In 2003, the U.S. spa industry massaged $11.2 billion in revenue out of 136 million spa visits. But international spa revenues were upwards of $40 billion.
Spa Finder, a New York City-based spa travel and marketing company and the publisher of SpaFinder.com and Luxury SpaFinder magazine, estimates that revenue for the international industry is three to four times that of the U.S. And while hard international spa industry data doesn't exist, Gordon Tareta, the corporate director for spas at Chicago-based Hyatt Corporation, estimates that there are 24,000 to 30,000 spas outside of the U.S. You can add to that number by the end of the year: Hyatt plans to open ten hotel spas, everywhere from Dubai to Seoul to Saigon, by 2006. "From a leisure market perspective, we wouldn't be an attractive facility without a spa," says Tareta.
So what makes spa-going in other countries any different from a U.S. spa experience? For one thing, check your country code before you make small talk. "In a U.S. spa, personnel training ensures an interactive, personal service. In Europe and Asia, there's more of a patron and servant relationship," says Douglas Preston, the president of Preston Inc., a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based spa consultancy and business education provider for spa managers and owners. "In Australia and New Zealand it's a bit more relaxed, but Europe is formal. In Asia," considered the spa world capital by many, "service people are little more than components of the operation itself."
In addition, not everything at an international spa is designed to make you feel amazing immediately, the way a body wrap or massage is. Take the intense electrocellulolipolysis or endermology treatments at Monaco's Les Thermes Marins de Monte-Carlo day spa, both designed to reduce the appearance of fatty tissue under the skin, or the blood test and electrocardiograms on the spa menu at the Capri Palace Hotel & Spa in Capri, Italy. Needles and buzzing electric currents may be healing in the long run, but they aren't the most calming things in the world.
"In European spas there is a strong medical tradition," says Ann Abel, travel editor at Luxury SpaFinder. "In some cases, health insurance will even cover a spa visit. Baths and treatments there are therapeutic, and not necessarily about short-term pleasure, but instead about a bigger impact on your health."
Accordingly, Preston predicts that more international spas will be incorporating health maintenance facilities as part of their routine facility upgrades. In many countries, "the population is aging. People don't want to go somewhere emergency health events can't be responded to quickly. Defibrillators, doctors and medical technicians will are joining spa staff as part of an overall wellness approach."
Kate Mearns, chairman of Kentucky-based International Spa Association, agrees that consolidation of services is going to be a huge influence on international spa service over the next few years. "Consumers are savvy, and they are starting to look at spas as a requisite part of staying healthy. They are also busier than ever before and looking for one place to go. They want combined massages and body scrubs, eyebrow waxes and facials, without the inconvenience of getting up and moving rooms."
But wherever you go for your spa treatment, one thing is universal. "Globally, the No. 1 spa treatment is a massage," says Mearns. "People go to spas to relieve stress and feel relaxed," and that isn't likely to change.
Forbes.com has compiled a list of the most luxurious spas in the world (last week we looked at the most luxurious spas in the U.S.). We reviewed day, destination and hotel spas all over the world and compared facilities and prices for standard (i.e., approximately 50 minutes long) facial, massage and body cleansing treatments. We also included the price for an unusual treatment, something a bit outrageous you might not find elsewhere, to give you an example of just how luxurious international luxury spas can get. Finally, we indicated the spa's gratuity policy. A tip may be included in the price, calculated for you at the end or left to your discretion; normally, if you're buying a package of treatments, it's included. In some countries tipping isn't customary; in others, it's expected, but at a lower level than in the U.S.