Destination Wellness – from Fat Farms to Fitness to Hotel Spas and Beyond – Part II


In Part I of Destination Spas – from Fat Farms to Fitness to Hotel Spas and Beyond we looked at how the fitness industry killed the fat farm and how the mistakes of the fitness industry opened the door again for destination spas. In this article we’ll explore the rise of the hotel spa concept, the impact this had on the destination spa model and what the future may look like.

The shift away from fitness appeared to have set the stage for the comeback of the destination spas. It was at this time, around the early to mid 1990’s that saw the of the destination spas concept. The seeds for many of the established destination spas we know today, such as Chiva Som in Thailand, Miraval in the United States and Ananda in the Himalayas, were planted. They were taking a concept initially developed by Deborah Szekely at her Golden Door Resort in California way back in 1958 and refining it. These are names that we all know today because they have stood the test of time. In many ways these companies are still servicing a niche market but nonetheless they have been the trailblazers in this particular concept of spa. In these new destination spas the service offering had evolved to be much more than just basic diet and fitness. It seemed they were poised for greatness.

Unfortunately for them, around the same time, another upstart business model appeared…the hotel spa. Just as suburban fitness centres had a much broader appeal to the health-conscious consumer than a remote health resort, hotel spas were accessible to anyone who could afford to stay at the hotel. Destination Spas offered a more technical and specific service to a select group who were willing to pay a premium for it. Hotel spas, on the other hand, offered a more general pampering service to a much wider market at a far more affordable price. Most significantly, this hotel spa model was not just applicable only to resort destinations. Instead, the hotel spa model was able to be adopted in city hotels too, thus broadening the potential market even further.

Curiously, the hotel spa boom seems to have lasted about as long as the fitness boom. Fitness had its run (pardon the pun) from the early 1970’s until the early 1990’s. By the mid 1990’s, hotel spas had started their run. It is a run that continues to this day but the momentum has clearly slowed in recent years.

It comes as little surprise then that just as hotel spas are starting to struggle, destination spas are again attracting more interest. Could it be that this is finally the time for destination spas to have their time in the sun? Third time lucky as the saying goes. Maybe. The main thing destination spas have going for them right now is that they are ready. The concepts have been defined and much of the vagaries of the business models have been worked through. Although it still remains to be seen if these models can be truly scalable, they definitely do have a shot. Conversely, there does not appear to be any other obvious spa model ready to jump up and take centre stage. There are infact a number of possible alternative spa models around, but as of today none of these have a base as solid as that of destination spas upon which to build.

However, destination spas will need to act fast if they want to have their own twenty year run in the sun. There is a noticeable upwelling in the area of Wellness Living, a trend identified in the SpaFinder Wellness 365 12th Annual Trends Report. The concept is simple. Instead of wellness being something we travel to for a few weeks of the year or only experience when we are away from our home, we need to find ways to incorporate wellness into our daily lives. If this sounds familiar, it is. Just as fitness became a daily or weekly effort, wellness is going the same way. It is something that should be practiced every day. That means it has to be happening in the home. And we are not just talking about the physical activities and actions of the people in the home. Wellness Living starts at the design phase, maximizing light energy for the rooms of the house and minimizing additional heating and cooling requirements, using low energy appliances, building with Fair Trade materials, etc. .

Fortunately for destination spas, Wellness Living will need some time to become mainstream. Until then, we will still need to go somewhere outside of the home for our dose of wellness. But be careful. We do not have the time or inclination to go a long way for it. We want it close and we want it now. So, if destination spas can create a model that works in urban locations, this way well be the start of their twenty year run.