Spas Now Part of American Life

ByABC News

N E W   Y O R K, Oct. 4, 2000 -- Dancing the Watusi made us “cool” at the clubs in the ’60s.

Now, it’s “Watsuing,” a new massage method, to keep us “warm” these days, along with other treatment indulgences at the hot spots of the new millennium: spas.

During a Watsu massage, therapist and client immerse themselves in warm water. Through a series of rhythmic movements, deep massage and stretching, the client reaches a state of relaxation. Practitioners say Watsu stimulates healing because of the primal nature of being cradled in warm water.

As the spa industry continues its explosive growth in the United States, Watsu and hundreds of other pamperings for the face, body and mind — from Moor mud baths to Japanese enzyme tea immersions — may become as commonplace in five years as yoga is today.(see story below for definitions.)

Visits, Revenue and Locations Rising

The International Spa Association reports the amount of spa visits, locations and revenues have been escalating in the past few years.

Besides aging baby boomers taking the plunge into the mineral baths, the under 18-year-old age group, or Generation Y, also are jumping in. The fastest-growing trend for the industry: day spas, where consumers take a day of indulgence at the local mall or beauty salon.

“Massage is no longer a luxury to baby boomers,” explains Gerald Katzoff, former president of the spa association and president of the Greenhouse Group, which runs 12 U.S. spas and is opening a new day spa later this year on 57th Street in Manhattan. “There is enough of a demand in the market for us all,” he says. The future New York spa will compete with several others on the same street.

According to a Pricewaterhouse Coopers survey, the number of spas in the United States increased by 21 percent a year in the past five years, with the total number of spas numbering 5,689. Between 1997 and 1999, revenues surged 152 percent — from $2.1 billion to $5.3 billion, with spa visits increasing from 56 million to 95 million per year.

Day spas represent 72.4 percent of the establishments in the United States. Resort and hotel spas represent 13.5 percent of the total and destination spas, 5.3 percent. Resort/health spas are facilities within a resort while the sole purpose of destination spas is to provide guests with lifestyle improvement and health enhancement through services, physical fitness, cuisine, educational classes and accommodations.

“Consumers are increasingly seeking the spa experience as an alternative or complement to other leisure activities,” says Bjorn Hanson, a statistician with Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

Mostly Boomers Visit But Teens, Too

While the majority of spa visitors are women, 30 percent are men, and 70 percent of the spas offer services specifically geared to men.

Besides baby boomers focusing attention on their health and fitness, young adults in their late teens and early 20s with disposable income also are going to spas, as they seek escape from work-related stress, Hanson says. “This age group is very sophisticated, very much influenced by their baby boomer parents,” says Jane Segerberg, president of the International Spa Association.

Services for couples such as dual massages are becoming more popular. And consumers more frequently are requesting hydrotherapies, such as Watsu, jet baths, mineral baths and thalassotherapy, which uses seawater and algae for skin and hair care.

Taking the Spa Experience Home

In this competitive market, spas are differentiating themselves by offering exclusive creams, oils and products for sale to customers so they can try to “take the feeling home.”

The Marriott Desert Springs Spa in the hotel in Palm Desert, Calif., for example, offers Kersten Florian sprays, exfoliants and oils. The spa’s director, Jennifer Overton, chose those products because the company teaches her staff how to use the products for massages and facials.

The Greenhouse offers its own line of products of foot and hand products, which it developed from scratch. “We worked with dermatologists, massage therapists and a series of labs,” says marketing and product manager David May. They sell for $20.

Floating Spas, Literally and Figurately Spas also distinguish themselves by the novelty of their locations and the nature of the services they offer.

Canyon Ranch, which has three well-known facilities in Tucson, Ariz., Lenox, Mass., and Las Vegas, Nev., plans on building the world’s first cruise ships, Quest I and Quest II, completely dedicated to spa services and wellness, says Katie Garber, spokeswoman for the company.

The Red Mountain Desert Adventure Sports Spa, in Ivins, Utah, offers rock climbing, kayaking, hiking and traditional spa treatments, such as facials and massages.

Nestled in the red mountains of Sedona, Ariz., the Enchantment Resort will be opening a spa next month called “Mii Amo,” which means “journey” in the Native American Yuman language. The spa will offer treatments from many cultures, including traditional Swedish massage and a blue-corn body polish that relies on an American Indian practice of using the corn for cleansing and purifying the skin. A shaman from the area, will also be on hand to read native spirit cards.

“We are trying to be authentic to the area,” says Toni Nurnberg, Mi Amo’s director. “Sedona is home to Native Americans.”

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events