Planning Guide

Things Your Spa Won't Tell You

"Wanna Relax? Take a Number".

SpaEven though Americans spend approximately $150 million a year on Prozac, evidently anti-stress pills don't provide enough happiness as millions of people continue flocking to spas in search of relaxation and extreme pampering. It has been estimated that people all around the world make more than 130 million visits a year that often mean crowds of people vying to get the coveted services. And while spa brochures advertise services that will nurture your soul it can often be troublesome to schedule appointments for treatments. The problem is that some spas are just too small and sometimes you can even find the guest scrambling to get the services they want. 

Jenni Lipa, president of Spa Track Travel in New York City, recommends checking the ratio of spa treatment rooms to guest rooms and then the ratio of spa personnel to clientele. It is good if there is one treatment room per 10 guests or one staffer per guest at a destination spa. She also advises to avoid hotels with 300 rooms and only 10 spa treatment rooms.

"The Brochure Rate is Just an Opening Bid"

It's not a secret that spas are quite expensive. Spa treatments in nation's best spas, such as Golden Door in Escondido, Calif., and the Greenhouse in Arlington, Tex. will cost you about $700 a week. But there are hidden extra costs associated with spa services provided even at the reasonably priced facilities. Partially it can be explained by the fact that tips are included into the prices at some spas and not in others. Typically the tips make up 15% on services and tend to add up if you have more than three $150 services a day. In addition, many spas recommend purchasing expensive skin-care products to be used after your treatment. Of course, you are not required to buy them but most spa guests feel relaxed after the treatment and are more susceptible to such offers. 

"We'll Rub You the Wrong Way"

There is a wide range of massages offered in spas, from intense deep-tissue massage to Reiki where the masseur barely touches you. But the trouble is that when you enter a spa treatment room you hay have no idea what kind of massage you are going to get. For example, instead of a relaxing spa massage you may have all your body kneaded forcefully so that bruises can appear the next day. Another client complained that after visiting a facialist at a Chicago day spa she had some capillaries broken and would have to get laser surgery. So what to do in such cases? If you don't feel comfortable with what the therapist is doing, ask him to lighten the touch. If he persists just get off the table right away.

"Our Therapists Aren't Trained"

With more than 14,000 spas in the U.S. that yield around $9 billion of revenue a year, getting qualified staff is becoming a real challenge, especially for new businesses. Since 2003 there has been an 18 percent increase of spa industry, with more and more new facilities emerging in the market. The demand for such services is really high and if a spa fails to recruit experienced facialist, masseurs and personal trainers it can always hire some undertrained staff because the rules are rather lax. According to the International Spa Association (ISA) an employee providing treatment at its member spas is required to meet certain state rules that include having 500 hours of training and passing a state exam. But as laws vary from state to state, the rules of ISA don't mean much and many states don't even require license at all. If you are looking for a qualified facialist select the one who has a SIDSCO certificate issued by an international school of aestheticians. As for massage therapists look or those who have been certified in New York or Nebraska as both states are known for the highest standards for licensing that require minimum 1,000 hours of classroom followed by a comprehensive exam. 

"Some of Our Treatment Are Just Plain Silly"

Most spa menus continue to add new and new treatments and some of them are quite bizarre like "aura imaging" which involves taking a full-color picture of your "energy field". Others are downright silly like "barbeque wrap", a mixture of honey, tomato paste, cayenne pepper and cornmeal which is supposed to stimulate circulation and help get rid of body toxins. The mixture does smell delicious but Dr. Lord doubts that this kind of treatment is going to be useful as he can't figure out how these ingredients may be helpful.  

"…While Others Are Potentially Harmful"

Many people visit spas in order to improve their health and many facilities responded by offering such spa services as hormone-replacement therapy or "chelation therapy" which is supposed to clean out fatty deposits in the circulation system. But according to ISA only 7% of all spas are officially designated as medical spas. 

 If the spa that provides medical treatments is a reputable one the therapist will always ask a client about his or her medical conditions and allergies as even the most traditional treatments may be harmful for your health. For example, 20 minutes in sauna, Jacuzzi or steam room can be hazardous for people who suffer from heart deceases, high-blood pressure or diabetes. But the most dangerous and misunderstood spa treatment is hydrotherapy that involves immersion of alternating hot and cold water. Only visitors with excellent heart condition may risk such service. So make sure you ask what kind of bath you are going to have and why.

"We're not Really a Spa"

Recently, ISA has reported that spa industry in the USA experiences a 16% increase each year. And more than 80% of the spas are so called day spas meaning that they are not overnight accommodations. Unfortunately the term "day spa" often becomes abused as practically every salon that has a massage table behind the curtain claims itself being a day spa. To be accredited by the Day Spa Association the facility should meet a number of requirements such as provide minimum four different kinds of massage as well as four other body treatments including wraps and exfoliation, facials and aromatherapy. In addition, an accredited day spa should provide a private treatment room for every customer receiving a personal service. 

"No One Understands What We Do"

Sure, you can't rely on glossy brochures to get objective information about the quality of a particular spa. The problem with the spa industry is that it is very aggressively advertised, but on the other hand it is often poorly understood. The trends tend to change very quickly and most travel agents aren't versed in services offered by spas and that is why can't recommend them to the customers. 

You can't count on numerous spa websites either as they are paid commissions when customers book spa vacations through them. For unbiased customer reviews check Tripadvisor.com which is a pretty reliable source.

"We're Underinsured…"

Even though there are several spa associations, the membership is voluntary. The ISPA, the biggest spa association, represents only 2,700 spas all over the world. Spas members of ISPA must agree to abide certain standards and practices including such basics as clean treatment rooms and staffers trained in CPR. Besides, the laws do vary from state to state so it is difficult for a trade association to provide any certification. 

As there is no one who would exercise control over spa treatments many facilities carry inadequate insurance. And if you are put in a bath which is too hot in most cases there is no policy that will cover it.

"…So If You Are not Happy Good Luck Getting Your Money Back"

Because of the spotty insurance and practically no refund policies it is very hard to collect if something goes wrong. And even if the spa has an insurance it is really very difficult to get compensation for injury. 

Things to Do

There are many kinds of spas. Some of them emphasize healthy living while other cater to the customer's every whim. So make sure you understand what type is yours before you actually book the spa.

Consider getting knowledgeable advice of an experienced travel agent who will help you find the spa that will fit your taste and budget.

Choose spas that are members of the International Spa Association which means that these spas are required to hire only qualified staff.

Before having a spa treatment discuss your medical conditions with the staff and make sure the treatments you are going to have are safe for you.

Before visiting a day spa check whether it is a member of Day Spa Association that ensures the quality of services they provide.