03 Dec 2023 Spa Business Handbook

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Spa Business Handbook - Spa Foresight 2021

Spa trends

Spa Foresight 2021

What’s going to have the biggest impact on spas in the future? Spa Business outlines the trends, technologies and strategies that are coming down the track

Spas, whose main commodity is based on touch, have a huge opportunity ahead yanik88/shutterstock

1. Touch hunger

In the COVID-19 era, human touch and physical connection are being restricted like never before, but results from the world’s largest global touch study show 54 per cent of people felt they experienced too little touch, even before the pandemic hit.

Developed by researchers at Goldsmiths University of London, The Touch Test ran from January 2020 to the final week in March and was based on 40,000 people from over 100 countries. The study indicates that we’re witnessing a dramatic longing for touch in society.

Spas around the world, whose main commodity is touch, have a huge opportunity to create havens of ‘safe touch’ by adopting the highest levels of health and safety, and winning over the trust of consumers in this respect.

Vitamin N
2. Return to nature

Spas and nature have always gone together, and Spa Business has been tracking consumer interest in reconnecting with the natural world for some time.

In 2018, we identified ‘Rewilding’ in our Spa Foresight as a longer range trend, in large part due to our increasing dependence on technology. But this year, when most of the world has spent months in lockdown with nothing but the same four walls or various types of screens to look at, many people are yearning for wide-open spaces and fresh air.

Combining a serene natural setting with wellness programming will be appealing, as will adventure-fueled challenges and wellness recovery programmes.

Resorts can take advantage of existing natural areas and offer outdoor treatments or programming, or they can make use of the surrounding landscape.

At Armathwaite Hall, for example, a ‘wild swimming and waterfalls’ package introduces guests to the benefits of cold-water therapy while exploring local natural water features. Properties with natural hot springs are also poised to do well as travel resumes, as they naturally combine wellness and the outdoors.

With COVID-19 spreading more easily indoors, most people are generally more comfortable being outside. Spas have the chance to use the local natural landscape to create true points of differentiation.

Armathwaite Hall has launched a ‘wild swimming and waterfalls’ wellness package / Ian Doctor
Making connections
3. Loneliness

experiencing some form of simultaneous isolation this past year, the epidemic of loneliness has again been brought to the forefront.

A study of 200,000 Europeans found that lockdowns have had an alarming effect on loneliness in young people under 30. Even before the pandemic, loneliness was a growing problem and studies suggest it’s as unhealthy as smoking and obesity.

Spas have an opportunity to create services that help people feel connected to each other, such as music or art classes, group forest bathing, or outdoor yoga.

Bounce back
4. Resilience

Initiatives that strengthen mental and physical resilience have been a growing trend for some time, but we need them now more than ever.

With many people pushed to breaking point after enduring months of lockdown, a global health crisis and financial recession, people are looking for ways to boost their resilience.

Spas that can offer wellness programming that asks guests to set physical goals, such as climbing a mountain, or which offer programming designed to make guests mentally stronger, will all be appealing in a post-COVID world.

Breathe easy
5. Lung health

Back in 2014, the Spa Business team highlighted the growing importance of clean air as the world becomes increasingly toxic and polluted.

We expect this trend to accelerate as consumers seek out ways to boost their lung health to combat the acute and longer-term effects of COVID-19.

Spas will offer access to purified environments – either by natural or artificial means. Think special ‘clean air’ rooms, oxygenating rooms such as hyperbaric chambers and sensory rooms with 360-degree screens where it will be possible to simulate standing on a beach, in a forest, or in a lavender field.

Programmes will also home in on halotherapy (salt therapy) and specialist breathing techniques such as pranayama, kapalabhati or tummo. Consumers will value the opportunity to take a healing break from unhealthy atmospheres.

Breathing techniques, such as pranayama, can be incorporated into offerings / dragonImages/shutterstock
Hands off
6. Touchless services

In spite of the financial challenges many spas face, experts suggest that now is the time for operators to explore and invest in innovations to make themselves stand out from the competition – and touchless experiences are a hot topic.

While many typically require a big up-front investment, providers say there’s potential to increase profit margins in the long-run. Examples include everything from programmable Vichy showers and hydromassage beds, to light stimulation, cryotherapy chambers, dry floatation, chromotherapy, mindfulness experiences, hydrotherapy tubs with underwater massage, halotherapy rooms, infrared sessions and programmable VR.

These kinds of treatments and experiences minimise exposure to people, and in many cases can be automated – meaning they’re less labour-intensive – leading to payroll savings. Even before the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges facing wellness operators was finding therapists with the necessary skills and knowledge to ensure consistent quality of treatments. And while the role of therapists should never be replaced and cannot be underestimated, touchless experiences are certainly piquing the interest of operators.


Touchless treatments, such as the Zerobody floatation bed from Starpool, are also less labour-intensive / Starpool
Close to home
7. Staycations
People have discovered the wonders of travel in their own country / JGA/shutterstock

We’ve already seen the transformation of travel to focus more on ‘staycations’ and exploring the many wonders in our own backyards – mostly a necessity based on strict travel restrictions. But while international travel will eventually return, it will take some time – and many people, meanwhile, have discovered that driving a few hours or taking a train to a new part of your own country can provide a welcome change of scene without the jet lag.

Spas are already reaching out to a new clientele that’s closer to home, but the local market can continue to provide needed revenue, even after things return to normal.

8. A new kind of exclusivity

With spa consumers potentially nervous about social distancing, there’s an emerging demand for exclusivity, with operators hiring out everything from dedicated facilities such as VIP suites to whole spas and resorts, so that there’s guaranteed personal space and safety.

Anantara was one of the first, offering private-hire resort packages at its island destinations in Mozambique, the Maldives and the UAE.

Others following suit include Six Senses Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles and Naladhu Private Island in the Maldives.

Spas such as Clinique La Prairie are offering tailored immune boosting programmes / Clinique La Prairie
Need a boost?
9. Immune boosting programmes

Immunity-boosting programming will become an essential part of the spa and wellness menu. Well-known spas around the world, including Clinique La Prairie, Sangha Retreat and Chablé have begun offering immunity packages.

These aim to strengthen body and mind and reduce the main risk factors for severe COVID-19 cases – obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes – as well as support the immune system.

Nutritional therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, infrared saunas and cryotherapy can all be offered. Anantara has even created an immune-boosting massage oil.

For spas offering more advanced diagnostics, complete health check-ups, cardiovascular assessments and body composition analysis can drive the prescription of programmes which support overall health and wellbeing.

Doctor in the house
10. Medical wellness

As we emerge from a global pandemic, we think there will be a significant move towards medical wellness and that businesses in this part of the sector will fare well in the new reality post-COVID.

Operators include Lanserhof in Europe, Portugal’s Longevity Wellness facilities, and Thailand’s new RAKxa facility, developed as a collaboration between a subsidiary of Bumrungrad International Hospital and Minor Hotels.

The specialist services they offer include hyperbaric chambers, IV nutrition, cryotherapy and a number of other treatments led by medics and delivered in luxury environments.

A growing number of hotels are expanding their spa offerings to incorporate a medical wellness element as well. Anantara, for example, has created a concept combining aesthetic hubs and IV nutrition bars in partnership with Verita Healthcare. It’s planning to roll out three of these across Asia.

RAKxa is a new fully integrative wellness and medical retreat that opened in Thailand in late 2020 / RAKxa.VitalLife
Finding calm
11. Mental well-being
The industry is strongly placed to offer mental health support / Shutterstock/February_love

We’ve written at length about mental wellbeing, but it has never been as important as it is today.

Even before a year that left us dealing with a global health crisis, job losses, civil unrest and isolation, the world was already crying out for help with mental health, so it’s no surprise that the Global Wellness Institute has named mental wellness as a US$121bn (€101.6bn, £91.8bn) segment of the global wellness economy.

Self-improvement, meditation, mindfulness, nutraceuticals, and sleep are all part of this sector – and areas where we expect the industry to see significant growth.

Making it count
12. Slow travel

With most of the world putting travel plans on hold in 2020, the trend towards a new kind of ‘slow travel’ is emerging – one that, much like the slow food movement, emphasises quality, depth and local flavour over fast-paced quick travel fixes.

People will make fewer journeys, but will travel more deliberately, taking ‘bucket list’ trips while they can. And with the headache of masking and testing required before most flights, guests will want to make sure their destination is worth the effort.

As providers of luxury spa and wellness experiences in some of the most exquisite locations in the world, this bodes well for our industry.

People will take fewer trips but travel more deliberately / shutterstock/YPhoto
COVID protection
13. EcSOD - exercise to protect from the effects of COVID-19

Professor Zhen Yan at the University of Virginia set out to find out why approximately 80 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 patients have mild symptoms and do not need respiratory support.

Yan found regular exercise may reduce the risk of complications in people with COVID-19, as well as offering the potential for alternative treatment approaches. He studied an antioxidant called extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD) that’s released in the body during exercise.

His work “strongly supports” the possibility that higher levels of EcSOD in the body can prevent or reduce the severity of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) – one of the worst outcomes of COVID-19. EcSOD hunts down free radicals, binding to organs and protecting tissue. “Our findings strongly support that enhanced EcSOD expression from skeletal muscle, which can be redistributed to lung tissue, could be a viable preventative and therapeutic measure in reducing the risk and severity of ARDS,” he said.

Research suggests that a single session of exercise increases the production of the antioxidant, with cardiovascular exercise thought to drive the highest immediate levels of EcSOD production. Strength training increases muscle mass, also playing a part in the equation.

Research shows exercise can help people survive COVID-19 by promoting the secretion of the antioxidant EcSOD / Jocob Lund/shutterstock
Amplifying exercise
14. Post-exercise heat treatments

Staying warm after a workout can amplify the effects, according to new research from the American Council on Exercise. Researchers tested three groups – a control group, one that spent 30 minutes in hot water and another where people wore sauna suits following their workout.

Both passive heating strategies were equally sufficient to raise core temperatures, and both stayed below temperatures (102° F/ 39° C) that might increase the risk of heat illness.

After three weeks, the mean VO2max and lactate threshold changes in both the hot water immersion and the sauna suit groups were “statistically significantly greater” when compared to the control group. Researchers said these post-exercise heat interventions allow people to “augment their training without adding volume and/ or intensity, meaning they can achieve performance gains without increasing the risk of over-training or injury.”

Spending 30 minutes submerged in hot water after a workout amplifies the effect of the exercise / unsplash/ryan-christodoulou
Gut feeling
15. Healthy microbiome

We’ve been talking about gut health for a while in the wellness industry (we named faecal transplants as a trend in our 2015 Spa Foresight), but this may be the year it really catches on.

Studies are revealing just how important the gut microbiome is to our mental and physical health – and our immune system. In fact, studies have suggested that gut microbiota may play an important role in determining the severity of COVID-19. Already, locations such as SHA Wellness in Spain are offering gut health programmes to ‘help build an immune system for prevention’. We think we’ll see more of this in years to come.

16. Wellness for all

While wellness for all is something many have paid lip service to, for the most part, the spa and wellness industry has catered to an elite clientele – rich and often white.

The pandemic has forced us all to examine what really matters – and health and wellness is at the top of that list for nearly everyone. Wellness concepts that address the need for more inclusivity and affordability have a real chance to tap into an underserved market – one that’s ready to embrace a new kind of wellness.

Peak performance
17. Menu engineering

A significant number of spas that have reopened are running at reduced capacity due to social-distancing measures, the need to factor deep-clean time into the schedule and the fact that they’re still ramping up business.

With a need for businesses to make up the shortfall in revenues in such a challenging environment, now is the time for treatment menu engineering to really come into its own.

Some savvy spas are already equalling, if not exceeding, pre-COVID figures by only offering their most profitable services. Others are testing peak and off-peak pricing, as the need to work from home has led to more flexible working schedules – meaning some consumers have more free time in the week.

Yield management has always been an option for spas, but operators have been slow to catch up ... until now.

Most spas have reopened with reduced capacity / RossHelen/shutterstock
18. COVID Recovery

With COVID-19 having infected 119 million people globally by March 2021, according to Worldometer, and long-COVID impacting people for months, if not years, spas offering COVID recovery programmes will see an uptick in business as people work to regain control of their wellbeing.

At The Hotel Savoy Westend in the Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary, the ‘Life After COVID-19’ programme uses the local mineral-rich spring water – participants drink it, bathe in it and inhale steam from it – along with other medically-supervised treatments, to help people recover.

Medical wellness operator Lanserhof has created a programme which involves a comprehensive set of diagnostics, that inform an individualised therapy concept.

Prescribed therapy options include nutritional therapeutic measures, bowel cleansing, IV infusions, lymph treatments, healing and connective tissue massages, respiratory therapy, oxygen therapy, cryotherapy, and sports science consultations.

While some spas don’t have the mineral water of Karlovy Vary or the expertise and equipment of Lanserhof, there’s an opportunity to treat people who are suffering longer-term effects by packaging programmes and therapies that support recovery.

At The Hotel Savoy Westend in Karlovy Vary, guests bathe, drink and inhale the local mineral water in a ‘Life After COVID-19’ programme / Denizo71/shutterstock
Corridors of power
19. Lobbying
There’s a huge amount of work to do to build our reputation in the corridors of power / Pressmaster/shutterstock

The global pandemic has shone a huge spotlight on the need for better health the world over and put the spa and wellness industry in a strong position for growth.

However, one of the biggest lessons learned is how little heft our sector has when it comes to political lobbying.

Major politicians across the globe have betrayed a lack of awareness of the personal, economic and social value of the sector, meaning an entire US$119bn-industry is being largely overlooked.

Trade associations have deployed every weapon in their arsenal to fight our corner, but it should not have been that hard. There’s a huge amount of work to do to build our reputation and win support in the corridors of power through effective lobbying. This work is vital to ensure we never face such and constraints again.

Read more in Spa Business Q4 2020

New Zealand, China & Japan
20. COVID cool spots
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set up strict border-control measures / Alexandros Michailidis/shutterstock

Countries that have acted fast and stamped out the threat of coronavirus will be ripe for spa (and other) investment, and will also be the first to tempt tourists back once international travel becomes possible without quarantine.

Examples include New Zealand, which – under the leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – quickly set up strict border control measures to protect its islands. Meanwhile, China says it was able to stem the spread of coronavirus, it seems, through extremely stringent lockdown measures.

Japan has also reported low death rates and says that its economy is back to normal. The country attributes to social cohesion and a collective effort across the nation to abide by mask-wearing and social-distancing rules, as well as an underlying tendency for good diet, health and low obesity levels.

This is our 12th year of publishing Spa Foresight™ in the Spa Business Handbook. Here, a look back at some of our previous predictions over the past eleven years.

Climate emergency, True North (and South, Altitude rooms, Olfactory therapy, Gen Alpha, Swaddling, Rocking, Vibration therapy, Outdoor spas, Co-working spaces, Brain optimisation, Stress programmes, Train like an athlete, Forest bathing, Dementia, Amplified workouts, Reverse Ageing, Eating flowers, Spa circuits, Leon Chaitow

Vegan spas, Spa tribes, Rage rooms, Senior living, Rewilding, Cockroaches, Plastic free, Assisted stretching, Blue light antidotes, Home wellness, Andropause, Brain health, Visual detox, Diagnostics, Hawaii, Self-care, Spa coaching, Climbing, Meaningful meetings, Blockchain

Tattoo detox, Spa dentistry, Grief interventions, Simplicity, Therapy animals, Extreme bathing, Skin microbiome, Resilience, Wellness communities, mfDNA, Global onsen, Placebo effect, ASMR, Ketogenic exercise, Menopause, Body forensics, Personal pollution sensors, Nootropics, Uzbekistan, Nose to toe fascia release

Scaleable wellness, Iceland, Breathing/elimination, Spa planes, Social good, The virome, Clean eating, Dementia-friendly, Meditation spaces, Epigenetics, Skin science, Specialisation, Singing, Suspension massage, Hot Spot: Haiti, Walk-in spas, Immune challenge, Rest for recovery, Floatation , Modular fitness

Invisibles, Faecal transplants, Hot spot: Panama, Massage-on-demand, ASEAN market, Attractions & spa, Hot spot: Cuba, Tribal investments, Sport & spa, Next gen skincare, Haemoglobin levels, Sexual wellness, Biomimicry, Hot spot: Bintan, Animal movement, Age-friendly design, Face massage

Loneliness, Edible environments, Living food, Neuroplasticity, Cellular health, Robot therapists, New superfoods: fats & carbs, 3D printed product, No front desk, Hot spot: Japan, Virtual trainers, Circadian programmes, Microgyms, Gut health – microbiome, Clean air & water, Facial recognition, Wellness cities

Online reviews, Wearable tech, Death, Glute massage, Pop-up spas, Home spa, Childhood obesity, Mobile biometrics, Hot spot: Africa, Variable pricing, Hospital spas

Budget spas, Corporate wellness, Education overhaul, Deal sites, Beauty brand power

Express treatments, Location-based marketing, Discounting, Treatment room size, Part time staff, Global marketing partnerships

Spa art, Four star spas, Menu engineering, Spa memberships, Social spa-ing, Spa niching, Walk-ins, Online learning, Scientific proof, Wellness tourism, Pro retail brands, Eco-packaging, Social networking

Spa benchmarking, Yield management, Online booking, Diagnostic spas, Organic certification, RFID, Olfactory marketing, Wellness real estate, Medical tourism, Sustainability, Spas for men, Sleep health

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2021 edition

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