New trends in the spa industry

... and the role of health care professionals
Kailee Kline, RMT
May 31, 2005
By Kailee Kline, RMT
I began my career over 20 years ago as a Massage Therapist and am now a spa owner, consultant, trainer and founding president of the Association of Premier Spas of Ontario. Over the years I have watched the Spa Industry change significantly to become an important provider of health maintenance and illness prevention programs and services. In fact, the therapies and skills offered by Massage Therapists and other Health Professionals are integral to that goal.

In the last five years the Spa Industry has grown immensely, both in terms of the consumers it attracts and the professionals who are choosing to work in it. It is hard to say what came first, however, we do know that the popularity of spas increased as they began to encompass medical-centric practices along with traditional spa therapies.

spa_trends1.jpgIn Europe, one of the oldest spa destinations dating back to the Roman era, travel specifically for the purpose of taking health treatments was commonplace. The Romans built structures around these natural resources which encompassed thermal waters, and or mineral deposits. “Taking the waters” became an accepted component of their way of life.

Still today, in some European countries medical benefits provide coverage for an annual visit to the spa. Medical doctors are present to prescribe and oversee the treatment program. In fact, travel for the treatment of your health has been such an important part of the European culture that a viable industry known as “Health Tourism” has been prominent for centuries. Currently, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France have joined several other countries in the development of a new trend known as “Wellness Tourism.” It is defined as travel to maintain your health and/or prevent illness.

This trend is becoming very popular in North America as well. In Canada, the popularity of this trend can also be witnessed by the emergence of a vast number (1300) of spas (ISPA statistics), more than half of which are in Ontario.

One of the main reasons for the formation of the Association of Premier Spas of Ontario was to establish a quality benchmark for an industry that was experiencing rapid growth and yet had no standards. For years the 12 founding members met to establish a quality criteria which now serves as the hallmark for its members. Today, the association has 36 very diverse members.

Today’s Spa Trends
Some of the Spa Trends for 2004 identified in a survey by the International Spa Association (ISPA) indicate that the public’s perception of the spa experience has not only changed, it is directing specific growth areas within the industry.
  • Spas are no longer perceived as just for pampering. The wellness concept is gaining in popularity.
  • There are a growing number of medical spas and medical components being introduced in spas due to demand.
  • The number one reason for visiting a spa remains stress relief and relaxation. Spa-goers are becoming savvier about the spa experience and want treatments that yield results.
Science Shows Stress Can Make Us Sick
Science is now providing us with data that helps explain this increased acceptance of and motivation to visit spas. It stems from need. Through the science of Psychoneuro-immunology we know that stressful thoughts and emotions can weaken the body’s immune system and that exposure to prolonged stress can lead to serious illness.

Our medial doctors are now being taught that 80 per cent of the illnesses they will treat in family practice will have a significant stress component. Statistics Canada reports that stress as a reason for absenteeism has increased by 316 per cent since 1995 – less than 10 years. We now know that unchecked physical and mental stress can have an enormous effect on the heart. It increases blood pressure, narrows blood vessels and causes blood to become stickier and more likely to clot, increasing the possibility of heart attack and stroke.

spa_trends2.jpgWith all of this information at our disposal it makes sense that the spa industry is experiencing rapid growth in Canada. And that people are flocking to spas to diffuse their stress, maintain their health and in some cases to prevent their health conditions from becoming worse.

We have set standards for our membership in accordance with the Standards of Practice of the Ontario College of Massage Therapists.

We have made it mandatory that our members have their clients fill out Health History forms prior to providing any services to ensure the treatments taken are appropriate for as well as safe and productive.

In addition, proper hygiene, professional accreditation of staff, service and equipment safety and protection of client’s right to privacy and confidentiality in regards to health records make up some of our standards and ethics policies.  

Our efforts have been noticed in Canada and the United States.

The Canadian Tourism Commission has just formed a task force with a two-year mandate to examine the feasibility of positioning Canada internationally as a destination for Health and Wellness Tourism.

Canada is well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity as our complementary and traditional health care professionals are among the best trained in the world.

In addition, Human Resources Development Canada has recognized the potential of this industry as a purveyor of new careers. They have agreed to undertake an assessment to determine the labour and training needs for this industry.

We already know that the industry needs massage therapists, nurses and doctors who are interested in acquiring the skills to help people maintain their health and prevent illness.

Many of the current skills possessed by these health professionals are transferable to the Spa/Wellness Industry. This has become increasingly important as the credibility of this industry grows, so does the market broaden. Spas have begun to attract people who have functional and terminal illnesses.

While individuals with functional illnesses such as gastrointestinal conditions, high blood pressure and diabetes may control their conditions through diet and/or medication, they still require proper counsel and modification to ensure safety and benefit in treatment selection.

Even more professional guidance is needed for those with terminal illnesses as they visit spas seeking refuge from their struggle and often relief from the symptoms of their disease. As these types of situations increase, so does the need for qualified medical-centric professionals to work within the spa industry.

The spa industry provides many benefits for health professionals that may be lacking in private practice.

There is ample opportunity to learn new therapies and work with hydrotherapy modalities that are often cost prohibitive to those working on their own. It also enables health professionals to use all of their practical and intellectual skills.

A common message that we are hearing from health professionals who are considering new careers in the Wellness/Spa industry is that they are looking to find fulfillment that their current placements are not providing them.

My colleagues and I have heard of situations in which massage therapists have been asked to compromise the standards of practice as dictated by the College.

As it is mandatory that massage therapists are required to follow all standards of practice as set by the College, work in these facilities not only jeopardizes their ability to practice but compromise the credibility of this industry.

There is a tremendous need to create programs both under-graduate and post-graduate for all health professionals, inclusive of Massage Therapists, Doctors, Nurses, Naturopaths and others to better prepare them for a career within the Wellness/Spa Industry.

This enhancement of education is just beginning and within five to 10 years could very well be serving an important industry, directed at keeping our population healthy, whose magnitude and diversity is immeasurable.

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