Spa Finder's Top Ten European Spa Trends

As many of you know, Europe can lay claim to coining and popularizing the word 'spa.' It actually began as an acronym for the Latin 'Sanitas per aqua' (health through water), as noted by archeological findings in Italy, and later became the proper name of a town in Belgium famous for its healing mineral springs. But it is only in recent history that 'spa' has been used to describe an industry and that its use has spread all over the world. Here is a look then at the spa trends that seem to be unfolding in the place that started it all, the historic 'spa source':

1. Terminology is beginning to matter. 'Wellness' or 'Spa'?
At the moment both terms are used in Europe, and Spa Finder predicts that this will continue. The terms, however, will likely establish themselves with more differentiation as time goes on. This will benefit the consumer, the media, and ultimately the businesses they describe.

While the traditional European ethic of expertise and professionalism might favor the more practical-sounding 'wellness,' 'spa' has proven to be a marketing winner everywhere it's been introduced in other parts of the world. So look for 'spa' to eventually win out as the popular descriptor of the various businesses that help people achieve health and wellness—while 'wellness' emerges as an umbrella term describing the goal of the experiences a person enjoys at a spa.

Practically speaking, just as the term 'hospitality industry' encompasses hotels and resorts, it's possible that the term 'wellness industry' will become the broader business category covering individual spas, spa brands, and other fitness and well-being businesses.

2. A shift towards a European for-profit spa model
With a history of regular health and wellness vacations funded by government or insurance in some countries, European spa entrepreneurs are now looking to existing successful for-profit spa operations as models for the future. The subsidized model will likely become a thing of the past as consumers warm to the idea of paying for spa services out of pocket and business managers learn to effectively market their spas to help fill guest rooms and incorporate spa product sales, gift vouchers, retreats and other revenue-generating aspects.

But with that shift comes a need to radically improve the ambiance and hospitality experience in spas that had previously been subsidized—something that should not be difficult to accomplish given Europeans' leadership in hospitality as well as design.

Despite the ongoing privatization of spas, Europe won't likely tolerate an unregulated 'Wild West' U.S.-style industry. As elsewhere, it will be a challenge to strike the right balance between regulations/standardization that ensure safety and quality and the support and flexibility necessary to give a country's spa industry a head start.

3. 'Sanitas per Aqua' for the new millennium
Unlike other areas of the world, most European spa industry enthusiasts expect a water experience in any establishment calling itself a spa. Whether known as kur, thermae, or balneario in the past, the new spa establishments are incorporating stylish water, bathing, and thermal experiences alongside treatment rooms. At the same time these experiences or journeys help keep costs down because they are less labor-intensive. Not only do the water and other facilities such as saunas, steams, lanconiums, caldariums, tepidariums, and frigidariums add physiological benefit, but they also extend the experience and allow more people to participate.

Europe's modern take on 'Sanitas per aqua' exists on many fronts. Well-known mineral springs and thermae destinations—from Bath to Budapest—are being refurbished. The Bath Spa Project in the UK is now open! Even though it went more than 300% over budget, Spa Finder predicts it will turn out to be a great investment—and a 'can't-miss' destination for purist spa travelers. Also look for a revival of interest in thalassotherapy, banyas, and Old World bathhouses, along with entirely new water-based options such as color hydrotherapy baths, vapor caves, Liquidsound (debuted in Berlin), watsu (water shiatsu), deluge showers, experience showers, and spa water parks.

4. Diversity
More people are trying spa experiences for the first time and there are more categories of spa experiences available. Hotel and resort spas, destination spas, day spas, medical and med spa are entering the European spa market's vocabulary.

At the same time, there is a greater diversity of who is going to spas, with more men, teens and families joining in. Men, who are not traditionally interested in pampering, do nevertheless want results-oriented skin and body treatments, and once they find themselves over the spa threshold are likely to become devotees. Spas for men only such as Nickel, which debuted in Paris, and Gentlemen's Tonic, which opened in London, are also bringing in new male clients. More men will also hit the spa with their 'significant others' to indulge in couples' spa rituals and therapies.

Golf and spa, spa weekends in a chateau or monastery, girlfriend getaways at a spa, and sun and spa vacations are just some of the options that are attracting new enthusiasts to the spa scene.

The diversity of spa modalities is also increasing as indigenous treatments from various regions and countries become popular and available. East meets West, with the various philosophies combining so that classical medical checkups, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, yoga, and nutritional classes can all blend seamlessly together in one program.

5. The new European medical and med spa—from patient to guest
Look for European medical spas to break from their traditional 'clinical' approach to attract the new spa-going consumer who is willing to pay for luxurious spa treatments and services, and who is not interested in a no-frills doctor-led regime. The medical spa label will likely branch into two categories:

The first will be medical spas with a wellness focus offering prevention and addressing disease. Some may also choose to utilize complementary and alternative modalities to reach their goals. The second will be med spas or medi-spas with a cosmetic focus offering BOTOX, fillers, lasers, and more. The quick results from these advanced medi procedures will likely become too enticing to ignore and cause Europeans to add these options to their traditional 'natural' beauty leanings.

Fitness, which has generally not been a major part of the European spa model, will begin to get a second look as spa-goers realize that attaining true wellness is not just about relaxation and enjoyment but also about exercise. Spa cuisine will also undergo some re-evaluation which will produce healthier diets at spa establishments—although still including a glass of wine.

And finally, European medical and med or medi spas will evolve to attract a new breed of tourists from around the world seeking specialized services. Get ready for medical tourism.

6. Appreciation for a country's authenticity in spa treatments
With more time to travel than people from other parts of the world due to greater vacation benefits, European travelers are increasingly being exposed to spa experiences around the world. It might be Ayurveda in India, Thai massage in Thailand, lomi-lomi massage in Hawaii, or Traditional Chinese Medicine in China. Europeans are known to appreciate and enjoy local culture and authentic traditions therefore embracing them also in their spa experiences.

Through visiting a hammam in Turkey, or sampling Vinotherapy in France, thalassotherapy in Greece, or alpine wellness in Austria, European consumers are becoming quite spa-savvy and sophisticated. The result is that their 'Spa IQs' are becoming higher than the staff at the spas they are visiting—and their expectations are generally on the rise. Spas will need to keep pace by educating and optimizing staff (e.g. by establishing stricter qualifications).

7. The introduction of 'living spa . . . literally'
The convergence of living environments and spa environments will begin on various levels. Hotels will continue to bring more spa elements (massage tables, whirlpools) into their rooms and more residential elements (TVs, fireplaces) will be found in their spas. People will begin adding spa elements to their apartment houses or homes. The ultimate integration of home and spa will emerge in the form of spa lifestyle communities.

This new breed of homes, condominiums, and apartments will enable Europeans to live in places where a spa program can be central to their lifestyle. Examples include the homesites along the new golf course at Terme di Saturnia in Italy as well as the just-announced Residences for Living at Park Hotel Kenmare and SAMAS Destination Spa in Ireland.

8. Yin of luxury and yang of discount
The spa industry will continue to expand in Europe at both ends of the market, with luxury vacations and experiences becoming even more opulent, expensive, and exclusive, while a new breed of discount spas offers beauty and bodywork at extremely low prices with flexible scheduling and express services. On the high end of the spectrum, luxury resort and hotel spas are rolling out 1,000+ Euro/night suites, diamond and ruby massage oils, and six-hand massages. Ultra-swank members-only spas are becoming places to 'be seen'—if you can afford the steep membership fees and pass the screening/waitlist process.

Meanwhile, low-cost chains (such as Body Minute in Paris) are enabling spa-goers to pay a monthly fee or subscription for the flexibility to show up without a reservation and receive treatments at rock-bottom prices. For the traveler, less expensive spa options include going to Central and Eastern Europe, where low-priced airfare and accommodations, refurbished facilities, and improving spa services provide a rejuvenating and budget-friendly spa vacation. Consumers can pop over to Poland for BOTOX and laser treatments or to Budapest for a destination spa experience that won't break the bank.

9. More Internet tools for spa-goers
The increase in Internet usage throughout Europe and the rest of the world will affect spa-going in myriad ways. From researching spa or wellness options and booking travel and services online to simply learning about spa-inspired health and wellness, customers (especially the younger generation) will be using the Internet as an integral part of the spa experience. (The recent launch of Spa Finder Europe and Spa Finder Japan are part of this trend.) In time spas will transcend their physical walls as their websites begin to complement traditional property/marketing information with features such as medical information, nutrition advice, spa recipes, etc. A natural next step is spa forums that enable visitors to share experiences and insight.

10. Design expertise
European spa design is cutting-edge. When we think of design quality and innovation in general, Europe has always been a leader. Who doesn't appreciate French architecture, Italian fashion, German precision, British majesty, and Scandinavian's artful use of natural materials (to name just a few)? Each European country has had its master designers producing timeless images. So it is no surprise that these talents are coming through on the spa front as well.

Note the creative vision of Austria's Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose Spa Blumau, with its unusual shapes and grass-covered tops, is known as the largest habitable work of art in the world. Or consider the ultra-contemporary design of Antonio Citterio who created the Bulgari Hotel Spa in Milan, Italy. Visitors from abroad have always appreciated the beauty of European baths with their fully tiled and artfully designed pools. Look for the stunning design trends emerging in European spas, especially in the wet treatment areas, to spread globally. After all, the architects and designers responsible for these works of art have, for the most part, their offices in Europe!

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