As destination resorts, day spas and beauty salons shake off economic worries, new luxury is playing out in all price ranges through more intimate pairings with healthy fine dining, glamour and child-welcome options, said Susie Ellis, president of the online spa portal SpaFinder.
Past trends like wellness pampering and organic treatments haven't been replaced but are being joined by a broader range of foot healing, multisensory experiences and icy cold therapies, Ellis told reporters recently when she rolled out SpaFinder's 2012 trends report.
Look for more wow, fun and wellness, and for more spa options in Asia, which she said leads the world in industry growth.
With more than 100,000 spas worldwide, making sense of often-pricey services can be difficult, along with tracking evidence that they work. A nearly year-old, industry-funded website, SpaEvidence.com, is a small but growing clearinghouse for clinical trials and published research on services ranging from yoga and music therapy to Ayurveda, the ancient holistic system of medicine from India, and "thalassotherapy," the use of seaweed, algae and other materials from the sea.
"You are now moving from not only wellness but to wellness empowerment," said Dr. Daniel Friedland, an internist and consultant who worked on the site.
Helping spa-goers hunt down research is a game changer, especially now that more insurance companies and employers are willing to reimburse them for preventive care, Ellis said.
More from the SpaFinder report:
COLD AND ICE: With saunas, steam rooms, Whirlpool baths and rock massages, spas have traditionally used heat to de-stress and detoxify, but the industry is taking a cue from the Romans, who more than 2,000 years ago finished spa-like experiences with a trip to the "frigidarium."
Look for more ice therapies and cold rooms alternated with hot treatments to reduce pain and inflammation in muscles and joints, Ellis said.
At ESPA locations around the world, clients can scoop ice crystals from fountains to rub down after saunas. At the Qua Baths & Spa in Caesars Palace Las Vegas, visitors can head to the "arctic ice room" to sit amid falling snow as a more gentle transition from heat and steam than the usual cold plunge into a pool.
The luxury Dolder Grand in Zurich has a room for snowball fights. Visitors to the AquaSpa at the golf resort The Belfry in the U.K.'s West Midlands can head to the "igloo" room and grab handfuls of ice for rubbing.
In February, spa designer Thermarium will introduce touchscreen technology allowing users to choose between light, moderate or blizzard-like snowfalls in cold rooms, SpaFinder said.
With cryotherapy, spa-goers in bathing suits wear protective socks, gloves, mouth and ear gear to avoid frostbite in rooms cooled to -120 C (visits last just moments). The chambers are available at the new Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa in Vernon, B.C., and Champneys Tring Health Resort in Hertfordshire, England.
Elite athletes first took up cryotherapy. It's earned mixed reviews from researchers for relieving pain and ailing muscles, but Mehmet Oz of "The Dr. Oz" show recently endorsed it. The first U.S. Cryotherapy Center, a 400-square-metre facility in Roseville, Calif., opened in April.
COLOUR, LIGHT, MUSIC, VIBRATION: Incorporating them as ambient afterthoughts is nothing new for the spa industry. Now they're "becoming the main event," the report said.
One innovation is software that creates real-time music, tones, beats and other sounds like wind rustling and rivers to beats generated by a therapist's movements in tandem with the client's bodily responses during massages, SpaFinder said. The client leaves with a CD of the "well-being music-art" they helped create. The technology, MUUSA, is from Italy and in use at the Tombalo Talasso Resort in Castegneto Carducci in Tuscany.
During Aura-Soma, a person chooses four bottles of dual-coloured liquid containing oils, flower essences and the "energy" of crystals for a reading of spiritual and emotional well-being, complete with a rubdown. Aura-Soma colour readings are available in the U.S. at the Mii amo spa resort in Sedona, Ariz., and Qua at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, in addition to spas in the U.K., where the practice originated.
"I think you'll see more of it," Ellis said. "It's quite an interesting new way of looking at and using colour."
Too far-fetched? Not far-fetched enough?
A Viennese artist who goes by the name "sha." created canopied, cradle-like "tranquility pods" for use in "AlphaSpheres" built into spas around the world, including Berlin's Mandala Hotel ONO Spa and Bulgaria's Kempinski Hotel's Zalez facility. Guests are surrounded in blue light, sound and vibrations while they sway to the rhythms of their own breathing.
HAPPY FEET: Chinese reflexology has been around for years. Now spas and wellness centres are targeting problems like high-heel pain as part of menus for the feet.
Computer gait analysis and foot treatments in zero-gravity chairs are available at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub in Las Vegas.
New York City's Yamuna studio has stiletto classes, and the feet-only Stride in Palo Alto, Calif., includes foot Botox to reduce odour and a "Walking on Clouds" treatment of filler injected into the ball of the foot for padding and pain reduction.
Yamuna Zake, the founder of Yamuna, uses small knobby spheres to condition aching feet and teach foot care. "You can't get anywhere without those feet, yet they come with no education," she said. "If you get it in your head what feet need, you can turn it around."
The Mandarin Barber and Mandarin Salon in the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong are targeting men for a traditional Chinese foot treatment involving 10 razor-sharp blades performed by masters Samuel So and Ben Cheung.
GLAMBITION: While health and wellness have been a spa focus for several years, full-on Hollywood glamour and old European grooming are back at all price ranges.
In addition to affordable blowout bars for the hair, Blink bars for eyebrows have multiplied in the last year at London department stores — along with Henri Bendel in New York City — for eyebrow threading. Some offer brow tinting and false lashes. Choose from flirty, permed, coloured or the extra-long Twiggy look.
Hershesons hair spas at five London locations let customers pick walk-in hairdos from a dozen celebrity photos including Brigitte Bardot and Kate Moss, about $37. The Blushington Makeup Beauty Lounge in Los Angeles charges $35 for full makeup from a set menu that includes "Pure & Simple" and "Simply Glowing."
"We're seeing a glam factor at both ends of the economic spectrum," Ellis said. "There are little touches everywhere, like glam nails and quick beauty fixes."
On the high end, the Waldorf Astoria's Guerlain spa, which hosted the recent SpaFinder media event, offers guests post-treatment free makeup retouching and clothes pressing. The new Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto will assign guests a personal "spa concierge" when its Quartz Crystal Spa opens Jan. 31, offering old world quartz treatments.
FAMILY AFFAIR: More spas are accommodating adults and kids together. "The new thing is that it's the family. People want to go with their children to spas. Not all of them, of course. Some want to go without," Ellis said. "We're seeing now the spas responding and very much making it more of a welcome place for kids."
Ellis predicts more will reconsider age restrictions. Kid-specific spas are also on the rise, Ellis said. Some are adding Dad to the mix. Karma Resorts in Indonesia offers "father and son chill-out massages," the report said.
The Jiwa Spa Resort at Conrad Bali Hotel has a "Mum and Me" package, where kids choose from foot baths, foot masks, back massages or chocolate milk baths and get a bath toy to take home while Mom picks her own selection of facials and massages.
At the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa in Maui, Hawaii, guests can book the "family spa suite" and treatments like chocolate-coconut scrubs and massages for kids as young as six. At Disney's new family resort and spa Aulani on Oahu, the Laniwai Spa offers family suites; babies are welcome and young children can have massages.
WOWS BIG AND LITTLE: Some spas are trying to wow and woo with unusual, eye-popping decor that defies traditional minimalism.
At the Boscolo Milano's Atomic Spa Suisse in Italy, LED-illuminated mirrors cover treatment room interiors, sauna and baths for a bubbly Champagne look.
In Thailand, a luxurious rainforest wicker treehouse, "The Nest," serves as a private spa suite suspended from the branches of a banyan tree at the Coqoon Spa at Indigo Pearl in Phuket. Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon, B.C., is adorned with 3.5 million Swarovski crystals and has crystal glass fireplaces.
Not all spas are zen quiet or dead serious. The spa at Travassa Austin in Texas offers a workout on a mechanical bull. The CosquilleArte Spa in Madrid is the world's first "tickle spa," using feathers and light touch as stress-relievers during treatments.