Forget the great divides of liberals v conservatives, vegetarians v carnivores, Gucci people v Hermès people. “We’ve found that there are two kinds of spa-goers: those who want treatments that offer results and relaxation, and those who want an experience,” says Susan Grey, regional vice-president of spa operations for Bliss.
And, while the needs of the “results and relaxation” set have long been addressed, the “experience” folks are increasingly a growth market, with “creative hybrid” treatments the latest category in the spa world.
Bliss, for example, operates 16 spas in the US, 21 worldwide, and offers more than 50 treatments – including two that fall into the “experience” category: the Double Choc pedicure and the Rhythm & Bliss massage, which entails being massaged to the beat of a specifically created music playlist.
In terms of unusual combinations, they join such alternative offerings as South Coast Winery Resort & Spa’s Vino-Vinyasa group session, which integrates the flow of yoga movements with the flow of wine-tasting – of six wines, to be exact – consciously matching the depths and components of each wine to the characteristics of each of the body’s chakras. (When asked about the potential issue of doing yoga while tipsy, the California resort’s spa director Kate Santarsieri replies: “This is really a sampling of wines to be taken as you want to; the yoga experts take the yoga part more seriously, others who are having a girlfriends’ weekend take it more lightly; some are in the warrior position, some in the dead bug position.”)
Then there’s the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain’s luxury facial with crystals energised in the Arizona sun; Miraval’s Tibetan chakra balancing, also in Arizona, which uses the healing sounds and vibrations of Tibetan bowls and the cleansing power of symphonic gongs; Kohler Waters Spa’s WaveMotion Body Treatment, with a table that rocks, spins and tilts in order to enhance your rub down; and, in Mexico, CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta’s Ohtli Spa’s Rebirth Therapy, which is performed in a pool of warm water to mimic the sensation of being inside the womb.
“People are putting together elements that have not been paired before,” says Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder Wellness and chairman and chief executive of the Global Spa & Wellness Summit. “Spas are creating blends of more progressive and experimental treatments, taking properties from one category and fusing them with others. They want to be creative to attract consumers.”
And, extraordinary as some of the treatments may sound, more customers are coming. According to SRI International, a research and development centre, the spa industry worldwide was a $73bn market in 2012 – up from $60.3bn five years ago. But not everyone is a fan of the new developments.
“There will always be the consumer who wants a funky experience,” says Julia Petrini, director of global spa operations and business development for La Prairie, “but the majority of people, or the consumer we are looking at, doesn’t go for gimmicks. Our clients are very savvy and well-travelled; they want and demand a certain level of service, and they want results. You can’t deliver on all of this with a gimmick.”
As Susie Ellis admits: “The truth is we don’t know if these work. There are no medical studies on these fused treatments; there are studies or evidence on different parts of them. We know medically that massage works; that dry brushing helps exfoliate, stimulate and circulate; that sound, light and music offer physical and emotional benefits. But we don’t know if these multi-sensory spa cocktails, when put together, will be healthy. They may end up overstimulating someone.”
Still, companies such as UK-based beauty chain Lush are betting on the new. Already operating six spas in the UK, this autumn it will be bringing its concept to the US. Signature treatments include Synaesthesia, a 90-minute body experience that involves music, colour and massage, all geared toward achieving a specific state of mind – think energised or ambitious – that the client is hoping to achieve. According to Lush, essential oils help create a “behaviour prescription”, with massage movements choreographed to orchestral music incorporating birdsong, and treatment taking place in variously coloured rooms. The combined effect is intended, says Lush, to influence your subconscious to alter behaviour. (Don’t cringe.)
The company’s Validation Facial, which aims to transform both skin and soul, was designed by Helen Kennedy, a behavioural therapist, and also involves tapping into the subconscious via music, while confidence-boosting words and phrases are spoken by an aesthetician. Essential oils and elements of the Alexander Technique aimed at elongating the spine are also involved.
A similarly intense sensory experience is offered at the Alexander House Hotel in Sussex: Brushes with Heaven is a treatment that uses brushes of varying sizes and textures to massage, relax and drain toxins from your body.
“These were hard brushes, paint brushes, toothbrushes and brushes that looked like they belonged in a stable,” says Daisy White, a customer who was given a voucher for the treatment as a present. Although doubtful at first, she was pleased with the results. “I wanted a big treatment. I wanted something de-stressing, calming, a bit luxurious that involved the whole body. My skin was glowing for a couple of days afterwards and I felt great.”
Of course, the friend she went with also thought the whole thing was hilarious. But then, laughter is its own therapy.
The Alexander House Hotel, Brush With Heaven, 85 min
Lush, Synaesthesia, 90 min, £125; The Validation Facial, 60 min, plus consultation time, £75
Bliss, Rhythm & Bliss massage, 75 min, $155; Double Choc pedicure at bliss spa, 60 min, $70
Miraval, Tibetan Chakra Balancing, 50 Min, $215
The Camelback Mountain, Sanctuary Luxury Facial, 90 min, $245
Kohler Waters Spa, WaveMotion Body Treatment, 80 min, $195, www.americanclubresort.com
South Coast Winery Resort Spa, Vino Vinyasa, 80 min, $35
CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta’s Ohtli Spa Rebirth Therapy