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Touchless But Impactful: Spa Service Evolutions

October 11, 2021
October 11, 2021

As an intuitively intimate and touch-led experience, the spa industry faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, taking substantial losses in revenue due to lockdown. According to the 2021 ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study, the number of spa establishments declined by 3.9% in the past year, and the spa industry overall took a $7 billion loss in revenue, with spa visits declining 35.1%, and total employment falling by 20.6%.

Even after reopening, treatment times were shortened to allow for sanitation and cleaning, as well as lessen the pressure points on locker rooms and lounge environments. Streamlined offerings amidst staff shortages and smaller visitor numbers were another result. With restrictions easing, a phase of growth is on the horizon, with the global spa services market expected to reach $180,273 billion by 2026.

Although the economic effects of the pandemic means certain customers don’t have as much disposable income available as before, industry players are still betting on a comeback. Harrods recently opened a 16,985-sq.-ft. hair and beauty salon on its fifth floor, offering everything from seaweed scrubs to eyelash extensions. The social aspect of spa services undoubtedly presents a big pull back into spaces for customers who have been confined to their homes for a majority of the past two years.

“There is such a pent up demand, people need touch in some way. There will be certain people that, because of their predilection, fear, or underlying health concerns might be more resistant, but from what I'm seeing in our projects that are operational, people want to get back and have therapist-driven services,” says Michael Lahm, Vice President and COO of spa design and consulting firm TLee Spas and Wellness.

42% of consumers consider wellness a top priority, with McKinsey predicting a larger shift towards wellness service purchases over product purchases, with a greater emphasis on those that prioritize mental health and physical needs. Examples include tapping into ancient Far East practices or immune-boosting holistic solutions such as aromatherapy and ozone therapy A quarter of survey respondents said their first post-pandemic trip will be focused on wellness. Consumers aren’t simply coming to a spa for a massage, but anticipating mental health benefits as well. Customized meditation journeys, such as those at NYC’s Naturopathica, are one such example.

"Now more than ever, innovation is crucial to offering the finest spa experience."
By Tammy Pahel, Vice President, Spa & Wellness Operations

Treating symptoms of long-haul COVID will also expand offerings. With 13.7% of 20,000 survey participants displaying long-haul symptoms, this could equate to substantial demand. RAKxa, a medical spa in Thailand, offers Ya-Pao detoxification treatments as part of its COVID-19 Health Rejuvenating program. SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain has launched a weeklong Post-COVID Program comprised of Watsu therapy, reflexology, and brain photobiomodulation. Lanserhof Tegernsee’s 14-day COVID treatment, which includes breathing therapy, altitude training, and inflammation-reducing eating plans, will set customers back by roughly $10,000. As state medical systems buckle under the strain of the pandemic, those with the financial means will seek out more comfortable settings wherever possible.

The touchless spa experience is emerging as a tech-fueled bridge between traditional spa treatments and remote services. Carillon Miami Wellness Resort offers a meditation and red-light therapy pod, as well as whole-body electric cryotherapy. “Through this new division, our clients have access to new result-driven therapies that can address their physical, mental and spiritual health concerns with limited outside touch. Now more than ever, innovation is crucial to offering the finest spa experience,” comments Tammy Pahel, VP of Spa & Wellness Operations. Elemis offers a No Touch Facial, whereby all aspects from skin diagnosis to product application are done via digital or manual tools, maintaining a distance between practitioner and client. Luum’s AI-fueled robot, which can perform lash extensions in under 20 minutes, poses a potential future in services for those feeling brave enough to let a machine operate on their eyelashes. For Anna Moine, spa strategist and founder of ALM Consult, touchless technologies have divided the market. “I think of it as a direct result of COVID, but now there’s a counter culture to that, and some of the spas that brought on touchless technologies are now seeing that they’re not getting a ROI on it,” she explains.

With many consumers still concerned about the safety and hygiene measures of local spas, it is also driving the desire for devices that recreate the same results. Upscale residential high-rises are now offering spa services. Six Senses spas created at-home content for clients, reaching 6,046,706 people. For in-person services, a sense of personal safety for more vulnerable customers remains paramount. “There are practical things that the spa industry is doing to address those concerns. It's going back to that sanitation piece, not only implementing them but communicating them, being really transparent to instil that trust, more focus on safety protocols and training to really ensure compliance among staff members,” Lahm adds. Some generations of customers are less risk-averse than others. “Younger consumers are coming back, they have a much higher tolerance for risk and it’s not necessarily front of mind for them,” he states.

Offering a safe space extends to staff members as well, with Lahm emphasizing the need for spas to look after their employees, to ensure better working conditions and wages. Not only are they dealing with the financial effects of the pandemic, but as the spa segment has had a shrinking number of employees entering the field, the workload on the individual has heightened as well. “Instilling a sense of compassion and empathy, because people are coming back into the spas and they're wounded and want to be heard [is important],” he says.

Increasing urbanization and a growing geriatric population are other driving forces. “The fastest growing category right now are senior living facilities that offer wellness and spa experiences for the baby boomers. Anything that incorporates nutrition, wellness, well-being is really being sought after by an older generation who wants to live longer and healthier,” Moine adds. It appears that spa services overall are growing into increasingly polarized opposites: the holistic brigade, and those wanting drive-through cosmetic services.

Outside of rising trends and revenue streams, one of the biggest challenges in the spa industry continues to be democratizing services—something that has had to unfortunately take a backseat as most spa establishments struggle for survival. “It’s very isolated to the upper economic brackets, which is the big issue. There's a constant conversation on how to democratize wellness, make it more accessible to a larger segment of the population, and become more welcoming to non-white populations,” Lahm comments. Mobile apps offering meditation, fitness, and therapy have played a huge part in this, while due to their lower cost, hydrothermal treatments like bathhouses, and steam and sauna rooms, are also popular options.

Whether customers are reverting to time-honored ancient practices with a mind-body-spirit approach, bio-hacking their bodies, or accessing spa services in the comfort of their own home, the spa industry has had to overhaul its offerings to tempt customers back. But once guests have reconnected with such spaces, they are likely to remember that even in the busiest of times, an oasis of calm is always welcome.


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