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Culture news
Locals Have Spas in Their Eyes
04.10.2007 17:11

spa_salon By Yelena Andreyeva

Special to The St. Petersburg Times

Over the last few years, the word “spa” has become very popular in Russia as a synonym for the way wealthy and successful people relax.

However, many Russians still have a very vague impression of what a spa really is. Some of them use it to mean a beauty salon, others consider that a true “spa-salon” can exist only as part of a magnificent spa resort situated on the sea.

As is often the case, the truth is somewhere in between. In Russia spa services have been available at resorts for more than 200 years, based on a traditional medical approach, while the spa business abroad is more focused on giving pleasure to its clients who go in search of a little rest, relaxation, and peace and harmony, which emotionally enhance their experience.

According to the International Spa Association’s classification there are various types of spas, such as day spas, hotel resort spas, spa resorts and destination spas, medical spas, and even cruise spas.

In Europe, day spas are usually situated in cities, offering a wide range of spa services that can provide for up to 300 clients at a time.

“Day spas abroad are well-organized places where everything is done to help a client relax,” said Nina Tsymbal, business and development director of the consulting company Endeli Limited. “There you can find everything you need, even down to ‘spa cuisine,’ only there is no accommodation available.”

Unlike resort spas, which are simply parts of hotel complexes and on a par with the many other facilities that a luxurious hotel must have, spa resorts are built to accommodate tourists who go there only to enjoy spa services.

According to Endeli Limited, with spas appearing at resort and hotel properties worldwide at a remarkable rate, the spa industry has become a major draw in the hospitality sector. The latest global trend suggests that guests often prefer hotels with spa services, rather than with outdated fitness studios or simple saunas. While day spas lead in the U.S. and Europe, resort/hotel spas have grown tremendously and account for the second largest spa group. For example, customers in the U.K. prefer hotel/resort spas to other kinds of spas.

Although, as spa experts say, the development of spas is a clear trend in the hotel industry, and it would now be almost unthinkable to open an upscale hotel without spa facilities, hotel managers often do not understand the essence of the spa business and are rather skeptical about the profitability of hotel spas.

“It is really unthinkable that a new five-star hotel opening in St. Petersburg does not have spa facilities. In Western countries, it just would not fall into the luxury hotel category,” Tsymbal said.

However, some hotel owners and spa operators are fast realizing that it is necessary to have a spa to meet guests’ expectations and to remain competitive.

“The more closely the spa is integrated into the hotel’s structure, organization, marketing and management, the higher its profit potential. By further integrating spa services into their operating structure, hotels will be reminded of their mission of providing comfort to their clientele and will offer more in-room and in-suite treatments,” Tsymbal said.

Thomas Noll, general manager of St. Petersburg’s Grand Hotel Europe, where the Beauty Planet beauty salon and spa opened in 2006, shares Tsymbal’s opinion.

“To go to a spa today is no longer something special for ladies and gentlemen who are successful in business and in life — it is rather a part of the life style. Just as one occasionally goes to a restaurant or to the cinema, one goes to a spa. It is about feeling good, looking good and being successful,” he said.

But a Hotel Spa Survey, recently undertaken by Small Luxury Hotels, shows that typically, guests book at least one treatment during a weekend break and three during a weeklong stay. More than a third of guests surveyed (36 per cent) said they spend more on spa therapies than on fine dining and wines.

Spas usually cater for clients over 35 years old who prefer to take care of their bodies passively at spas than actively at gyms. Therefore, one of the main purposes of spa managers is to protect their clients from either physical or emotional disturbance within the walls of their spa salon. “When designing a spa, it is important to optimize the layout of the available space in order to avoid any external and internal noise, crowding of communal areas or any factor that could spoil the overall experience,” said Michael Walsh, the general manager of St. Petersburg’s Astoria Hotel. “Most guests visiting our spa are looking for an escape from the stress of busy city life. We are pleased to offer an exclusive holistic environment, where one can relax, rejuvenate and re-energize.”

In order to provide a relaxing environment, children are prohibited at some foreign spas. However this created the opportunity for other spas to change their focus to serve children and teenagers.

“Spa services for all ages prevail at spa resorts where families usually go. It is a very wise business approach because, in such a way, spa resorts create new clients who are accustomed to taking care of their health with the help of spa treatments from an early age and, most likely, they will not give it up for the rest of their lives,” Tsymbal said.

However, as in many other areas of business, the Russian spa industry has taken its own path. Although there are lots of mini beauty salons that are called “spa studios” around St. Petersburg, only a dozen of them are considered by experts to be true spa salons. And in cities like St. Petersburg the word “spa” has an additional connotation — some mini spa salons are brothels.

To avoid such a misinterpretation and gather together spa specialists to share their experiences, the first international spa event, Saint-Petersburg SPA Salon 2007, will be held at Lenexpo in St. Petersburg on May 22-25.

One of the formidable obstacles in the way of the development of the spa industry in Russia is the high price of spa services. “Surveys conducted in Germany showed that most customers are ready to pay for their relaxation at resorts but their willingness depends on the price. In Russia, where in the Soviet era many people were in the habit of getting treatments at state-run sanatoriums for free or for very little money, attitudes to paying can be a problem,” said Nikita Savoyarov, a local tourism expert. And as long as spa services cost 60-80 euros per hour, they will only be in demand from wealthy clients. Tsymbal said that the services of a good spa salon cannot cost less because the cosmetics they use are expensive.

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