GSWS Weekender 30: Do you think our industry should get rid of the word “spa”?

Posted on Saturday, October 6th, 2012, by Dulcy Gregory | Leave a Comment

Would you get rid of the word “spa”?

Yes, you heard us right. Think about it. Getting rid of the word spa. Good idea? Bad idea?

This simple yet disruptive idea came straight from the mouth of 2012 Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) keynote speaker, Peter Rummell, former head of Disney Imagineering.

Peter was part of a Tuesday afternoon panel, along with GSWS board member, Philippe Bourguignon, and fellow keynote speaker, John Kao, titled “Imagining the Healthy Town of the  Future.” And the conversation went a bit like this (taken directly from the session transcription)

MR. RUMMELL: If I were the king of your world, the first thing I would do would be get rid of the word “spa.”

I had this conversation with some people who were more worldly and smarter than I am yesterday, and they reminded me that my reaction was an American reaction and that may well be true, but the word “spa,” at least here in the United States, has a connotation to it which is just deadly, compared to the openness and the broader thinking that I have heard in these rooms for the last two days. So I think there is some fundamental redefinition that needs to happen, and it is as simple as branding.

FEMALE VOICE: What is the deadly definition, in your opinion?

MR. RUMMELL: The deadly definition of, “spa”? Is that it is for rich, white women. Well, you asked me.

Well, there you have it. And while Rummell may be right in saying that the reaction is that of an American, it is a reaction nonetheless.

One of the things that didn’t go on the record, which we learned later, was that some of the 2013 GSWS keynote speakers—Peter Rummell, Jose Maria (former president of Costa Rica) and innovation expert John Kao—all agreed that, before attending the Summit, they had no idea the spa and wellness industry was truly this important and significant.

Serving up a good ol’ dose of controversy might be exactly what we need to get innovative and move our industry forward. And that first step might be to take a good hard look at S-P-A.

So, do you think our industry should get rid of the word “spa”? Let us know. And feel free to elaborate, expand or go off on a tangent. Get controversial if you will. You’ve gotta admit, it’s kinda fun.

Happy Weekend,
The GSWS Team


56 thoughts on “GSWS Weekender 30: Do you think our industry should get rid of the word “spa”?”.

  1. Angela Cortright

    Wow what a great concept. We are constantly battling the stereotype of being a frivolous luxury only to be enjoyed by the uber rich or on special occasions. So while I am all in favor of ditching the word ‘spa’ in favor of something less offensive (SomaCenter, Regeneration Station, dunno) we need to truly be offering more than just physical comforts (massage, facials, etc). There needs to be an authentic offering of harmony and wellbeing (either through other wellness offerings such as fitness or nutrition for example) as well as quality physical services.

  2. Bernard Malek

    Your weekender article: getting rid of the word “spa”, resonated with me. I think that the word “spa” probably conjures up different images in peoples’ minds throughout the world. But, here in our little corner of the planet (San Clemente, California), in my opinion it has become over-used and it has become a cliché. As an example, our facility is directly across a nail salon simply named Nails & Spa. I believe the spa portion of the name must encompass their foot bath with air bubbles and some facial waxing they perform in a corner!

    To me the word spa has always been about wellness, therapeutic and healing. So, to see it used in the above context is borderline ludicrous. As expected, for many people here it’s become synonymous with pampering. While many of our guests today utilize our services to pamper themselves, I would say that in the last few years the focus has shifted more towards wellness. That’s not to say that the two are mutually exclusive!

    Having said this, I’m not sure what I would replace the word spa with? May be drop the word altogether and refer to ourselves as “a place for wellness”.

    As a final note, I would have to disagree with the statement that the “Spa” is a place for rich, white women. At most, maybe 10-15% of our clientele fall in that category.

    Thank you for your thought-provoking article.

  3. Just Breathe Wellness

    Absolutely…but it won’t.
    The mis-interpretation of the definition of what “spa” is and embodies has been dissolved, disintegrated and washed up.
    Over the years wellness business after business are trying to tap into the word, adding it at the end of their name feeling it adds value or higher level of respect from the consumer. Example would be the Massage Envy scenario.
    Massage Envy, a low-mid level massage franchise that caters to the “deal” or “discount” customer, felt adding it to some of their stores that now offer Esthetics and few new massage services (e.g. Hot Stone) has is taking them beyond their current status to a higher respect and quality level. It does not. What it does is devalue the definition of “spa”, however undefined the word is in this day and age. We do believe that the word spa certainly has an aura of snooty white collar America.

    We at just breathe would in the rare instances offer a replacement definition to the consumer who called us a “spa” and quickly replace it with wellness sanctuary or wellness center. Our registered name is as follows: just breathe, a wellness sanctuary. It denotes an experience, escape from routine and realm of choices for health and wellness. We avoid the word “spa” at every corner.

  4. Joan Kesman

    Yes I think we should get rid of the word “spa”. To me it denotes a frilly place. My treatments are meant to help people with their skin issues and to help relieve the stress in their lives.

  5. Michelle Punj

    Since before the Global Spa Summit in Switzerland in 2009, I have been saying that coming up with a better term for spa is a million dollar idea. This is more difficult than it sounds. The terms wellness, health, retreat, centre, etc all have equally detrimental connotations. This is a great call to the industry to provide the proper marketing and advertising in terminology that truly and accurately portrays the depth and breadth of what we have to offer.

  6. John Fisher

    Yes. The word Spa originated in Europe (maybe elsewhere) and it refers to a place of relaxation and rejuvenation in which natural water is prevalent with, it is claimed, medicinal benefits. We have a skin care business and do not call it a spa. It is difficult to know what to call it. Salon really does not do I,t so we do not use the word Spa and, generally, refer to the business by name where we specialize skin care.

  7. Anthony DiGuiseppe

    Absolutely Not! leave the SPA word in the conference, bad form using Rummel as an example, there were alot of negative comments about what he said in the audience. I felt alot of negativity from what he was saying, and as a developer only concerned with financial success.

  8. Ziporah Janowski

    Yes – most definitely. Though there is a spa component to what we do, we find it diminishes the much larger purposes of our program and many others – wellness and good health.

  9. Christine

    Ridiculous. What a question? Cant believe anyone is pondering this question.

    I believe Peter is not the majority of Spa professionals in iur industry.

    I think he needs to research the true definition of Spa.

  10. Steven Metz

    I definitely would dump the word spa. I am not a spa I have a Yoga studio. The word spa means lazy to me.

  11. Marks Randy

    Very Interesting point of view. There is some merit to Mr. Rummell’s thesis. I disagree with his premise that the negative is the perception that spas are for “rich, white women.”

    The larger problem is that spas are perceived as “an indulgence for the well-to-do” instead of a place where holistic healing and wellness can be found. This is the connotation that is more prevalent outside the US.

    North American Spas feature pics of white women with cucumber slices over their eyes and green masks on their face.

    We think the branding exercise that is needed is to put the focus on health, wellness, fitness and learning how to live a restorative lifestyle.

    Our two cents.

  12. Gina Rewold

    I think the only reason to get rid of the word spa is because…. Every chop shop, simple center salon, dog groomer, dentist, restaurant sex parlor is now a spa. They have all taken the word spa and sucked the last bleeding vein of health wellness and relaxation away from it.

    As for SPA. Being a racial issue. I disagree. Plenty of ladies In the Michigan spas are multi-racial and we are happy to serve all guests willing to pay in this travesty of an economy. I pray for all ladies to indulge!!!

  13. Agata Wojciechowska

    Absolutely not-how you can possibly get rid of the word, who has a thousands years tradition. Practice who was even part of life of the Roman Emperors?

  14. Alexandra Plessier

    We shouldn’t get rid of the word spa but instead, re-brand it correctly. Spa comes from Latin and has its true definition. It stands for Sanus Per Aquam, which means health through water. That being said, we are not sticking to its real definition today.

    We are marketing the word “spa” incorrectly by always displaying beautiful white women with glowing, flawless skin in a luxury treatment room. Going to a spa should not be about pampering, but finding a true holistic journey that will make you feel good from inside out, relieving all your stress. It’s about bring well-being into your lifestyle and taking care of your body. It’s about your health.

  15. Don Ardell

    SPA is not only associated with rich white women (not that there’s anything wrong with being female or rich). The more consequential problem is that spa is associated with services and purposes incompatible with the evolving industry embrace of wellness education for higher quality of life. Spas are hopelessly entangled with pampering and foo foo, thermal baths, beauty treatments and luxury. Fine if this is your organization’s business model. Not good if you want to be associated with wellness that transcends weight loss, medical assessments and old age management.

    Before abandoning the label spa, however, find something better that can create the desired associations. To do that, the industry must continue the Summit quest for a new wellness identity. Develop a greater consensus on the desired industry identity for the 21st century and the replacement name for spas will emerge soon thereafter.

  16. Clive Warshaw

    If this were April 1st, such a question might be appropriate.

    Even listening to such daft opinions as this may affect some peoples’ sanity. He ought to be working for British Airways: that is the sort of nonsense which is actually progressed at BA.

  17. Lina Lotto

    Whilst America may perceive spa as the privilege of a wealthy white minority, this is not the reality in Europe where there is widespread tradition of spa as a therapeutic device rather than one of pampering. In most parts of Europe spas are accessible, affordable and well known for their benefits. They come in all shapes and sizes from no frills to ultra luxurious. Some are state run or part funded. They are used by doctors to refer patients, sometimes on the national health service such as in Germany. I would say that in my own spa in the UK the British demographic is fairly represented.

    I agree with the ‘worldly’ colleagues referred to in the article. If the deadly word ‘spa’ is a problem, then it is American. Having said that, there’s nothing like a radical question to shake us out of complacency, so good for you Peter Rummell.

  18. Geeta Morar

    The original understanding of the acronym was far more focused and therefore, the term may have been relevant. Today, like most industries and trades the meaning is more colloquial and is commercialized . This has lost the true concept of wellness which was the original purpose. I think we should now call it wellness.

  19. Joanne Bruce

    A few words……

    No matter WHAT you decide to call our industry, those who are intent on using the word or words as a cover for immoral activities will simply follow us.

    Before the boom in the SPA market we all started as MASSAGE therapists or Massage Centres, genuine therapeutic massage. That was then twisted to mean anything involving SEX.

    Then the mushrooming of SPA which means anything from a 1 room beauty salon to a glamerous multi million dollar establishment with all the whistles and bells.

    As Vice President of the Association of Malaysian Spas (AMSPA) we know it is not about the word, it is about what stands behind the word. We can call it anything we like SANCTUARY, WELL NESS CENTRE, HEALTH CENTRE, etc etc – hanky panky is only too happy to change names from spa to whatever we want to call it!!

    In Malaysia we have a very unique and wonderful, I believe, initiative happening here. A government sponsored STAR RATING for spas has been taking place over the past 12 months by the Ministry of Tourism in collaboration with the Spa Association who forms part of their inspection team and has advised them on the criteria for a genuine establishment. Every ‘spa’ who participates in the rating program must fulfill a very stringent set of criteria to ensure their ‘spa’ is genuine, has a license, properly trained therapists, spa services with wellness treatments, water treatments, pleasing environment, health and hygiene criteria met etcetc.. This initiative clearly defines what is genuine and what is not. Three star ratings and above will be ‘rewarded’ with MOT support in terms of their advertising and support campaigns etc.

    Re-inspections are carried out to ensure the establishment does not change direction. Hanky panky establishments are not given ratings and they become known to the authorities.

    That means a spa with a Star Rating assures the guests that they have met certain standards and they will not have to worry that the therapist is going to offer happy endings!

    It also helps to clear misconceptions of the industry. In this part of the world we have a big problem attracting therapists to our profession because of all the bad press and negative perceptions that a SPA = SEX!.

    And one last comment, whoever at your conference thinks SPA means rich white woman has obviously NOT been to Asia!! So let’s get that rather what I find insulting idea cleared up very quickly. One of the LARGEST groups of spas in the world statistically is I believe in THAILAND, white women really even come into the equation (but a lot of white men do and the wrong sort too!).

    There is no doubt that like the word ‘MASSAGE’, ‘SPA’ suffers from a bad rap. But as long as there are guys out there who, let’s be perfectly honest, are pretty much the CAUSE of the bad rap due to their proclivities, no matter what ‘word’ is used the wrong message is still going to happen if we only rely on names.

    So in closing words are only words. The quality behind the words comes from professional organizations who operate with ethical standards, professionally trained staff and a passion to serve and honour their guests with a wide offering of the best possible treatments available in their given locations. Does that mean they need to have expensive machines and doctors – absolutely not! Guests who visit our Asian spas, wellness centres, sanctuaries (whatever their names) appreciate more than anything the wonderful warmth and asian hospitality we offer along with all the above mentioned professional services a well. Nothing in the world, in my opinion, beats the skills of a well trained professional therapist. They ARE what spa is all about.

  20. Sandie West

    I tend to agree, just put the word spa after any business name and you can make a lot of money as it confuses a lot of clients because they cannot define what a real spa is! Imagine getting a facial in a nail salon!!! People do not even expect spa to actually be a true spa such as steam, spa and sauna and sometimes get mislead into going to be tiny one room spa or a beauty supply store that has a divider for facials etc. I think there should be a certification offered to help educate the client as to what is a real spa. In addition, a mobile spa is also not a spa!

  21. Jodie Schahrer

    Eliminating the word spa removes any point of reference for the consumer. To initiate exploration of the industry at large there must be some common terms that begin the idea process in the mind. The responsibility comes in teaching the idea that personal care is not for one “kind” of person and not another. The idea of “bottled” water was met with resistance but with time and investment in reteaching the concept brought it into a common idea in everyday–not removing the term which is familiar (water). This is a good example of ” changing”. A standardized idea and integrating it into daily life as normal and acceptable.

  22. Ray Carrillo

    My name is Ray Carrillo LMT Homestead FL. I would not get rid of the word SPA… I like it,, Spa is not for rich white women. Maybe back in the 70s it was but not any more. SPA is good. It means your going to relax. Beside who cares what anyone thinks.. Spa and massage go good together.

    Keep SPA alive.

  23. @Markthespaman

    I believe that we should not get rid of the word ‘spa’. The word has been around for centuries and as most spa people know it’s a city/town in Belgium. The use of the acronym for s.p.a meaning “health through water” is good but it is a ‘backronym”. Acronyms first were used around the time of WWII. [We should ask Julie Register or other spa historian when the acronym ‘health through water’ for s.p.a. came along.] So whomever made up this acronym was on track because I do believe that the original intention of going to a spa is health through healing waters, either bathing, drinking it and engaging in healing bodywork qualities of waters. Our bodies are around 70% water!

    Quote: “there is some fundamental redefinition that needs to happen, and it is as simple as branding.” Peter Rummell

    I agree with Mr. Rummell that we should redefine the word spa. It should include health, wellness, fitness, well-being and yes, pampering (I agree with Jeremy McCarthy on the ‘defense of pampering’ at a spa). It should include all aspects of body, mind and soul/spiritual and all the modalities we use from around the world to work with the complexities of our human body.

    Just this past week at #SpaExec with Stacy Conlon [] I discussed using the word ‘spa’ vs. ‘#spa’ (and i always tweet using it both ways). In the online world we need to own and hash tag the word #spa to include #spa wellness, #spa cuisine etc to crowd out the other uses of the word spa. For example, I have suggested to Susie Ellis of SpaFinder to brand her #SpaTrends13 presentations. But we all need to agree and everyone including Susie and the ISPA team, Questex Media and all spa magazines need to use and own this word (and hash tag and any ‘spa events’ for that matter). I would suggest communicating the usage of the #spa and own it in everything we write, discuss both offline and online.

    Best wishes and continue to #spa well and prosper! (or how about ‘#spa in wellness’?)

  24. Diana Mestre

    35 years ago unless they came from Europe or had been at a European Spa, few people knew the meaning or significance of the word Spa. In most of the American continent, Mexico, Central and South America people did not know what to expect from the word Spa. Over the years the word Spa became trendy and anything and anybody that offered massages was named a Spa. In our industry we fought for the true meaning of Salus per Aquam or other Latin words like Sanitas, Salum per Acua etc. ….to give people a deeper understanding of the experience of wellness beyond massages and facials. I believe we are at the same cross road with the word Wellness, that indeed encompasses a deeper meaning of the experience that a world class spas offers; yet from a marketing point of view is taken us so many years to make the word Spa mainstream that I would not take the word out….. I would educate people and would set the standards high to truly deserve the name Spa. There is not a classification of the Spa level like hotels have, I truly think this is change is needed to create a differentiation between a massage salon and a world class spa that offers a wellness experience

  25. Michael D. Picard

    No, I don’t think we should get rid of the word “spa”. We just need to do a better job of educating the public. I do think that the Hot Tub industry should stop using that term. It is very confusing.

  26. Lutz Hertel

    As Goethe said: Namen sind wie Schall und Rauch – talk is cheap. But rebranding is expensive. If customers are systematically disapointed because they do not get what they expect wording becomes relevant, however. I can not see that spa-goers walk right into a trap. I am much more concerned about the mix-up of spa and wellness. A few spas might be places for wellness. Most are places for lazy well-being. There is nothing wrong with pampering, beauty treatments, bathing rituals, and hanging out with your spa buddies. Isn´t that an awesome business your are in? Be grateful and save the word spa for all those uplifting services. But please: Do not call it wellness.

  27. Jackie Willey

    What should be gotten rid of is these 3 rich, white-light-skinned MEN pontificating on an industry that is primarily operated by and serving primarily women.
    Looks like they are trying to make money for themselves on this “spa industry” by stirring the pot with outlandish and outrageous statements, assertions and false assumptions. Perhaps THEY are lacking in new topics to sell at these summits.
    The ancient Roman name for SPA stands for “Sanum per Aqua” -the Latin phrase used by the Romans to say “health through water (bathing). It has been carved into stone headings about entrances to ancient SPAs.

    Their assertion is making false assumptions based on a racial misconception of who actually visits “SPAs” be they day spas or resort spas. These 3 men assume that only “rich, white women” attend….. really boys. What caves/bars have you dudes been wasting your time in.

    I own a small day spa and many of my clients are Afro-Americans, Asians, Latinos, Croatian, Bosnian, along with typical American white folk. I’ve also worked in the hotel spa industry and there is a wide range of ethnicities visiting such businesses.
    This is the 21st Century and its filled with lots of cross racial attendance by dozens of ethnic groups.

    Fire these 3 knuckleheads. Why are there no women on this stage?

  28. Caren Griffin

    Absolutely keep the word “spa.” Changing it would cause mass confusion and I would certainly research better alternative definitions before even considering a change.

    The spa industry has simply experienced segmentation without focus and clarity on communication. The analogy would be similar to the restaurant industry that ranges anywhere from fine dining to fast food. The restaurant market knows the difference as it continues to grow and evolve.

    Without clear communication on the difference between different types of spa experience the spa market will continue to fragment causing unclear perceptions on what a guest can experience when visiting a spa.

  29. Peter Friedauer

    Not unless an establishment caters to the rich white women, like
    Stay-Spas and Destination-Spas. Salons, however, seem to have gotten rid
    of Day before the word Spa. For a good reason; every “Beauty by Judy”
    Salon turned a broom closet into a skincare room, rented it to an
    aethetician and called it Day-Spa. As a Salon & Spa owner, I would love
    to know, even dough we do not offer water treatments any longer, what
    other word would brand our industry correctly. Skin-Care is great, but
    it doesn’t tell the consumer that we also offer Body Services.

  30. Jon Canas

    It is true that the root (sanae per aqua) has been lost by the professionals of our industry, and that its meaning was never really understood by most consumers. The original intent had a strong wellness orientation, and the core treatments based on hydrotherapy. Most places in the US that use the word spa have no wellness component, and of those that do very few offer any hydrotherapy, let alone a complete menu of water treatments! So the word has lost its meaning. That is a fact. To make matters worse, the word has been abused by others outside of our industry. The word “spa” has no longer any intrinsic value. Should it be dropped is a legitimate question.

    Yet, this kind of quandary is best judged within the context of an alternative. The disdain for the word is not new and unless your exercise (a welcome inquiry) yields some brilliant idea to replace the word spa, we might be stuck with it. At least a significant proportion of our core group of consumers know what they mean by it and are disappointed when they do not find it. There is a clear expectation of what it means to them, and I suspect that the problems is more felt by the industry insiders than by its consumers. For those who know what they are looking for, the adage “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck…it must be a duck” applies every time.

    Should the word be banned? No, but it cannot stand alone. It needs qualifications. The restaurant industry is a good example. The word “restaurant” can include just about anything that serves food and the word is nearly always qualified according to the offering, or orientation, of the restaurant. Since our industry is still in a maturing phase, it will progressively find an increasing amount of ways to create and express its inherent diversity. In fact the future health of the industry is predicated on such a development, creating and communicating differentiation. That will become the basis of the qualifiers that will give meaning to the word “spa.” I see it as a welcome development because of the need for spas to specialize in order to attract more business and more intelligently compete. The category “medical spa” is a beginning but it is also incomplete, just as “Seafood Restaurant” is better than “restaurant,” yet insufficient as a proper claim of differentiation.

    Let’s not look for the silver bullet that does not exist. Banning the word “spa” and replacing it by another would be an enormous loss of time, effort, and money better used in making the needed effort towards genuine differentiation. Then the qualifiers to the word “spa” will naturally evolve.

  31. Prof. Jonathan Paul De Vierville

    Let’s Rumble with Rummell !

    “If I were he king of the world the first thing I would do would be get rid of the word “spa.”

    What provincial audacity !
    –a clear demonstration of not knowing the origins, energies and powers of SPA.

    Has this former head of Disney Imagineering, lost his?
    From where and how is he speaking?
    He certainly has limited his Imagination.

    The vital task, social role and global responsibility of/by and for SPA is much more than just a simple act of Branding. Any cowboy can do that.

    Rather, what is needed now is for the GSWS to sustainably plan and expand its efforts for SPA and its original and deeper definitions that include a wider and fuller understanding of SPA in all its cultures, natures and domains: local, national, regional, global and planetary. (please note, I do not use the word: Kingdom)

    What really needs to happen now is a deepening and an enlargement of the global SPA word reaching around the World, not its riddance.

    Originally SPA was a four letter word –SPAW –SPA spelled with a “W”

    Now you may ask: When, Where, Who, How, What and Why –“W”?
    Thanks for asking.

    Does “Water, The Waters & Taking-the-Waters” help you remember?

    Here is a little cultural memory on the words of SPA & SPAW

    The use of healing and therapeutic mineral waters, airs, climates and seasons can be archeologically traced from the Neolithic, Bronze & Iron Ages, but for our modern spa cultures we generally traces the historical origins from the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and then later through English and European cultures.

    There are several plausible sources, but no certain or single origin for the word: SPA.

    The three letter word: ‘S’ ‘P’ ‘A’-allegedly scrawled as graffiti on the walls of ancient Roman public baths-Thermae. –was code for the Latin; Salude Per Aqua –which translates as “health or healing through water.”

    A thorough search of the historical literature reveals at least eight (8) Latin renditions of ‘S’ ‘P’ ‘A’:
    Santi Per Aqua
    Sanus Per Aquam
    Salud Per Aqua
    Salus Per Aquam
    Sanare Per Aquam
    Senare Per Aqua
    Santitas Per Aquas
    Solus Per Aqua

    Regardless which translation is preferred or used, what is certain and unmistakable is that always contained within all renditions of the word: ‘S’ ‘P’ ‘A’ is not only health, hygiene and healing, but also the constant reference to, with, by, for and through Aqua/-m/-s –“The Waters.”

    Other possible etymological origins exist for the “SPA” word that can be traced from the diminutive form of the Latin verb: spargere, –to pour forth.

    The Greek’s built their healing temples near cold and hot springs. Roman Legions built their camps and colonies at thermal springs like Baden-Baden, Bath, Budapest and other places where Nature’s water fountains “poured forth.”

    One origin for how the “SPA” word found its way into the English language is through an old Wallon word ESPA meaning “fountain.”

    In 1326 a little village located in the Ardennes Mountain in eastern Belgium attained the name SPA when hot mineral sulphur waters were re-discovered and therapeutic baths developed for their medicinal treatments.

    Two-hundred and forty-five years later in 1571, Mr. William Slingsby discovered the sulphur springs of Tewhit at Harrogate in England.
    He compared these natural sulphur mineral waters to the waters in Belgium which he had once visited.

    Two decades later in 1596, Doctor and Rector Timothy Bright, court physician to Queen Elizabeth I, gave the name of “English Spaw” to the waters of Tewhite Well at Harrogate.

    The history after this time is somewhat mixed and confused because many records were destroyed and burned, but by the 17th century (1626) the Doctor Edmund Deane, Dr in Physicke, Oxon. dwelling in the City of Yorke published a brief treatise on the waters of the English SPAW Fountain at Harrogate entitled: SPADACRENE ANGLICA or THE ENGLISH SPAWFOUNTAINE).

    The same year 1626, Michael Stanhope, Esquire wrote on the “Northerne Spa” and again in 1632 (Cures without Care) he described the benefits “in the true discovery of a sovereigne Minerall, Medicineal Water in the West-Riding of Yorkeshire, neere an Ancient Towne called Knaresbrough, not inferior to the Spa in Germany.”

    Two decades later Dr. John French in 1652 and several others authors including Hargrove and Wheater referred to “The Yorkshire SPAW” and Harrogate mineral water resort as a SPAW fountain.

    1736 is the key year when an important summary book was published with the lengthy descriptive title: “Spadacrene Anglica” or “The English SPAW.” Being An Account of the Situation, Nature, Phyiscal Use, and admirable Cures, performed by the Waters of Harrogate, and Parts adjacent. Buy the late learned and eminent Physician, Dr. Dean of York, and also the Observations of the ingenious Dr. Stanhope. Wherein it is proved by Reason and Experience the vitrioline Fountain is equal to the German Spaw. To which are added Some Observations (Collected from modern Authors) of the Nature, Vertues and Manner of Using the Sweet and Sulphur Waters at Harrogate, Leeds, etc., 1736.

    Not until 1921 was Dr Edmund Deane’s original 1626 re-published after World War I by James Rutherford, LRCP, ED

    So now in the year 2012 we can, historically speaking, correctly state:

    SPA is not only a three (3) letter word, but also a four (4) letter word SPAW which includes its original, cultural and aquatic context for an expanded conception and knowledge with an understanding and wisdom found in “The Waters of Wellness & The Wellness of The Waters.”

    Think about SPAW for a moment. We are only as Well as our Waters and our Waters are Source for Our Wellness.

    Spelled correctly and expanded as SPAW with the addition of “W” there is a continuous renewing flow of renewing with a regenerative meaning: The Waters of Wellness and The Wellness of The Waters for The Whole World (and maybe even a few wealthy women).

    It is important that we remember and regain a deeper, original and authentic meaning and purpose of/by and for SPA, SPAW, SPAWaters & SPAWellness.

    Thank goodness there is no “King of the World”

  32. Marjorie Lopingco

    Should the industry get rid of the word SPA ?

    If we do get rid of the word SPA, what are the options ? What are the possibilities of the replacement?

    There is no doubt that the word SPA had been watered down in its perceived value and in most cases confusing . “Spas” mushroomed from hole in a wall set up to very luxurious properties. There are car spas to animal spas . Obviously, the word ” spa ” has some magical drawing power that sells. Consumerism has overtaken authenticity.

    I have so much respect for the word “SPA” it’s origins, history, it’s healing modalities, it’s contribution to our health and wellness evolution and what it can offer for the future of our well-being.

    The closest alternative is Wellness?

    Honestly, I am confused myself. I do hope the industry can find a better option soon.! I can’t wait to shift without being condescending.

    Thanks for being bold in challenging the status quo.

  33. @MarktheSpaman

    After reading the comments by many of the people who took the time to comment, I am thoroughly impressed and especially humbled by Professor De Vierville’s explanation and informative history lesson. We need people like him, Reinhard R. Bergel Ph.D., Hannelore R. Leavy, Sara Firman and Julie Register to explain and bring authenticity back to “spa”.

    I am glad that the GSWSummit is getting our industry leaders involved with a strategic coherent message to strengthen our resolve and as the Professor says “to sustainably plan and expand its efforts for SPA and its original and deeper definitions that include a wider and fuller understanding of SPA in all its cultures, natures and domains: local, national, regional, global and planetary.”

    Now about tweeting, and getting the SPA W(ellness) message out via the internet and other forms of communication (and marketing) ….

    Dallas, TX

  34. Micahel Bruggeman

    I love how this topic has spurred energetic conversation. That means there is potential for true reinvention. I believe whether or not the word spa has relevance and defines an industry depends on the corner of the world in which you live. In many parts of the world, the origins, definition and purpose holds true today. In North America and specifically the US, I would agree with many that the word has become diluted. In the purest sense of the definition, the vast majority of “spas” have no relationship to pure water and it’s healing properties.h

    I agree with Diana that the word wellness has also fallen victim to the same phenomenon.

    Where I think the word spa limits the US industry is both in perception, for all the reasons stated, and it reality.

    I look at at spa through a man’s eyes and it is rare that I truly feel comfortable and/or welcomed in spa. I don’t mean by a staff of gracious professionals and a plush environment, but rather by the menu, the design, the treatment options…

    Somewhere along the evolutionary path, spa has become predominantly female focused. I thing in the US, in particular, we unknowingly marginalize a segment with true buying power and interest. It is out duty to help men understand the importance of our various modalities on their health and well being. Helping them make the connection between how our services translate into success and results in life is the next frontier and an entirely new revenue stream.

  35. Pam Price

    This batte of words reminds me of the Presidential Debates (emotional, opinionated, hostile, confused, lack of fact checking).

    The “SPA” word has morphed into the category of contentious. Historically the word spa orignated from an abbreviation (rooted in the words health from water). I think if you confine the official definition to this it should spark such hostile debate. And that is one of the issues emanating from the overuse of the word spa, it has become far too commercialized.

  36. Geeta Morar

    Simplicity and intuition if understood right are roads to success.
    When I started my first spa in India seven years back,I had an intuition to be in India to create benchmarks in the industry. It has been the longest path and many times very disheartening but there was this inner voice telling me to be persistent when I had decided to come back home to the US. I stayed and pursued.
    It sure has paid me well.
    Simplicity is truly the ultimate sophistication. Simple means ergonomic, clean, easily understandable and very Zen. Peaceful and serene with no clutter means well paced growth.
    We have established our spa menu with ease of reading for the guest with few but efficacious services offered and the decor simple and clean.

    This has brought many discerning guests who know simplicity is manageable and they know what they want with an understanding and knowledge of each treatment on the menu.

    Empowering the Self….
    Geeta Morar CEO


  37. Steve Capellini

    Should we get rid of the word spa? Absolutely not.

    And besides, we can’t.

    We can no more get rid of the word spa than we can get rid of the word “asparagus.” It’s part of the vernacular. What Mr. Rummell said is true; these businesses we call spas are indeed positioned as a product for rich white women. The problem is that even though we in the spa industry spend a lot of time and research money trying to prove otherwise, we actually want it this way. In some deep, dark corner of our minds, we like being exclusive. I spoke to this issue in my book, Touchy Subjects. “It’s no accident that the most successful spa chain, with hundreds of locations in the U.S. and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales, is called Massage Envy. The founder of this company had a good grasp of middle class consumers’ aspirational mentality. Massages there, at $49 for an introductory session and $59 a pop month-to-month, are almost cheap, but not quite. They still have an aura of something to be envied, and as the middle classes struggle mightily to keep from falling into the lower classes during tough economic times, they find that getting massages is a way to reassure themselves that they’re not poor, at least not yet, because poor people, as a general rule, don’t get massages. What these consumers most likely don’t know is that the founder of Massage Envy sold the company, and it’s now owned by the same group that owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Church’s Fried Chicken. Massages in this setting are basically a form of fast-food packaged to look like the luxurious offerings at the St. Regis and Mandarin Oriental.”

    So, even when the spa industry tries to offer value, it still plays the exclusivity card. Mr. Rummell knew what he was talking about. As the former head of Disney Imagineering, he has spent a great deal of time creating unreal experiences for vast numbers of people. That’s what people pay for when they go to Disney—to escape reality, not embrace it. And if he’s suggesting something similar here—that by branding the industry differently and calling spas by another name, we can offer vast numbers of people yet another way to escape reality—then I would suggest this is not what we as an industry actually want. Even though at times we may profess a desire to attract a wider, more inclusive audience, we don’t, in our hearts, want people to approach spas like they approach Disney World—as an escape from reality. For us, spas are not an escape from reality; they are reality. Those of us in the industry know that lots of healthy human contact and a wellness lifestyle are optimal for everyone, yet when we present our product to the public, we continue to brand ourselves with yet another advertising campaign or product launch or press release touting our spas as “exclusive” or “the ultimate in luxury” for “a very select few.”

    If we limit our definition of “spa” to what we see represented at the big trade shows, we will most likely end up with a vision of our own industry that is skewed toward the upper classes. That’s ok, if that’s what we want. But don’t we want something more? Isn’t that why we ask someone like Mr. Rummell to analyze our industry in the first place?

    Our problem may be that we’re afraid of our own humble roots. My own role of massage therapist, for example, has been historically played by slaves, dating from the Roman Empire until the present day. Even as you read this, human traffickers are snatching young women from their homelands and ensnaring them in “spas” all around the world. We may try to distance ourselves from this seedy underbelly of our industry, making absolutely sure the public knows that we and our establishments are legitimate, but that won’t make it go away. And it is this distancing that is part of the problem. If we are really serious about change, we should not bother getting rid of the word spa. Rather, we should begin by admitting what the word has come to mean. We should fight against human trafficking in a strong and vocal way. We as an industry can and should do much more on this issue because, in a certain sense, these women are our spa sisters and our spa daughters. To deny the reality of their situation is to deny a part of our own reality, and this denial makes our problem worse. People perceive spas as unreal, as places where unrealistically beautiful (and rich) white women go to have unrealistically expensive experiences that, in the end, are absolutely unnecessary. We brand ourselves that way. Like Gucci purses, spas are status symbols, and the masses envy people who get massages. This, again, is similar to what the imagineers at Disney World do, as I mention in my book: “Modern spas, with their hushed tones, marble hallways and heavenly music playing, can sometimes become a little like Disney themselves, touted as ‘escapes’ from reality, just like the Magic Kingdom. I dislike this about spas, and that’s why I prefer to receive massages lying on a mattress on the floor of a little storefront in Thailand with roosters crowing and traffic passing by and children crying in the background. This is what massage used to be like in ancient times and still is in much of the world today—integrated into daily life. It’s only recently that massage and spas, in certain places, have undergone Disneyfication and become more like Fantasyland than reality.”

    We don’t need to get rid of the word spa but rather embrace everything that the word spa represents. In my experience, “spa” can also represent something truly sublime. For the past two years I have been working with a friend and colleague in Kathmandu, Nepal. When Rob Buckley was a Peace Corps volunteer in that country, he was amazed how little was being done for the “untouchables,” those people on the lowest rungs of the persistent caste system that has kept hundreds of millions locked in poverty and disgrace for generations. After the Peace Corp, Rob came home to the US to study massage therapy, and when it came time to chose his career path, he knew what he had to do. Returning to Nepal on his own, he opened the first massage school in that country, calling it Himalayan Healers. In this school, for the past eight years, he has trained over a hundred “untouchables” to become massage therapists. He guarantees each one of them a job after graduation in one of several spas he has opened in hotels and trekking lodges. These spas are not fancy. Entering one, you would not get the impression they were designed exclusively for “rich white women.” They are clean and humble, and they hum with the vibrations of a place where something special is going on. I call it love.

    Enter a Himalayan Healers spa, and you’d never know that the proud, smiling person giving you your treatment was raped and left for dead in the jungle, or abandoned by her family, or widowed in a civil war. Rob Buckley’s program helps these people overcome past traumas and the prejudices of an entire culture. One by one, they learn to trust again. They learn that their touch is not dirty. They learn that they themselves are not “untouchable.” The international visitors and upper class Nepalis they come into contact with in their new positions do not share the same prejudices that have kept them ensnared in the caste system. Working in these spas, they make ten times the salary they could otherwise, up to three hundred dollars a month. Himalayan Healers has been named humanitarian spa of the year by Asia Spa magazine.

    Rob Buckley continues to struggle. He has received death threats. Corrupt organizations have set up rival “massage schools” that were nothing more than fronts to siphon money from government coffers. But day after day, Rob carries on. I’ve visited his operation twice and witnessed what he’s been doing. I’ve talked to the people whose lives he’s changed. I’ve helped him raise funds to keep going.

    When you step foot inside a Himalayan Healers spa, something begins to vibrate in your heart. It’s just a tiny drop in the bucket in a vast sea of human suffering, but that tiny drop fills you up. “This,” you say to yourself, “is what spas can be.”

    By embracing all that the word spa can mean–by fighting human trafficking in our industry, by championing the humble mom-and-pop storefront spas around the world where people proudly offer their touch and their love, by supporting the efforts of people like Rob Buckley who literally change lives through their missions in the spa industry, and yes, by enjoying the luxurious experience of a Five-Star spa now and again (perhaps funneling a tiny percentage of the money spent there to help others like Rob doing great things in our industry), then we’d have a word to be proud of, a word that people could sink their teeth into, to believe in.

    Isn’t that what we want from the word “spa”? To believe in it? Be proud of it? To not squirm ever so slightly in our seats when the word is mentioned? Well, then, we have some work to do. And it just may be the most satisfying work yet.

    Steve Capellini is a spa trainer and author of The Royal Treatment; Massage for Dummies; Massage Career Guide; The Complete Spa Book for Massage Therapists; and Touchy Subjects

  38. Jeremy McCarthy

    I’m not in favor of eliminating the word spa. Nor would I turn a blind eye to how the meaning and perceptions of this word are changing over time (and one might even say that these changes are accelerating.) I may be in the minority here but I applaud GSWS for including someone like Peter Rummell on the agenda to give us some outside perspective, challenge our assumptions about what our industry stands for, and stimulate some incredibly interesting and insightful dialogue about what we, as an industry, hold most dear. I would suggest bringing some of the voices above together at the next GSWS to really dig in to the culture and philosophy behind the meaning of “spa.” And I would even invite Peter Rummell to bring a critical eye and remind us that the passionate aspirations we all share at the apex of this industry do not always reflect how our industry is represented in the real world.

  39. Pingback: Revisando El Concepto de Spa | Spa Balance

  40. Susie

    Peter Rummell, Philippe Bourguignon and John Kao,

    Hope each of you are well. Thought I would share a bit of “follow-up” from our Aspen Summit (that did, by the way, get rave reviews thanks to all of you!)

    Each week we send out a newsletter called the Global Spa and Wellness Summit Weekender and in it we have been discussing innovation and imagination – the them of our 2012 Summit. This was in effort to help people prepare for the Summit and then also as a vehicle to share the various presentations (all of yours included) and encourage an engaging conversation between delegates – and non-delegates – after the Summit.

    One of the liveliest conversations resulted from a recent GSWS Weekender we sent out referencing the “Imagining the Healthy Town of the Future” session. As you will see from the link…we used your comment, Peter, about getting rid of the word ‘spa’ as the topic, and the comments have been flooding in. So far about 46 people have commented and I expect more will follow.

    It’s also heartening to see that the topic of innovation is becoming much more visible in our industry with the recent ISPA conference here in the US having added a session on the topic, and another spa event in Asia highlighting innovation in their theme. In addition, we will be recognizing some innovative ideas for our industry at our next Summit in India next year. I do believe you definitely got the ball rolling and that is a very good thing.

    Many thanks again for making our Aspen event so memorable…and hope you enjoy the somewhat “heated” discussion that ensued since your panel.

    Very best,

  41. Peter Rummell

    Susie- This is great-thanks for forwarding.

    My favorite comment was; “Get rid of those three white male knuckleheads…why were there no women on the stage”

    Not unexpectedly, the opinions are all over the place, so I would say that is good.

    Means we hit on an interesting topic.

    My sense is many agree but nobody knows what the new term would be- that would be an interesting exercise.

    I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but can anyone think of an example of an industry that has re-branded itself- might be some lessons- good or bad- to be learned from what others have done. Always my first instinct- never invent when you can steal!!

    Peter Rummell

  42. Susie Ellis

    Article taken from Jeremy McCarthy’s blog. Link to The Promise of Spa article:

    This week, Intelligent Life magazine posted an article on their blog refuting the benefits of spas. Spas often take a bad rap as being a superficial luxury indulgence (“dedicated to narcissism” the Intelligent Life article says.)

    The article describes spas as “a mish-mash of promises” using a hodge-podge of modern technologies alongside ancient healing remedies to promise everything from better health and beauty to psychological wellbeing.

    On one level, spas deserve some of this criticism. Many spas do overpromise in their marketing materials, promising unproven or untested benefits. ”Anti-aging” for example, which is much easier said than done, is a common theme in the industry.

    The spa industry also suffers from the problem that the word “spa” has been used ubiquitously and imprecisely, and often describes facilities that are not really offering wellness, but focus more on superficial beauty treatments.

    Many people, for example, are not aware of the truly healing and life enriching experiences that are available at destination spas. And people do not realize that the name “medical spa”, which is now more commonly used to label beauty spas where botox injections and laser hair removal services are performed, was once used to describe wellness spas, where a physician supervised true medicinal treatments and healing programs.

    The good news is, these healing spas do still exist, and the spa industry is filled with passionate individuals who are committed to improving their clients’ well-being across mind, body and spirit. So the question is . . . how do we go from the common perceptions of spa (sometimes accurate and sometimes not) to the promise of what a spa experience can really be? How can spas change the way we think about modern healing?

    I look to spas with an incredible sense of reverence. Spas are different from other healing institutions in our society, and fill in some important gaps in the way we look at human wellness. I think the following principles describe a promise of spa that could change the way we look at healing in our society:

    1. Healing is holistic. Unlike modern physical medicine which seems to view the body as a machine, spas understand that true wellness is achieved by treating people holistically across mind, body and spirit.

    2. Prevention is the cure. While modern medical systems seem to be content to wait for people to become ill and then figure out what drug, surgery or procedure can be used to fix them, spas promote a healthy lifestyle encouraging healthy eating, exercise and mind-body practices that prevent illness in the first place.

    3. We can heal ourselves. Most of medicine for most of human history could be boiled down to the placebo effect, a.k.a. self-healing. Indigenous or shamanic rituals were used (effectively in many cases) to aid people in healing themselves without the aid of scientifically proven, technologically advanced or pharmaceutically induced interventions. Spas still pay homage to the importance of ritual, alternative healing methods, and encouraging self-healing.

    4. Healing should feel good. I find it interesting that we dread going to most of the healing institutions in our society. Doctors, hospitals and clinics are all designed to make us feel better and yet we detest going to them. The spa may be the only healing institution in modern society that we actually look forward to visiting. I believe the way a healing intervention is delivered has an effect on the outcome, and spas have figured out how to deliver their treatments in an enjoyable way.

    5. Healing is not only high tech, it’s high touch. It’s not only about the next piece of new technology or pharmaceutical innovation. Sometimes people just need to be heard and sometimes people just need to be touched.

    Given the diversity and fragmentation of the spa industry, it is natural for consumers to be somewhat confused. Do spas today offer healing and transformation or pampering and beauty? They offer both. But the promise of spa is a new way of looking at healing that considers the whole person, focuses on prevention and taps into our own abilities to heal ourselves.

    References and recommended reading:

    Browse research on the science behind spa offerings at

    I will be donating 100% of the revenues from pdf e-book purchases this month to recovery efforts for victims of Hurricane Sandy. See The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing. Link to my blog:

    by Jeremy McCarthy

  43. Denise Gagnon

    yes – considering it myself. will the word wellness be the replacement or is there another word in consideration?

    Thank you and have a wonderful day,

    Denise Gagnon
    Natural Health Practitioner
    SPA Essentials Health & Wellness Centre

  44. Susie Ellis

    I had to laugh..for one thing, I totally agree with you. For another – I have never seen you write anything so short! We will post and am planning on writing my thoughts on this topic at some point for that blog post however just haven’t had time yet.

    All the best for the holidays!

  45. Terry Herman

    It’s unfortunate that sexism and racism have entered the discussion because doing so demeans and slanders. Any word used to replace the current term would only further confuse and mislead the uniformed and those who prefer not to become informed. Even the term wellness doesn’t have universality in purpose or understanding.

  46. Terry Maindonald

    Hi there,
    I own a Spa in Coquitlam B.C.
    It has a salon for hair, three esthetics rooms
    & a massage & body work room.
    Also a nail salon in the front & five tanning rooms.
    What would you call that…not a convienience store or a grocery
    store or a drug store,but all of the above have a wide variety of services & products.
    Spa couldnt be a better word…so it sounds like a big treat…well in most cases it really is.Perfect idea for a birthday or valentines …etc. gift from your honey.
    A Spa package of pampering anyone would be thrilled to get as a gift.
    Especially in this abraisive world.Please dont rob us of a little pleasure.


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