MEDICAL SPAS & WHERE THE CONSUMER STANDS

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SpaTrade's Nancy Griffin and Spa Finder's Susie Ellis were among the excellent keynote speakers at the Medical Spa Conference & Expo® at The Hyatt Grand Champions Resort & Spa in Indian Wells last November. Their topic: Medical Spas and Where the Consumer Stands, shed light on the consumer's perspective of the medical spa trend:

ISPA defines medical spa is an institution that has as its primary purpose the provision of comprehensive medical and wellness care, along with conventional and complementary therapies, in a relaxing environment. However, as Ellis and Griffin pointed out, the current model being used by existing medical spas seems to emphasize anti-aging and cosmetic procedures (Botox, collagen, laser) rather than high-touch care (healing, hydrotherapy, massage, wellness). In addition, medical doctors seem to view "spa" as environmental factors such as sights, sounds, and smells, rather than results-oriented treatments and therapies.

This train of thought is polar-opposite from the medically based European model of spa. As a conference attendee from Prague put it. "Saying medical spa in Europe is redundant--like saying medical hospital in the US

To supplement previously conducted research, a joint effort was made by the principals of Spa Finder and SpaTrade.com to determine awareness and understanding of medical spas among consumers. A survey was created and posted on the SpaFinder.com website during October and November, 2003. The 662 respondents included U.S. spa-goers, 96% of whom were female. The average age was 40 (84% were in the 25 - 54 age bracket).
In reviewing the data , several conclusions were offered regarding what spa-going consumers really want:
• Nurturing staff
• Superior levels of services
• Massage

These consumers clearly indicate that they want to be taken care of, and everything else is probably incidental to that objective! Medical spa administrative personnel should make sure that marketing efforts and product / service offerings match their clients' expectations. If the previous findings aren't sufficient, keep in mind that the following three words generated the most favorable reactions (81% - 95% response average): "spa", "wellness", and "healing retreat".

Specifically, the survey data suggests that most respondents define a spa as a retreat-like setting that offers exercise, nutrition, massage, and stress management. Other descriptive components (ranked by response rate) were pampering treatments, massage and skin care, health improvement, natural mineral springs, and renewal with water. Of the total, approximately 46% were familiar with the term "medical spa". The highest ranked phrase that "represents" a medical spa was "any facility that combines a relaxing atmosphere with specialized services provided by license health care professionals". This response was the one chosen most often, but that may have reflected the fact that is was the most comprehensive option. The second most popular choice was "a resort spa offering medical evaluations and/or programming", which was followed by the third most frequently selected option: "a destination spa offering in-patient medical services and health screening".

Other general observations were that people in the northeastern U.S. were more aware of medical spas and liked the term better than people who were located in California. Interestingly, less than 5% of these spa-going consumers thought anti-aging hormone therapy, Botox, full body scanning, mammography, or sclerotherapy procedures were appropriate to have performed in a spa. None felt that liposuction should be. There was slightly less resistance to laser skin resurfacing and in-office tooth whitening being offered in a spa, while up to half felt microdermabrasion, laser hair removal, permanent makeup, and/or glycolic peels were acceptable in a spa facility. As noted by Griffin, "these responses suggest that hiring a physician to provide these services in a day spa may not be a good strategy: "Medical" implies higher levels of credibility, good results, and overall safety."

Feedback Research Services publishes and sells reports and newsletters about emerging health care markets, including medical spas. The company offers free information on its Web site (Feed-back.com) and is currently selling a comprehensive report on medical spas: Medical Spa & Specialty Hospital Markets