How hotels can offer a ‘true spa’ experience

Spa: A small town in eastern Belgium, south-east of Liège. It has been celebrated since medieval times for the curative properties of its mineral springs. The name spa from Belgium has become synonymous with, as the dictionary states: A place or resort with a mineral spring, and in today’s’ world:  A commercial establishment offering health and beauty treatment through such means as steam baths, exercise equipment, and massage.

Permit me to agree only with the first of the two explanations above. I will explain why below. Today, in order to differentiate between all the establishments claiming the title spa, you need more, much more than just a massage room.

When I think spa, the names that come to mind are the historical, famed old European spa towns of Baden-Baden, Marienbad, Franzensbad, Karlsbad, and Bad Ischl in the Salzkammergut area of Austria to name but an illustrious few. These are towns where historical figures such as Mozart, Franz Josef and indeed many central European Royals transformed the towns into ‘mini’ courts during the long hot summer months.

But if the original meaning of the term spa meant a place or resort with a mineral spring, today the meaning has been diluted and used for a large variety of establishments, many of them far from being a ‘spa’. Of course there are still today real luxury spa resorts located across the globe, many offering stays that take care of the mind, body and soul in a way that adheres to the old interpretation of the name.

They are the true spas in every meaning of the word. We will talk of these later, but I would like to call out those ‘fake’ spas that use the title so loosely as to mislead customers. I am not disputing that some may provide good service but I am saying that they are not real spas.

Just today I read an advertisement in the Toronto Saturday Star for a ‘spa’ that I shall not name, also described as ‘Canada’s favorite urban oasis’. Located in downtown Toronto, the gallery shows a beautiful, luxurious facility that offers day and half day retreats. I am sure that it provides a temporary respite and pampering from the daily grind, but is it a true spa? I do not think so. After your day, half day or treatment you exit once again into the noisy, concrete jungle that is downtown Toronto. The soothing effect is rapidly torn from you. A good place to relax for a while maybe, but a real spa, no.

Take a walk down main street in any town or city and you will see the terms ‘nail spa’, ‘massage spa’, ‘tanning salon and spa’, ‘health and beauty spa’ and many businesses using the word spa above their entrances. These are not spas, but establishments that believe that using the name will drive traffic through their doors. It is one of those words like ‘artisan’ (as in bread, cheese and more) that businesses believe lends a certain ‘cachet’ and upgrade to their names.

Those ignorant of what a real spa is might be attracted to these businesses, believing it to be something that the word spa suggests in their mind. In much the same way as the word ‘awesome’ or ‘perfect’ is used expansively to describe anything in daily conversation today, so the descriptive word spa has become the ‘go to’ word for any business that has even a slender connection to services that affect or treat the body – any part of it, even a ‘foot spa’ is a term I have seen used.

So what is a real spa? I will not go into the argument as to whether a luxury hotel in an urban setting that has a ‘spa’ within the building is operating a real spa or not. They may offer a good selection of excellent treatments, pools, exercise equipment and more, but this does not add up to a true spa in my book. I would prefer the term ‘wellness area’ to describe these facilities.

But back to real spas. I was fortunate enough in my career to manage and develop the Isrotel Carmel Forest Spa Resort near Haifa in Israel for five glorious years. Set in the middle of a nature reserve and in an isolated location, that is a true spa in every meaning of the word. It is worth taking a look at the facilities and what it offers its’ guests. I will describe the Carmel Forest because it embodies all that I believe a spa resort should offer in all aspects of a spa stay, and is a good example. It has won consecutive awards in SpaFinder as the best Spa Resort in the Middle East.

Firstly the location and luxurious facilities are second to none. The resort offers 18 acres of lush, landscaped gardens and 126 rooms all with a beautiful view over the forests and down to the shimmering Mediterranean. There are two swimming pools, one outdoor and one indoor. There are plunge pools, dry and wet saunas, professionally attended exercise rooms and workout gyms, an original Turkish sauna with treatments and a 36 room treatment area with a pre-treatment tea lounge to relax in.

Over 60 different treatments are offered and include everything from the standard Swedish to the latest in sport and relaxation massages, cosmetic treatments and of course Dead Sea mud. An in-house dietician and nutritionist takes care of guests needs.

Other facilities include a multi-use theater where interesting lectures, workshops and evening shows are held for those interested. The range of activities include guided walks through the forests, bicycle rides, yoga on the lawns, and many more. Courses include juice diets, clinical diets, and the latest in exercise techniques from across the world. The range of food and beverage offered is enough to satisfy every diet, even those that are there to relax and enjoy a secluded and calm break from the concrete jungles many of us live in.

What I am describing is a place that is secluded enough to be quiet, a place that really does offer the opportunity to take care of the mind, body and soul within calm, peaceful and natural surroundings. This is a place where you can go for your treatment knowing that a sun room awaits you to relax post treatment, and a place you can unwind in your bathrobe all day. It is a calming place where you can do nothing or everything you choose to partake in.

In other words, a real spa visit experience is one where you are taken care of from the moment you arrive and until you leave, and pampered expertly along the way. You cannot do that in any hotel spa, nor any of the other so called ‘spa’ establishments.

So let me sum up the important points that I believe constitutes a real luxury Spa Resort (spa):

⦁    A secluded and quiet location with landscaped grounds, preferably in natural surroundings.
⦁    Limited number of rooms and suites.
⦁    Year round facilities, sport and leisure, indoor and outdoor.
⦁    Year round activities, including in nature, indoor and outdoor.
⦁    Varied treatments and variety of treatment rooms: Cosmetic, wet, floor and bed.
⦁    Food and beverage to satisfy all customers, dietary and other.

There are so many real and great spas operating in the world today who offer similar facilities and services and some even more than those at the Carmel Forest Spa Resort. These luxury spa resorts actually deserve the title, and are the ones keeping the real ‘spa’ name and meaning alive in the modern world.

They are where you can go to indulge, take care of your mind, body, soul, and get a true sense of renewal. If you are looking to visit and enjoy a true Spa Resort, look out for those attributes above and you will be rewarded.

So, in current popular political terms, I guess that just makes all the others ‘fake’ spas.

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