Monday, May 3, 2010

What kind of Spa is a Spa?

The more I travel and the more I speak and attend Spa events around the globe, the more I am reminded that the Spa World is so different from one country to another and from one culture to another! The only thing that seems similar is that everyone thinks that their vision is the only ONE, the right one! Well some might have a bit of tolerance for a slight variation to theirs, while others, like most Germans and some Eastern European countries, go as far as reneging the very idea that spas could be anything but their version of it!

Some years ago when I was on the board of directors of ISPA I was asked by the then president of the association to attend the European chapter’s annual conference. The chapter was delinquent financially and did not seem to think that it was important to balance its books! In typical European mentality, they assumed that some other entity should pick up the tab, in this a case the US organization! My mission was to make them understand that ISPA was not a government but a business and that it was up to the membership to provide the ways and means to generate funds to operate. This concept just was not understood! It boiled down to a cultural difference in perception between a socialist mentality and a capitalistic approach. So, the bottom line was that ISPA could not continue to financially support the European chapter.
But what brought an end to the European organization as an extension of the US association was altogether another reason: The German and Austrian contingent were trying to pass a law, using ISPA’s name, to make it mandatory worldwide that a Spa Director must be a Medical Doctor! I intervened as a representative of the Board of Directors to stop the motion from going forward and that, along with the other problems we had, finally ended the European representation of ISPA.

If I mention this incident, it is to illustrate the immense gap between cultures, not only of how things should function, but in the very essence of what a Spa is. ISPA claims to be the Voice of the Industry. Well it is the voice of what some in the US perceive a Spa to be through a Kentucky “filter”, which is hardly representative of the WORLD. It is this very nature of everyone wanting to be RIGHT and to consider that anyone who does not share their point of view must be wrong is what is at the core of most problems today. As an international consultant, I try to bring to my clients an international vision of the Industry as a business first and foremost. What is pivotal is recognizing indeed the differences in understanding of what a Spa is in general and what it needs to be in a specific case in point. This is why in all the years that I have been doing this (50 years now!) I have never done the same spa twice.

During my lectures worldwide I often use a comparison of spas to the restaurant business. I find that everywhere everyone understands the analogy and that what is true in the food business is true for spas. Obviously when one goes to a restaurant, one expects to consume food! But what kind? There are probably as many different types of food as there are spa treatments! Not everyone likes fish or Italian or steaks; therefore, they will not go to the type of restaurants that serve the kind of food they do not like, right? Of course! But when it comes to spas, the operators will tell you, “this is the only correct food you should have”…? Once this analogy has been understood with all the ramifications it carries, you can start making some sense of the whole thing!

So what is the bottom line? Simply that rather than trying to impose one concept over another, it is a lot simpler and of course more rewarding to find out the type of Spa that the anticipated clientele will appreciate! How? By doing a Market study; and after identifying the objective of the project, create the type of spa that will meet the targeted clientele’s expectations. This is logical of course, but unfortunately extremely rare, as clients and consultant alike prefer to copy what has been done before, not realizing that in most cases they are copying errors. The Industry is young, at least in its 21st century version, and there are a lot of sorcerer’s apprentices out there; but it will have to ponder and rethink what it should be, if it is to survive.

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