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Anitra Brown

Should We Keep The Name "Spa"?

By January 18, 2013

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I started getting massage, facials and bodywork in my early twenties. Most of the people I saw were private practitioners who worked out of their apartments in NYC. There wasn't such a thing as a day spa. So when I got my first assignment to write about spas, I was highly experienced at getting treatments, but confused by what the world "spa" really meant.

It's no wonder. I had ear candling at a tiny storefront in Westchester and a life-changing experience at Canyon Ranch Lenox, and they both called themselves a spa. My sister and I thought we were going to a nice resort spa in California and wound up getting massages while listening, through a thin wall, to beefy guys working out, TV blaring. So I learned early on that you can't rely on the places that are calling themselves a spa. You have to do your research to find out what kind of experience you'll be getting.

The more I learned, the more I saw others were confused about what "spa" meant. Even experienced spa-goers had no idea what a destination spa really meant. Perhaps wellness spa would have perhaps been a better choice, but it just wasn't in the zeitgeist. The International Spa Association defined the different types of spas, but individual properties didn't stick to the categories.

Small inns called themselves destination spas for the cachet. Destination spas realized that no one searched for that term on the internet and many started calling themselves spa resorts, because that's what consumers searched for on the internet. And don't mention the number of people who think spas are hot tubs.

At the 2012 Global Spa & Wellness Summit Peter Rummell, former head of Disney Imagineering, challenged the industry by saying it should get rid of the word "spa" altogether because it sounds like it's just for "rich, white women." You can read what people thought about the idea and add your own opinion.

Having raised the question, Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder Wellness, is trying to put the idea to rest. "The term has been around for centuries and in the past decades billions have been spent on building up the spa industry so that we have actually become a known and recognized segment of the global economy," she writes. "Why would we want to throw that out and start over? How much time and money would it take to build to this level with a different word - if it was even possible? And what would be the point of doing so?"

I agree that we need to keep the word spa (what else would really work?) and the growing emphasis on wellness is the way to go. That's why I made a commitment to getting treatments in my twenties, and have kept them in my budget over the years. If I don't get regular treatments, my body hurts. Wellness is the most powerful argument against seeing spas as a luxury.

Any quality spa or individual practitioner can be part of our personal wellness plan, and it doesn't have to be about spending large amounts of money. We can eat well and exercise as the foundation of our wellness plan, and that doesn't have to cost a lot. We can get a massage once or twice a month to keep our muscles pliable, find a local yoga class (many are by donation), or see a personal trainer at the gym. And if we do have the money, a spa vacation can be part of our ongoing commitment to wellness.

January 22, 2013 at 5:04 pm
(1) Terry Herman says:

Rummell’s categorization is sexist and racist and very unfortunate. Many informed spa-goers have always known the differences between the types of spas and have also appreciated the history of spa, including myself. I agree with Ms. Ellis’ take. Furthermore, additional confusion would result if the term “spa” were eliminated just to accommodate a lack of knowledge on the part of many who obviously haven’t bothered learning about the history of spas. Media has also contributed to the confusion because many publications utilize ill-informed writers to cover the subject matter.

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