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November 21, 2010
S P O T L I G H T
FE maps the spread of the spa culture in India, outlining its transformation from a niche to mass product available in every nook and corner
VishakhaTalreja T THE turn of this decade, as the 21st century knocked on our doors, it became fashionable for the glitterati, corporate honchos and others with deep pockets to holiday at a destination spa or ‘unwind’ at a spa resort. Soon, five-star hotels became house to the finest of spas, promoting the concept of 'wellness' and offering chocolate wraps, ayurveda massages, sauna bath, jacuzzi and more. It was a lifestyle statement to spendtimeataquintessentialspa. Cut to today Visit your neighbor. hood beauty parlour and chances are that your friendly beautician will cajole you into a body massage at their 'spa section' or at least a hair spa treatmentrightthereonyourchair. The exclusivity is clearly lost. Dayspas and health centres have mushroomed in cities and the list includes both established players and fly-bynight operators. So you have day spas, spa resorts and both branded and unbranded players spreading their wings,andhow! Though the country is witnessing the spa or wellness boom, there are no governmentguidelinesatpresentregulating India's burgeoning spa industry . The industry is highly unorganised, and an exact fix is not possible. As per the latest report by hospitality consultant HVS, at last count, India was ranked 19th top spa country with 2,359 operational spas. The industry is estimated to have generated around $384 million annually and employs about 22,175 people. However, the booming spa industry in India is still a meager 0.6% of the total global pie, which isworth$60billion! In 2000, seeing how the stress level of youngITexecutiveswasshootingup,an icon of India's IT boom, hotelier Ashok Khanna, started Ananda, a destination spa in the Himalayas. Promoting wellness, the spa achieved cult status soon. Manyspabrandssoongainedpopularityandaratingonholidaylists—Amatrra, Angsana Spa, Wildflower Hall in Shimla, Taj Groups Jiva Spas are featured regularly in international travel magazinesandareonmanyatravellers' ‘to-do’ list. Down south, ayurveda resorts and centres and oil massages attract not only foreign travellers, but discerning domestic tourists as well. Recently ,however,theconceptof day spas(whichhavemoretodowithbeauty and less with wellness) has caught on. There are players such as Loreal, VLCC and Three Graces that have blended
wellness and beauty to provide experience of a day spa, and also some like Kairali, which are essentially medicalspas. Therapidspreadof thespacultureor it as a business is marked with many contrasts. On one hand, there are destination spas that span acres and even those in hotels occupying huge spaces, such as the spa at Claridges Sujarkund, which sprawls over 15,500 sq feet, or Rthe spa at Radisson, which occupies three floors. On the other hand, many neighborhood establishments calling themselvesspasarerestrictedtoaroom or two and, at times, just to a massage table.Fromavailingaone-weekholistic package at a spa resort to going for a quick 30-minute body massage at the day spa, customers can have it all. Similarly while a full body massage at a five , star can cost Rs 10,000, the salon next door can do it for as cheap as Rs 250; cheap here being the operative word. As far as treatments are concerned, the range is as wide as it can get— from Thai to ayurveda, from foot reflexology to stone therapy , from chocolate body wraps to winefacials... But what has really contributed to the growth of the indus-
try?“Awarenessregardingspaandwellness industry has been a major factor. This, coupled with the fact that the disposable income of youngsters has seen a sharp spike in recent years. Not only women, men are also ready to spend todayonpamperingthemselves,”saysRajesh Sharma, president, Spa Associationof India. And what really is attracting players of allmanner—hotels,realestatedevelopers, doctors and cosmetic companies—to invest in the business is the high margins. Profits rule the roost, though they vary “Margins are vari. able,dependingessentiallyonlocation, clientele served, services and infrastructure offered,” says Alka Katar, spa director, Radisson Hotel. However, some hospitality players point out that profit margins at a spa can be as high as
AWARENESS REGARDING SPA AND WELLNESS INDUSTRY, COUPLED WITH RISING DISPOSABLE INCOMES ARE BEHIND THIS BOOM. NOT ONLY WOMEN, MEN ARE ALSO READY TO SPEND ON PAMPERING THEMSELVES
50%. At a day spa, margins can be even higher and it’s these margins that have led to a cluttered spa market. “Looking at the growing demand for spa services, everyone has jumped on to the bandwagon. There are several spas that are just aping the bigger players. There is no government body to keep a check. So it’s for consumers to see what kind of spa suits their needs,” says Gita Ramesh, joint MD, Kairali. The group has around 26 spa day centresandthreesparesorts. Whiletheinitialinvestmentforaspa canrunintocrores,foraproperdayspa, initial investment is around Rs 15-20 lakh (excluding real estate cost). “The initialinvestmentmightbealittlehigh, but the returns start coming in fast,” adds Ramesh. No wonder then, neighborhoodsalonswanttomakeafastbuck bymassagingitright.
THE WORD Spa is derived from the word 'Sanitas Per Aquam' (SPA), which means health by or through water. Spa is now recognised as “an establishment that promotes wellness through the provision of therapeutic and other professional services aimed at renewing the body, mind, and spirit.” The Spa Association of India, an umbrella body, says unless a facility offers different water-based professional therapies, it should not call itself a spa. “But these days, salons and even beauty parlours are calling themselves spas. The industry is highly unorganised,” says Rajesh Sharma, president, Spa Association of India.