By  on December 1, 2006

LAS VEGAS — There is a spa for everyone.

At least that was the takeaway message from the International Spa Association's annual conference held here Nov. 6 to 9 at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. Among the 3,300 attendees, a prominent theme of discussion was how to retain loyal spa goers and reach out to new clientele who are pouring into the $9.7 billion domestic spa industry.

Roughly 32.2 million adults visited a U.S. spa last year, helping push spa treatments past golf as the most popular activity during corporate events, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' research. The number of spas mushroomed from 9,900 in 2003 to nearly 13,800 this year, with the mix of spas and products tailored to satisfy the demands of a vast range of consumers, from the recently initiated to the very knowledgeable.

"Spas are becoming more normative. You don't have to be a spa guru to attend," said Darryll Leiman, director of cruise operations for Canyon Ranch Spa Club, which opened on the Queen Mary II in 2004. "If you have a positive experience at a day spa, you might choose to go to a spa as part of your vacation. Day spas feed resort spas feed destination spas."

A 2006 study by the Bellevue, Wash.-based consultancy The Hartman Group and commissioned by ISPA found that more than half of U.S. residents who went to spas in the past year selected the day option, sometimes referred to as the spa gateway. Resort or hotel spas were the second most popular choice, with medical, club, destination, mineral and medical spas making up the remainder.

Across all spa categories, the average spa visitor is a married female in her early to mid-40s, who is comparably well off with a household income of $50,000 or more. Her patronage kicked off with a massage, but she developed a taste for other services such as manicures and pedicures after frequenting spas to relieve stress.

Although this dedicated spa goer has spurred double-digit revenue growth, ISPA attendees do not want to get pigeonholed. They expressed a keen desire to diversify the base of visitors to demographic segments — notably men and teens — who have traditionally shied away from spas. Inroads have been made in luring men, who currently make up 31 percent of spa goers, slightly above 2003's 29 percent."It is absolutely a very significant, growing market," Ginny Michel Lopis, a founding member of ISPA and chief operating officer of The Lodge at Woodloch, a luxury destination spa in Hawley, Pa., said of men. "In the past, spas were feminine in their interiors and programming. They didn't offer activities geared toward men."

While not exactly pumping up the testosterone, some spas have made male-friendly adjustments to entice men. Golf is an important draw to the husbands and boyfriends who make up the bulk of the male crowd at The Lodge at Woodloch, which opened in June. The spa also has a full bar and has increased the fat content in its food to 25 to 30 percent from the austere spa diet of 20 percent to overcome a male perception that spa cuisine is unappetizing.

New products are being introduced to tantalize male consumers, who primarily attend spas at the prompting of a female. In July, Atascadero, Calif.-based Life Elements launched C&M Couples bath and body products, which president Martha Van Inwegen (she is the "M" and her husband Curt is the "C") said uses spicy and woody scents rather than overpowering floral smells to appeal to both sexes. A travel box with 2-oz. sizes of C&M's candles, linen mist, shower gel, personal lubricant and towelettes costs $55.

"A lot of spas are offering couples services, but they haven't had a product that goes with that," said Van Inwegen. "There hasn't been anything on the market until now. I have a niche."

Another niche that had ISPA attendees buzzing was the teen market. The average age of spa goers has remained relatively constant in recent years. Girls who visit spas typically do so for nail polishing, but spas and product manufacturers are hopeful that teens will latch onto the wider spa craze and up their usage as they age.

Over the summer, hair and skin care company Aveda unveiled an acne line for teens called Outer Peace with four products: a $24 foaming cleanser, a $38 acne relief lotion, a $28 acne spot treatment and $30 acne relief pads. At Murad, an El Segundo, Calif.-based skin care brand, a $59.90 acne complex kit with cleanser, gel, spot treatment and lotion is a top seller."Acne is such an emotional thing. It really affects your self-confidence. When you come out with a line that works, you engender brand and product loyalty," said John McCue, director of marketing for skin care at Aveda.

However, skepticism abounds about whether the spa and associated products can build a larger following among teens and males. For example, Murad founder Dr. Howard Murad said nonprescription, clinically driven skin care products face resistance from teens accustomed to turning to dermatologists for prescription acne remedies. Others pointed out that men, albeit a demographic with potential, are still a sliver of the spa audience, and the appeal of spas to them could be limited.

The spa industry has plenty to consider with its existing customers. An increasingly discerning group, they are beginning to expect products to be natural or organic, treatments to show results and spa operators to incorporate local culture into the experience.

"People like to find out about the community they are in. All of the research we do throws that out," said Elaine Fenard, a principal at Spa Strategy, a consulting firm in Denver.

Bath and body product producer Malie Kauai, based in Kalaheo, Hawaii, has ridden the wave of interest in indigenous and natural ingredients into department stores, spas, salons and hotels, including the Kinara Spa in Los Angeles, Rita Hazan in New York, Stanley Korshak in Dallas and the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa in Maui. The building blocks of its products are Kauai's fruits and flowers: Recently unveiled facial tonics that retail for $38 are filled with guava, pineapple and lilikoi lemongrass, among other ingredients.

"Our feeling about Hawaii is that we have very rare ingredients. I have access to things that no one else has," said Dana Roberts, who owns Malie Kauai with her husband. "[Spa operators] care about what products they sell, which is conducive to a line like mine, which is more sophisticated."

The same is true for cutting-edge dermatologic skin care brands. Spas adding these brands' items are careful what they choose because customers call for "concrete differences" in their skin's health after a treatment, according to Elaine Linker, who founded New York-based Doctor's Dermatologic Formula with Dr. Howard Sobel."More and more, spas are looking to back up claims," said Linker. "Some are interested in the ingredients, most want to feel comfortable that they can use our products. We assure them we have created formulations that they can use effectively and safely."

Despite education campaigns by brands such as DDF, Michelle Barry, senior vice president of The Hartman Group, cautioned spa operators that not every visitor is well versed in the latest skin care technology. Medical spas are the fastest-growing type of spa, but she described them as "an industry-driven trend" that has yet to make a sizable dent in day spa's domination. Day spas constitute 80 percent of the total number of U.S. spas.

"Many people don't even know it exists," she said of the medical spa segment during a presentation titled "Demystifying the Spa-goer." "The awareness is really low."

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