A recent spa industry report suggests that it may be best not to emphasize bathing, meditation or spirituality if you want to attract more customers. When it comes to wellness, people think exercise, then food, then spa. They'll spend most on personal beauty and they'd like a lot more medical evidence. They love massage but they're not so drawn to water experiences.
Is this true for you?
Probably not, since we are all individuals and the details of how we seek and sometimes arrive at wellness differ for each of us. It's interesting to look at patterns or trends; but it's also good to keep our own perspective, insights and experiences intact as we do. This might be expecially important in a world overloaded with new ideas and products clamoring for market attention.
'There is a growing impetus for a paradigm shift, a switch from mere reactivity – trying to treat or fix our problems – to a proactive and holistic approach to addressing and preventing the root causes of our personal and societal ills. This is what the wellness movement is all about' explains The Global Spa Summit, Spas and the Global Wellness Market: Synergies and Opportunities, prepared by SRI International, May 2010.
When I first heard that phrase 'paradigm shift', I understood it as a radical change in perspective. That was 20 years ago. I was living and working at Schumacher College in Devon, UK, where I took courses on the Greening of Medicine and Green Utopias. Physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra, a visiting scholar, spoke in terms of a paradigm shift in values characterized by ecological literacy. I liked these ideas.
I looked up the term 'paradigm shift' for this article and discovered that it was originally used by science historian Thomas Kuhn (1962) to describe change in basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science - it actually meant 'scientific revolution'. Since then, the term has also been used in social science and non-scientific contexts to describe profound change in a fundamental model or perception.
By the late 1990s, 'paradigm shift' emerged in marketing speak. Wordsmith Larry Trask advised refraining from using it, and counselled caution when reading anything that contains the phrase. I don't think the Global Spa Summit document is describing either scientific revolution or radical change; it's mainly about an effort to 'repackage and develop new offerings to define and market spas as a wellness necessity'.
How would you feel about visiting a spa if you heard that the collective industry and the owners of the place you had in mind to visit had set out to 'position themselves strategically to capitalize on growing wellness lifestyle trends'? Would you anticipate being viewed and cared for as an individual? Or labelled as a good prospect, say a babyboomer ready to spend on forestalling a decline into elderhood?
Yes, I'm wary of the report and its conclusions; though it is well-written and thought-provoking, worth reading and considering carefully. I recognized in it language, themes and ideas that seemed resonant with my own. The report states that it is designed to encourage open dialog about Wellness rather than to dictate specific courses of action. I hope it will; but I fear it will instead be used to provide marketing blurbs and justifications.
The Global Spa Summit report sets out to inspire an exploration of new opportunities for the spa industry to play a leading and lucrative role in the 'paradigm shift' toward Wellness, providing an alternative to 'failing medical systems', and meeting the needs of increasing numbers of 'older, unhealthy' people. It doesn't discount 'reactive/ treatment-oriented opportunities' but emphasizes 'proactive/ wellness-oriented opportunities' for spa.
About its pilot study (from which I drew those opening findings), the report states that: 'Due to the nature of the distribution mechanisms the research team had access to, these surveys were not designed to be scientific or representative surveys [my underline] – they utilized a convenience sampling technique and the results cannot be assumed to be representative of the entire industry or consumer population.'
Yet the figure of 71% of consumer respondents who said 'they would be much more likely or somewhat more likely to visit a spa if they learned that a series of research studies demonstrated that spa treatments deliver measurable health benefits' (taken from the report) has since been cited as part of a strong drive to initiate an evidence-based medical database for spa.
Series of recent blog posts on Vision Spa Retreat: Should spas reinvent themselves as global scientific healthcare corporations?
I would like to think that this 104 page report could be a jumping off point for further responsible and less commercial thinking regards a healthful future for all. I'd like to think it really will inspire spa professionals to view what they offer in altruistic and holistic ways. The background that the report includes on the origin of wellness ideas would certainly make a useful teaching document for spa and other health professionals.
And yet, Wellness is not a new idea. In the appendix of the report from Global Spa Summit, a Timeline of the Evolution of Wellness is provided starting with the Ancient Antecedents - 3000 years BC with Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, 500 BC with Greek physician Hippocrates and 50 BC with Roman medicine - and then running through Intellectual and Medical Movements from the 1790s to the present.
Wellness, the report suggests, has some common threads. It can be seen as multi-dimensional and holistic, and as changing over time and along a continuum. Wellness is considered individual, but also influenced by the environment. Core Wellness followers were identified as primary consumers, often with considerable spending power. This implies that the industry hopes that the 'self-responsibility' aspect of Wellness does not equate with self-sufficiency.
With the demise of the middle-class in the US, the numbers of those who can consider taking spa services might begin to decline - see Trends That Will Affect Your Future: A Portrait of American Societal Health by Stephan Schwarz on 'emerging trends in matters of health in the broadest sense that will affect the world, particularly the United States, and shape our culture and our lives'.
Although the Global Spa Summit report admitted that 'there is not yet a clearly-defined sense of the Wellness industry within the business/ economic research field or within the market itself', SRI estimated conservatively that the Wellness industry cluster represents a market of nearly $2 trillion dollars globally*. Nine sectors of the Wellness industry were identified and given monetary values.
Spa (in the modern industry sense) came in 7th, with the top Wellness category (Beauty & anti-aging) being a notable 11 times more profitable. The kind of venue I call a spa (focused around water) would probably come in far below that. Despite some reservations about the top category being included in Wellness, it was suggested that Beauty 'can also be pursued in a wellness-oriented way to enhance self-image'.
Wellness by the trillions
*In order of increasing market value the nine Wellness sectors identified (total nearly $2 trillion globally) were: $30.7 Workplace wellness; $50.0 Medical tourism; $60.3 Spa; $106.0 Wellness tourism; $113.0 Complementary & alternative medicine; $243.0 Preventive/ personalized health; $276.5; Health eating/ nutrition & weight loss; $390.1 Fitness & mind-body; $679.1 Beauty & anti-aging. Source: The Global Spa Summit, Spas and the Global Wellness Market: Synergies and Opportunities, prepared by SRI International, May 2010.
*Expenditures on healthcare surpassed $2.3 trillion in the United States alone in 2008; spending was about $7,681 per resident. Source Kaiser.
In the pilot study, consumers were asked to rate 22 activities as measures of Wellness - 'visiting a bathhouse, sauna or mineral spring' came in 16th out of 22 at just over 10%. In other words, for this (unrepresentive) sample, the beneficial effects of waters were not given high priority. Of the terms associated with wellness by industry and consumers, 'retreat' came in at number 25.
If this study is anything to go by (and it makes no claims to be, if you read carefully), the 'paradigm shift' I've been seeking to inspire through Vision Spa Retreat is far from being 'right on the money'. Unless, that is, we take the focus off the money. That's not the way of business: however caring and trendy the language of industry reports like this might be, they are usually focused on the profits to be made.
It is now appreciated that the medical profession itself no longer constitutes the bottom line in health care - the bottom line belongs to big business. The inherent opportunism of market behavior has gradually eroded the delivery of healthcare and co-opted medicine's culture. Could the same approach now be used to exploit and control the wellness aspect of health through the spa industry?
In The Big Money in Integrative Health Care (3.13.11), John Weeks cites recent studies that 'suggest that there is truly big money in integrative health care. Only the big money is not in the usual kind of production. The big money is in producing savings compared to usual care'. He points out, though, that those making money off the current system of continued growth haven't much incentive to do things differently.
The integrative practice community - which the spa industry aspires to be considered a part of - needs to 'positively assert and assume responsibility for promoting this economic value' says Weeks. He's talking about the economic value of savings and calling for new business models that set out to share the savings with those who pay for the services of care. Could the spa industry be creative and generous enough for that?
If the spa world really cares about wellness for all, an inspiring model might be found in Patch Adam's Gesundheit Institute - a 40-year-old project in holistic medical care based on the belief that 'one cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, the community, the world, and the health care system itself'. However, the model Gesundheit is developing doesn't look anything like a corporation.
It is organized around several principles, the first of which is care is free. Then: patients are treated as friends; ample time is given to the care interaction (e.g. initial interviews with patients are 3 hours long); all complementary medicine is welcomed; the health of the staff is as important as the health of the patients; and care is infused with fun and play.
Dr. Susan Parenti's article Re-Designing the US Health Care System: Think Universally, Design Locally on the Gesundheit Institute's website points out that 'global corporations focus on homogeneity of language and culture, on hierarchies, on profit, and on restricting participation'. Instead, she suggests a focus on variety and creativity. Spas have the potential for both but can these attributes survive and thrive in the hands of big business?
On Vision Spa Retreat: Spas as places of culture and creativity with a broad vision of health
If the Global Spa Summit is right that Beauty is the front-runner for Wellness we might look more closely at that. In Beauty, Localism and Deprivation, Irena Bauman suggests that beauty is an ingredient of wellbeing and of happiness and these are what differentiate the current economic model of exponential growth from that of sustainable economic growth. She quotes famous economist John Maynard Keynes as saying:
'The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied by our real problems – the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.' That day hasn't come yet. We increasingly value only things that can be measured, using numbers to set goals and judge success or failure.
Debate on the role of beauty has led to some fascinating ideas for switching the focus from finances to fundamentals: see Seven Essays on Beauty from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. Accepting that a narrowly numerical approach to a value like beauty (or wellness) will never do it justice, we might develop fundamentally different ways of valuing what is valuable. That might be more like a 'paradigm shift'.
Paul Kingsnorth (writing on the Dark Mountain Project blog) says that what we need now is not the numbers: 'We live in a remarkably literal-minded and reductionistic culture. ...nothing is seen to be ‘real’ unless it is sanctioned by the priesthoods of either Science or Business, and preferably both.... [A]t root, this whole squabble between worldviews is not about numbers at all – it is about narratives.' We need new stories.
An exploration of stories: Competing histories of Hot Springs, AR: Fact or fiction
Taking advantage of the 'aspirational' market of Asia (India and China)
The 2011 Global Spa Summit will be held in Bali this month. 'After all', says Susie Ellis of SpaFinder, Asian countries 'are growing by leaps and bounds and a lot of spas are being built!' In her Spa Briefing Report on the Giants: India and China (4.28.11), Susie presents some observations from Simon Shepherdson of International Leisure Consultants, Hong Kong.
Here is what he wrote in response to the question:
What is the future looking like for spa and wellness in [India and China]?
There is a solid future for the industry in these two countries, but it is important not to be ‘seduced’ by the numbers (India growing to 1.4 billion population, China at 1.3 billion!!) and to recognize that the industry is still in its infancy and there are challenges.
However, the growth of the ‘aspirational’ market in both India and China will lead to more interest in the spa and wellness sector and a growing requirement to enjoy their lifestyles– by being pampered initially, and secondly moving towards wellness as the realities of a sedentary and indulgent lifestyle become more critical.
I hope I am wrong in reading that last sentence as something like - first encourage them to enjoy the luxury lifestyle and then help them to sort out the problems that will arise by providing the wellness lifestyle. If so, the spa industry would simply be replacing the illness-profit model with a wellness-profit model - wolf in sheep's clothing?