of the word spa? This challenging question, which ignited a very interesting discussion on The Weekender, the blog for the Global Spa & Wellness Summit, is the one we would like to address in the following lines. The idea of shaking the foundations that have shaped our core business is definitely a thought provoking issue and something we think is extremely interesting to share with you.

That said, we would like to share in this article some of the different arguments in favour and against this idea. While doing this, we will also share with you our own perception of the issue, which relies on the fundamental task of asking additional questions and facing this argument in a comprehensive way that focuses on what the consumer wants.


Why Should We Get Rid of The Word Spa?

The statement that originated this discussion was taken from 2012 Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) keynote speaker, Peter Rummell, former head of Disney Imagineering. According to Rummell, the word spa has a deadly connotation that prevents our industry from moving away from the idea that our services are mostly oriented towards white, rich women.

The Weekender’s discussion features several opinions that embrace Rummel’s argument. For instance, Bernard Malek argues the word spa has “become over-used and it has become a clichè” that does not encompass the full range of services offered by spas and wellness centres today.

While we are aware of the different perceptions the word spa has in different parts of the world, we have also seen quite daring comments in the discussion. For instance, a wellness centre in Phoenix, Arizona, stated companies like Massage Envy, that cater for a low-mid level consumer, are devaluing the word spa. Are we trying to say that low-mid level consumers looking for a bargain are not a consumer for the spa industry? We should go beyond this elitist view and understand that we are in the health business!


Looking for The Right Questions

Having read the arguments put forward for changing the word spa, we see that they do not really hold much weight as we believe we had moved beyond arguing about the “definition” of the word spa into the most important aspect of looking at what the consumer wants.

That said, most of the people who are against the idea of removing the word spa from our industry shared something in common: They prefer to ask different questions. In other words, it is not so much about keeping or removing the word spa from our industry but rather seeing the bigger picture and focusing on different, more relevant issues.

Besides the practical implications of leaving the consumer without any point of reference if we do remove the word spa, our industry needs to pay more attention to other issues such as our marketing strategies and our capabilities to build an identity within our industry.

Michella Punj refers to The Weekender’s discussion as a “great call to the industry to provide the proper marketing and advertising in terminology that truly and accurately portrays the depth and breadth of what we have to offer.” Similarly, Don Ardell says our industry needs to “develop a greater consensus on the desired identity for the 21st century” before spending time on a debate dealing with how we call ourselves.


A Focus on Communication

Some of the external guests that were invited to the last Global Spa & Wellness Summit expressed their ‘ignorance’ in terms of the full range of services the spa and wellness industries are capable of offering. Will changing the word “spa” really change things? We do not think so.

Instead, we believe our industry needs to focus on the marketing aspect of our industry and how we communicate with our consumers and the outside world. If we are able to do this, we will be able to ‘rebrand’ ourselves in a natural way that acknowledges everything our industry is capable of offering today.

By Sonal

Sonal Uberoi creates and delivers smarter spas around the world. Spas and hotel groups hire Sonal to help them design, set up and manage their wellness businesses. Her finance background and worldwide operations experience in the spa, wellness and hospitality sectors make Sonal the go-to expert for business optimisation solutions. Connect with Sonal on LinkedIn

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