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DALLAS — A trip to the spa has never been more popular, thanks to stressed-out consumers who seek solace and renewal for an hour, a day or a week and don’t mind paying for it.

That’s good news for the $11.2 billion U.S. spa industry, which continues to grow by double digits each year as more consumers view a trip to the spa as a necessary tool for staying healthy rather than as a costly indulgence, according to the International Spa Association, which held its 15th annual conference and expo Sept. 30-Oct. 3 at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center here.

Despite the tenuous economy, there were approximately 136 million spa visits made in the U.S. in 2003, 60 percent of which were to day spas. The U.S. has an estimated 12,100 spas, which employ some 281,000 people. More than 70 percent of spa-goers are female, though men are a growing part of the mix. Most popular services continue to be massages, facials, manicures and various forms of hydrotherapy. Day spas account for about 50 percent of the spa industry’s annual revenues.

The rapid growth of the spa industry, the growing link between spas and the medical industry thanks to “medi-spas” that offer everything from massage and manicures to Botox injections and mesotherapy, and the greening of the spa industry were among the topics generating buzz for spa owners and product vendors at the ISPA conference, which was attended by nearly 3,000 people from across the world.

The four-day event included educational seminars, networking conclaves, parties and a sprawling trade show of more than 300 booths representing nearly 300 vendors showcasing the newest products and innovations for the spa industry.

“In a year of global heartbreak and concern, it’s significant that an industry based on wellness and nurturing has the opportunity to gather,” said Lynne Walker McNees, president of ISPA, which has headquarters in Lexington, Ky. “The ISPA conference and expo offers members the chance to slow down and reflect, see old friends and make new ones, all while recharging their batteries in order to offer the best experience possible to their guests upon returning home.”

Spa owners continue to seek ways to stand apart from the competition and aren’t hesitant to invest in ways to get customers, from ultraposh and pampering environments to vibrational sound therapy chairs that link music and massage, colored light therapy that helps vanquish cellulite, acne scars and spider veins and more esoteric and holistic services that promote the power of crystals, hot stones and green tea.

This story first appeared in the October 7, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“ISPA is an extremely important forum to learn, network and help take the spa industry to the next level, including an awareness of our responsibility to the environment and to promote the greening of the spa industry,” said Amy McDonald, spa and program director at El Monte Sagrado in Taos, N.M. “This responsibility is shared both by spa owners and the way they design and run their businesses to vendors and the chemicals and packaging they use.”

Peggy Francis, spa director at Auberge du Soleil, a spa in Rutherford, Calif., in the Napa Valley, said, “I always return home from ISPA with a great positive energy and a wealth of new ideas and information on products and technologies to consider for the spa. I wouldn’t want to miss it. This year I was intrigued by the latest skin care and health care innovations that accent vitamins, including companies that offer DNA testing to customize a consumers’ unique oral vitamin needs and those that offer products for delivering vitamins topically deeper into the skin for more therapeutic and long-lasting results. The link between medicine and the spa industry just keeps getting stronger and more important.”

Vendors called ISPA an ideal venue for networking with the spa industry’s most influential spa owners and executives.

“ISPA is the industry’s brain trust that no one should miss,” said Marina Kamenakis, a spokeswoman with Cynosure Triactive Laser Dermatology System, Chelmsford, Mass., which makes and distributes lasers and light sources for medical and aesthetic uses, including cellulite and psoriasis treatments and removal of hair, veins and birthmarks. “It was our first year at the conference and we’ll definitely be back. The relationships we’ve made here will help lay the groundwork for future business.”

Promedis/Jamieson Labs, Toronto, which makes condition-specific nutritional and skin care products under the Promedis label, is marketing its extensive lineup to “medi-spas,” said Brenda Duncan, manager. “We believe that the rise of medi-spas is one of the most important events going in the spa industry, and it was very evident throughout the ISPA conference and expo. Our products complement and help prepare the skin for what the medical practitioners at the spas are doing, including liposuction or Botox or collagen injections, and we got an incredible response from the ISPA crowd.”

Jenefer Palmer, president of Osea, a skin care company based in Malibu, Calif., that uses marine-based ingredients, said attending ISPA generates a strong payoff throughout the year. “It’s a venue to show the latest offerings from our line, which includes a new white algae collection of skin care products. But ISPA is also how we get to be know better the spa owners and build future relationships with them.”

Ashleigh Kicklighter, marketing manager at GloMinerals, Denver, said, “ISPA provided us a great opportunity to see and be seen by the key players in the spa industry. We’ve attended for several years now and always get such a strong response from the attendees. It’s the perfect venue for showcasing our latest product lines and innovations because ISPA attendees are always on the lookout for the latest offerings to take back to their customers. The spa owners and executives who come here are the best of the industry.”

So Sound Solutions, a Denver-based company that designs, develops and licenses vibrational sound-therapy chairs and massage-related equipment, had a big hit at ISPA with its new So Sound Chair. The patented chair vibrates in sync with programmed music to help relieve stress and promote relaxation, said Suzannah Long, a company spokeswoman. “Spa owners aren’t hesitant to spend money if they know a product will help build their businesses and set them apart from the competition. We’ve had lines of people all weekend waiting to try the chair and have laid the groundwork for future business. ISPA is the place to be.”

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