Spa China Summit Day 2

The presentation schedule for the second day of the Summit is oriented to International Spa Trends, so that the local audience can be enlightened on current global best practices. Geraldine Howard, Founder and CEO of Aromatherapy Associates got the day going with a presentation entitled “Trends towards Natural Ingredients.” Howard is an ideal person to give this presentation, given her extensive research into natural ingredients and their use for her product line. Howard discussed the international definitions of “natural” and “organic,” and how they applied to cosmetics. One of her many enlightening statements was the fact that the USDA Organic label does not apply to the ingredients of water or salt. Surprising, since a large percentage of many cosmetic products is water! Howard also made the important point that just because a product is natural, does not make it safe; i.e. arsenic and other dangerous natural ingredients. She also reviewed the current arguments concerning preservatives, and stressed their importance in spa environments, which are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. Another thing to consider with green marketing is that, while the product itself might be qualified as “green,” one needs to also consider how issues such as product transportation, manufacturing processes, and the carbon footprint of suppliers and producers impact the environment as well. This presentation was excellent, and would be timely and appropriate whomever the audience.

Samantha Foster next presented “Branding and Marketing a Good Spa.” This is a very topical subject in a market that is very brand-driven. Foster discussed brand attributes, and the role that spa brands have played in consumer choice, now that there are so many more spas in China than even 5 years ago. Foster showed how branding is evident in more than just signage; it should be woven through your facility, staff, design, rituals, and signature treatments. She gave attendees a five-step guideline to follow when working on their own brand creation:

  1. Differentiate

  2. Collaborate

  3. Innovate

  4. Validate

  5. Cultivate

This was another excellent presentation that would be at home in any spa market.

The next presenter was COO of Rixos Hotels Naim Maadad, who has many years of experience in hospitality and spa development throughout the Middle East and Asia. Maadad stated that beauty is currently the 5th largest consumer market in China, and it currently has the most salons of any country in the world (1.5m). However, this is not a market where operators can “cut and paste,” to quote Maadad. Chinese have a different expectation of their spa experience; while they want services that promote well-being, they also appreciate a social aspect to spa-ing, and are likely to spend time in a spa with friends, having drinks after spa services, and treating it as a club. Maadad encouraged international brands that are looking to enter China to fully understand the needs of this market and be able to bridge the language and cultural barriers, and to be prepared to combine their international flair with local understanding.

Trade show and event organizer Axel Bartkus, of NuernbergMesse China Co., discussed organic trends within China. Barkus’s company organized China’s largest organic trade show, which was held in Shanghai in May 2010, and in preparation for that event, had studied the market size and trends. Bartkus feels that, in spite of recent supply-chain scandals, the Chinese market for organics is growing, and gave the example of local retailer Lohas City, and their growth in the last four years from 1 to 23 stores throughout China.

After a healthy lunch break, Ken Rosen gave a demonstration of a Thai Medical Massage, which combines the healing traditions of Thai Massage and Acupuncture. Rosen has written a detailed article on this subject, which can be found by googling Thai Massage + Under Pressure. Rosen and a volunteer client demonstrated the basic positions for both client and practitioner, and Rosen then showed a detailed shoulder protocol with several different approaches. Thai Massage is still relatively new in China, and the audience was greatly interested.

Next, I gave a presentation on International Spa Trends. I began by trying to define the size of the current spa population, and gave the estimation of 80k spas worldwide; about 24k each in Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America, and the rest in Latin America, MENA and Africa. Of these, less than 6% are considered medical spas, and 2% destination spas. I had heard during many of the regional Chinese presentations that there was a lot of confusion for consumers about what is a spa and what is a salon, and I shared that that is no different elsewhere in the world; it is a discussion we have in the U.S all the time. However, that is not likely to end any time soon, as spas are moving away from just offering the bread-and-butter massages and facials and integrating other components of healthcare and wellness, such as yoga, acupuncture, spiritual counseling, meditation, spa cuisine, and other more esoteric services. We are also beginning to see spas specializing to a target audience, such as Inspiritas Spa, recently opened in San Antonio, which offers services and products that predominately cater to cancer patients and survivors. Whatever the service focus, I urged the audience to remember the elements that comprise a spa; high quality customer service, ergonomic design, retail options, and overall ambience. Following my presentation, we enjoyed a panel discussion with five Chinese spa experts on the topic of Customer Service in spas. This was quite interesting, and the problems they face are the same the world over; lack of qualified staff, lack of training standards, and cultural and language gaps. The Chinese spas are quite aware of what they desire to improve, and only a shortage of people (funny concept in the most populous country in the world) stands in their way. The need for training has been a recurring theme for the last two days; I think we need to get out those Mandarin textbooks and get cracking! Tonight is the Gala Awards Dinner, and I’ll report on that separately.