The Global Spa Summit (GSS) began its annual spa industry conferences in 2007 and this year (2012) added a trendy word to its name - Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS). Now, there may be a move afoot to kick out the Spa word with its possibly embarrassing connotations for an industry seeking to advance its status in the health arena. On October 6, 2012, the blog GSWS Weekender #30 revived a controversy initiated at the 2012 Summit when it asked its readers (for 'fun'): Do you think our industry should get rid of the word “spa”?
A critical commentary from keynote speaker Peter Rummell - former head of Disney Imagineering - at the 2012 GSWS has succeeded in provoking polarized reactions. Such a ruse works best if the audience is a ready target. It happens most often because something unsettling, sometimes denied, has been brought from shadow into light or from the collective unconscious into awareness. When that occurs those involved have an opportunity to take an honest second look, draw a deep breath and pull back the curtains still further. Is that what GSWS intends, or something else?
The spa industry struggles to define itself. This may be a consequence of having attempted to be all things to all people in pursuing business opportunities, while disregarding or denying the thread that once ran through its creative development from hot spring to resort spa. The 'spa' word has been applied with increasing liberty for some time (doggy day spa, auto spa, and it goes on). In the modern climate of linguistic and conceptual free-for-all, this is not unusual. It's becoming common practice to adapt the meanings and uses of words to serve new (marketing) purposes.
Recently, for example, I came across an article on the misuse and overuse by business of the word 'passion'. The writer suggests that in reality 'being passionate would be a handicap in business: it would cloud your judgement, and one thing that characterises many really successful people in business is that they have practically no interest in their product whatsoever.' Could it be that this has happened to 'spa' - that the most successful of those who've profited in this industry don't care about the origins of the term but are interested only in what they can profit by?
Professor J.P. De Vierville provides us in his comment on the #30 post with an historical accounting of 'spa(w)' and the central importance of water as a therapeutic medium. Yet, there has been a gradual draining away of the water from spa (as industry) that has been an intentional business manoeuvre. Back in 2004, the International Spa Association (ISPA) announced it had 'laid the task of defining spa to rest' after the association's board and marketing task force came to a consensus with the following statement that gave no mention of waters:
Spas are places devoted to enhancing overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit.[ISPA]
In 2010, a group of us associated with the British International Spa Association (BISA) under the chairmanship of Marion Schneider put forward a definition that reinstated water. The following appeared in BISA's membership leaflet 2011: A spa is a place devoted to overall well-being by practising safe healing methods, including facials and body treatments, in an inspirational environment that acts in an environmentally responsible way and utilizes good quality water to enhance the consumer experience. My own variation appeared here:
Vision Spa Retreat sees the ideal spa as a place that encourages health and relaxation in an inspirational natural setting in which water plays a key role. Such spas promote safe healing practices, environmental responsibility and community involvement.
Also in 2010, Spa Business magazine asked 'Could a union with healthcare be the spa industry's reward for becoming more savvy about scientific research? This was met with enthusiasm and followed in 2011 by the launch of a Spa Evidence Portal at the Global Spa Summit (GSS). Since some in the spa industry aspire to being the answer to global healthcare, redefining Spa as Wellness (skipping the Water part again) would be attractive. Apparently, it's not about the word so much as what the word can win (or lose) you. Business opportunists seek abundant, readily available resources. Association of spa with waters has become inconvenient in the face of global water shortages. (But the healthcare business is a different thing.)
Perhaps perversely, for years now I have been suggesting that spa, in its original water-based meaning, could actually help restore our appreciation for water and its life-giving value. By reversing the trend of dissociation from its source waters, the spa community could, with more altruistic than profit-bent intent, help revitalize the world's waters, as well as human health. Without clean water, none of us will stay healthy. Instead of displacing the healthcare industry, spas might lend broader support and inspiration to it by modeling a deeply personal responsibility for the health of the waters and the environment on which we depend.
Had the spa industry (as represented by GSWS) been truer to its name, instead of selecting someone from Disney Imagineering to showcase this year's theme of 'innovation through imagination', it might have chosen instead the world-famous Cirque du Soleil and its founder Guy Laliberté. Back in 2009, this bold visionary spent 12 days aboard a Russian Soyuz, taking some astonishing photos that have recently been published as a book, GAIA. His space adventure was dedicated to raising awareness about water issues, and proceeds from the book sales will benefit the water charity ONE DROP.
If the spa world had that kind of imagination, I think it might provide a truly heart-warming example in recognizing the interdependence of people and planet. As it is, I'm disheartened by the ongoing scrabble within spa to prove itself (at least on the surface) to be something more than 'white woman walking a poodle'. Could the spa industry (along with all profitable industry today) dare to face its own shadow. Could we stop wishing we were in a Disney movie, stop photoshopping images of ourselves and our planet, and start facing up to the predicament we are all in?
As Professor J.P. De Vierville asks (paraphrasing from personal correspondence): How many different ways can we integrate imagery in the unconscious and take this beyond the word 'spa(w)' and speak deeper to the very actions of the spa(w)orld? If you've read this far, you might be just the kind of spa visioneer to attend next year's Spa Cultures & Dream Time seminar at Toskana Therme, Bad Orb in Germany (June 23-28, 2013) - go here for more.
PS Although I have not referenced the gender issue (the archetypal battle between the wounded masculine and the repressed feminine) also raised in the comments after GSWS Weekender #30 in my post here, no doubt it is also present. If that is a topic that interests you, see: The Well of the Strong: Women and the Spa World