Calling All Spas to a Higher Level of Professionalism

13 thoughts on “Calling All Spas to a Higher Level of Professionalism

  1. Deborah Smith


    Thanks for this blog and for urging all to adhere to a higher standard of professionalism and not pander to the media with off-the-wall, unscientific therapies which are designed mainly to garner media attention. I think the "spa" sweat lodge incident was the last straw. I hope that ISPA as the professional voice of the industry will also take public action along the lines Spa Finder has. — Deborah Smith, Smith Club & Spa Specialists – a Full-Service Spa Consulting Firm

  2. Anonymous


    Excellent article, at a time when our industry needs it most. I cringed when I read last month that Cornelia was under fire for cutting corners in what seemed to be harmless cost-cutting business decisions (I’m appalled they would consider compromising the quality of their services while maintaining prices)…and now 'spa' professionals are responsible for the deaths of people who trusted their bodies to their care. What audacity do these people have to call themselves spa professionals?

    Sure, Diamond Massages grab media attention and many unqualified MD’s want to open a corner MedSpa; however, our industry needs to encourage media to dig deeper for the authenticity of such services that the spa industry is responsible for. And for the record, there is excellent research surrounding gemstone services and the power of aromatherapy (it's not all hocus-pocus) so don't feel naughty about covering that diamond oil massage! I've always believed that talented & intuitive spa professionals are the true healers of our industry and spas need to remain true to the roots of all services that are listed on their menu…it's time we expose the talent and not the terrible accidents that negligent persons (who should never be associated with the spa business) are responsible for.

    Urban Spa Girl

  3. Anonymous

    Although you're quite correct in almost everything you write, you are a voice crying in the wilderness and you will be COMPLETELY ignored by the spa industry.

    I raised many similar points with delegates at the SpaAsia Wellness Conference in 2008 in Kuala Lumpur and was treated to horrified looks and baleful stares for my temerity. They were, at best, not interested and, at worst, grossly offended.

    The spa industry is, in the main, Simply Not Interested in the widespread provision of evidence-based therapies to their client base. They prefer to dabble in magic and nonsense and they will ultimately fail accordingly, which is a shame because the spa concept has much to offer.

    Good luck preaching to the deaf :-)

    A Medical Doctor.

  4. John Korpi


    I couldn’t agree more with your declared industry need to change the way spa professionals articulate our great industry.

    Your blog calls it “Spa Treatments, the Science”. Well, I am delighted to respond that the next text published by the ISPA Foundation will be “The Science of Spas”. We have been planning this project for well over a year now as we agree with you that one of the unfortunate outcomes of the explosive growth of spas and the commercialization of spa is a situation where many spas today are being managed by people who have no professional training in the treatments they have on their menus, so we end up with fish nibbling pedicures-just nonsense.

    The Science of Spas will not be an attempt to teach spa leaders how to be a massage therapist or esthetician but they will learn the science of spa treatments, so they can stop saying just “Luxury Pampering” and only “Stress Reduction” but be able to express the benefits of spa in knowledgeable science based terms.

    Secondly, I agree we need to stop feeding the media “Spa Fluff” with some outrageous new treatment, so the second objective of the text will be to collect as much of the pure scientific research as possible to arm spa professionals with clinical results that will support the necessity of spa in living well.

    There are a whole lot of antidotal scientific claims being made in articles, but Dr. Brent A. Bauer (director, complementary and integrative medicine program, Mayo Clinic)will make sure that the science included in the text will pass the litmus test of scientific research.

    I think our 7th text and 9th educational resource, The Science of Spa” will be our most important project and would welcome ongoing advice and feedback from you as we work on this critical educational resource.

    John Korpi
    ISPA Foundation Board member

  5. Anonymous

    Let's hope "The Science of Spa" is:

    a) Understood by its intended audience.

    b) Is implemented by its intended audience.

    c) Moves the industry away from its current obsession with profit and media hype towards a profession which actually offers its client base real and quantifiable health improvements.

    Sadly, I suspect a) is unachievable given the level of scientific understanding possessed by most of those operating in the industry. I suspect b) will be unachievable too, mainly because of the problem noted above but also because the widespread implementation of evidence-based therapies would necessitate considerable change in the modus operandi of most spas/wellness facilities. As for c)? Well, I'm guessing that if spa owners/operators REALLY cared about their client base they wouldn't be in the position they currently find themselves.

    This recession is good. It will hopefully clear from the industry many who were simply after a fast buck and leave the field open to those who actually have the client's best interests at the core of their service philosophy.

    Sure, provide an evidence-based guidance document to those interested in changing the direction of the industry. But let's not pretend it has relevance to many of the spa businesses currently operating. It doesn't. It will be of relevance to those poised to take their place.

    I, for one, can't wait…

    A medical doctor.

  6. Brooks Baldwin

    Hi Susie,

    I greatly appreciate your addressing the topic of developing a higher level of professionalism in the spa industry, as it is a topic that has long been given short shrift by many a spa professional in favor of more glamorous, trendy, and revenue-generating pursuits.

    Twelve years ago as I transitioned careers from litigation attorney to dedicated spa industry journalist, I was shocked by what I witnessed in almost every spa I visited on assignment (most were amenities of 5-star resorts and hotels and world-class destination spas).

    Issues ranging from fire hazards, poor sanitation, sexual inappropriateness of staff to clientele, slippery surfaces, poor signage, product contamination, hot stone injuries, chemicals commingling with cosmetics; you name it, my legal eye and instinct witnessed it. But even more disturbing than the panoply of glaring safety hazards and liability exposures at these spas were the dismissive attitudes of the spa operators and the' public relations agents when I expressed my concern about those issues.

    In 2006, I was heartened greatly when ISPA (in partnership with the Resort & Hotel Association) initiated its Risk Management Initiative, first by rolling out the Code of Conduct (, and subsequently with the creation of ISPA's first-ever e-learning program – on Risk Management for Spas ( Risk management panels and speakers participated in conference education seminars, and all seemed to be heading in a right and proper direction where safety and liability mitigation were concerned.

    Yet three years later, the topic of risk management has seemingly faded from the list of "hot" topics in the spa industry, leaving many of us spa industry devotees frustrated, particularly when dreadful headlines like those aforementioned threaten to undermine the legitimacy of this industry.

    It is because of my passion for this industry and my unique credentials in both the spa and legal fields, that I join you in the noble pursuit of developing and strengthening professionalism in the spa industry. With the recent launch of SpaSafe Solutions, a risk management consulting practice devoted exclusively to spas, I have dedicated my career to improving safety standards and reducing liability exposures in spas.

    I certainly applaud and endorse you and other of our colleagues in the spa industry for the spotlight you've directed on the need for improving professionalism in spas, and I am happy to join you in this pursuit. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance in this endeavor.

    L. Brooks Baldwin, Esq., CRM
    SpaSafe Solutions

  7. James T. Coyle


    I thought you put into words perfectly what I have noticed about spas since we started measuring spa quality almost ten years ago.

    Spa is so unique in regards to how they operate. Many of the services are provided in private, absent of any kind of management supervision. Guests are also extremely vulnerable, often, trusting their appearance and well-being to a complete stranger.

    This is a particularly difficult combination for spa owners, because if something does go wrong in the treatment room, they won't see it and will likely never hear about it; the guest is embarrassed or hurt. I have read literally dozens of reports where an aesthetician or massage therapist makes a comment or suggestion (that seemed perfectly benign) that actually insulted the guest. We call these guests the 'silent wounded' because who are they going to tell that a massage therapist commented on their back acne? If it were me, I wouldn't even mention that to my wife!

    Anyway, when we look at the comparisons between the hospitality businesses we mystery shop for, they all sell an experience (which by the way is an endlessly fascinating thing to quantify and measure), but spas really have a disadvantage in comparison to hoteliers, restaurateurs, and cruise line operators when it comes to guest feedback. Your call to arms about standardization, transparency, and self-regulation will really help this nascent industry for the long term.

    Kind Regards,

  8. Robert

    I had the dr fish treatment done years ago after a trek in Nepal my feet were destroyed from 7 days of mountains and came out gleaming after one 45 min treatment. So convinced was I by the results and the unique nature of the treatment that I started a "Dr. Fish Spa Therapy" company when I got back home and have centered my life around them ever since. I’m sad to see it being banned in the States. There are fake imitation fish being used that have teeth that give the industry a bad name. Original Garra Rufa from Turkey have no teeth and use their lips to suck at the skin causing no damage, except to exfoliate and remove dead skin cells. I think once there is a regulatory body in place these spas will become more common place, allowing everyone to take advantage of the benefits. I appreciate you frustration.

  9. Susie Ellis

    Hi Robert,
    Really appreciate your email. I just returned from Istanbul a few days ago and indeed ran into several people who told me about Garra Rufa in Turkey where this fish spa therapy originated. They are quite proud of this place and the fish pedicure treatment.

    I am gaining more respect for it as I learn more about its origin and the special fish used in this treatment. It also helps to hear from someone like yourself who has had actual experience and knows what they are talking about.

    It is too bad that the fish pedicure became distorted and many (including me) didn't give it much credility. It also points to the need for all of us in the industry to work together to raise professionalism through education and intervening when someone engages in practices that undermine our credibility. (sweat lodges included)

    Thanks for adding balance to this discussion.


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