DAYSPA Attends The Washington Spa Alliance's Annual Symposium

Contributing editor Lisa Starr shares her top takeaways from the thought-provoking agenda.

Symposium attendees gather outside the Capitol.

As the spa world continues to morph with wellness, and conferences continue to proliferate, it can be difficult to attend a gathering that serves to inspire and unite attendees from both sides of the equation. However, the recent sixth annual meeting of the Washington Spa Alliance accomplished both.

The conference was held at the National Press Club and its program—“The New Language of Spa”—addressed many issues facing spa business operators today: speed of change, the blurred lines between spa, medical, wellness and other fields, and the continuing rise of competition and new business models.

After symposium chair and WSA cofounder Mary Bemis welcomed the 100+ attendees, we were treated to a keynote address by Philippe Bourguignon, vice chairman of Revolution Places, and executive cochairman of Exclusive Resorts. Bourguignon set the stage for the day with a compelling presentation entitled “Around The World in 14 Minutes,” in which he touched on many of the forces present in the world today, including systemic connectivity and transparency, rising inequality, challenges of traditional boundaries, and global issues such as climate change and an aging population.

Among his observations:
• With the skyrocketing costs of disease and the aging population, wellness will play an increasingly important role in daily life
• Technology and innovation will permeate all aspects of business and life
• Happiness will become more consistently measured

A discussion of “The Intersection of Healthcare and Spa” included panel members Brent Bauer, M.D., Director of Integrative Medicine at Mayo Clinic, Pamela Peeke, owner of Peeke Performance, and Josh Luckow, executive director of Canyon Ranch’s Health Care Division. The Mayo Clinic created its own 10-room spa, Rejuvenate, in September 2014, and Bauer sees this as tangible recognition from Mayo leadership that spa and wellness are definitely part of the healthcare equation. Luckow referred to the Canyon Ranch locations as “immersion” resorts—sophisticated combinations of healthcare and leisure/lifestyle activities and programming. Their goal is to deliver highly personalized medicine to guests, mostly through lifestyle modifications. Luckow also remarked that, when he attended the Consumer Electronics Show this year, he noted plenty of activity in the digital health sector, and plenty of data, but what was missing were the practitioners who can translate the data into programs for people. Peeke stated that, when she was at NIH 20 years ago, they conducted many studies on the positive effects of alternative therapies such as tai chi and meditation, but they didn’t know how to utilize what they’d learned. Today, healthcare practitioners are studying the impact of community and relationships on longevity.

Susie Ellis, chairman of the Global Wellness Institute, remarked that the conference theme caught her attention. There has been so much talk over the years about what defines a “spa;” and now we have “wellness” entering the equation. The first Global Spa Economy Monitor study, performed by SRI at the behest of the GWI, gathered the different therapies under the spa umbrella, and all of the businesses understood their interdependence. The word “wellness” was added to the Global Spa Summit in 2011, as an even bigger “catchall” for the industry we're in, but there are uses for both words, spa and wellness, depending on the audience and the context. Ellis believes that “wellness” should be associated with health and prevention, whereas “wellbeing” tends to have a happiness component.

Noted spa architect Robert Henry—whose firm is responsible for the Mandarin Oriental Spa in Miami and the Vdara Spa in Las Vegas, among others—showed inspiring photos illustrating his story of the trajectory of spas, from hotel amenity to destination resorts, home spas and now workplace wellness. He related that because so few employees feel “engaged” at work, architects are looking at how to incorporate elements such as circadian rhythms, natural materials and light, and green walls and water features into the design of communal, healthy work spaces.

ISPA Chairman Michael Tompkins pointed out that the middle layer of spa management is being eliminated; we need to start attracting younger folks, to keep the industry young and innovative. Tompkins noted that technology will continue to integrate in our lives, and with the existence of apps like Soothe and Zeel, where a customer can summon a therapist to their home or work within the hour, day spas will have to transform their models. He also observed that with the continued rate of acquisition in the hospitality sector, resource partners are under increased pressure to perform, and spas need to continue to educate and incent staff to provide retail solutions for clients, so that spas and resource partners can continue to support each other.

An engaging panel was moderated by Mark Wuttke, now heading BABOR in North America, which included panelists Barbara Close, founder of Naturopathica, Rose Fernandez, general manager of Jurlique North America, and Celeste Hilling, CEO of Skin Authority. Close discussed the new Naturopathica Healing Arts Center in New York City, which includes herbal teas and tinctures, communal tables, spa treatments and retail. The space was envisioned as a dynamic learning environment for consumers to experience both health and wellness.

Fernandez commented that from the vendor perspective, spa products are available in more retail places than ever, and consumers are searching for ways to incorporate healthy practices into their lives. Hilling made the point that even for consumers that visit spas, they’re only with us for perhaps one hour per month, and we need to find ways to stay connected with them outside of the facility; she shared that Skin Authority has performed over a half-million coaching sessions with clients over Skype in the last year. The group agreed that although everyone is talking about courting millennials, they’re still not the big spenders in spas that boomers are. However, if you only pay attention to your traditional consumers, they won’t be around in another 10 years. Fernandez contributed that, for Jurlique, the company’s highest spend comes from boomers but its highest converting online customer is in the 24-year-old range. Close commented that, “As a brand, you can’t have everything for everyone, but you must have something for everyone.”

Attendees also heard from Michael Scholes, founder of Laboratory of Flowers, on how language is redefining the spa experience; Allen Hunt and Rakel Cohen discussed the imminent re-opening of the spa at the Watergate Hotel, and Damon Cory-Watson of Wellness Warrior treated the group to a musical performance, before a biodynamic wine reception.

The following day, a small group, organized by Wellness Warrior and WSA with support from Green Spa Network, paid visits to legislators on Capitol Hill. The purpose of the visits this year was twofold: to identify the spa- and wellness-oriented interest group as a unified representation of five organizations (WW, WSPA, GSN, GWS, ISPA) with reach into both the industry and consumer side of health through spas and lifestyle, and to advocate support for a selection of bills that support public health and sustainability. The group managed to have 11 meetings with lawmakers by the end of the day. Participant Paul Schmidt, executive director of the Green Spa Network, commented, “It’s a rush to be able to get an audience with policy makers and even better to find that they’re as eager to speak with us as we are with them. I’m thrilled to have come away from this round of meetings on Capitol Hill with a growing list of allies in the Congress and Senate asking for our ongoing input in support of the good work they do to improve public health and sustainability through smart legislation.”—Lisa Starr

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