The Spa World

The Spa World

meditateby Stefanie Ashley
Director of Research & Development

International SPA Association

We have found that many organizations developing independent research have resulted in similar findings regarding consumer behavior as it relates to values based purchases. In this issue, the LOHAS Journal looks closely at research provided by the International Spa Association as it pertains to spa consumers and the health and wellness sector of the LOHAS market. The similarities between the LOHAS consumer and the spa-goer behavior are strikingly familiar.
Spas are defined by the International Spa Association as entities devoted to enhancing overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit. And over the last several years, the term “Spa World” has emerged to capture the community of businesses and diverse consumers circling the globe. The spa world affects society, the economy, culture and the environment. The spa world casts a large net to touch the mind, body and spirit through a wealth of engaging experiences focused on the whole person and their environment. Take into consideration these points, which illustrate the power and dynamics of this new community: 

 • Spa is used as both a noun and a verb.
 • Spa is synonymous with healthy lifestyle for millions of adults.  
 • Spa menus are being posted on bulletin boards in workplace lunchrooms, along with local catering menus and For Sale ads.  
 • Spa recently surpassed golf as the No. 1 leisure activity at meeting and corporate events.  
 • Spa means big business; it generated nearly $10 billion in revenues in 2005.  
 • 1 in 4 U.S. and Canadian adults has visited a spa. (57 million people in the U.S. and 6.3 million in Canada.)

Overall Size and Growth of the U.S. Spa Industry

2003-2005 Revenue $7 billion in 2003,  $9.7 billion in 2005 / Average Annual Growth 18%
Locations 10,128 in April 2004,  13,757 in August 2006 / Average Annual Growth 16%

Source: International SPA Association

The Spa-goer World

hammockSo who is the driver of this spa world? The consumer. The spa-goer is important to understand, but—like people in general—can be hard to categorize. The ISPA 2006 Spa-goer Study and ISPA 2006 Consumer Report, both conducted by The Hartman Group, help us to better understand the spa-goer. 

To give a very broad perspective of the average spa-goer, here’s a snapshot:
While many spa-goers are male (31 percent), the typical spa-goer is female, non-minority and in her early to mid 40s. She has been going to spas for more than a year, but not as long as nine years, and her first spa visit was to a day spa. On that first visit, she had a body massage or facial. Over time, she’s added other services, especially manicure, pedicure and deep tissue massage.

Not all consumers participate in the spa world to the same degree. Consumers at the periphery primarily seek indulgent and cosmetic services to make them feel special and look beautiful. At the other end of the spectrum are core spa-goers who view cosmetic services as superficial and approach spas with more therapeutic ends in mind.

Periphery Spa-goers
On the periphery of the spa world are consumers who have little serious attachment to the world of spas. Generally, they are price-sensitive. Their experience of spas is rather limited and they tend not to associate their visits to spas with a health or wellness agenda. These factors often prevent them from trying services not aimed at improving appearance.

Meet Jeff, A Periphery Spa Consumer
• First visit to a spa was with his wife (at her request) for their anniversary—it has since become an annual massage ritual
• Flinches about price when buying shampoo or soap anywhere except Costco
• Is thinking about getting his mom a certificate for her birthday, wants her to “treat herself”
• Hasn’t told any of his friends that he’s been to a spa

Core Spa-goers
Participation at the core of the spa world generally means incorporating spa visits into a more comprehensive or holistic wellness regimen. While they are not above indulgences, for these spa-goers the spa experience is intended primarily to “get work done,” to transcend the merely physical and address the mind and spirit, as well. Price takes a back seat to qualities of the spa setting, the training of the staff and the overall ambiance. Note that luxury is not what core spa-goers are seeking. Rather, they want every experience—from arrival to departure—orchestrated to carry them seamlessly through a process of rejuvenation or self-improvement.

Meet Gretchen, A Core Spa Consumer
• Considers regular spa-going an integral part of her health and wellness routine
• Spends significant time perusing the spa menu and is fairly experimental with services
• Seeks out indigenous treatments and products for personal integration and use
• Posted spa menus of her favorite places on the bulletin board at her office

Mid-level Spa-goers
Between the extremes of the core and the periphery of the spa world is where we find the majority of spa-goers. This mid-level is characterized by spa-goers looking to blend their wellness and spa-going behaviors. In contrast to the core spa-goer, mid-level spa-goers strive to strike a balance between pure pampering and transformative mind, body and spirit experiences. There are limits to what they will spend on untried services, because their larger objective is to escape rather than work on themselves.

Meet Kim, A Mid-level Spa Consumer
• Tries to visit a spa once every three months to keep her life “in balance”
• Has recently begun booking multiple treatments at each visit
• Questions the authenticity of a spa if she isn’t offered a cup of tea and a plush robe upon entering
• Schedules appointments with reputable therapists referred by friends and co-workers

Size of Spa-goer Segments

towel on headU.S. Respondents and Canadian Respondents 

*Based on number of active spa-goers:
32.2 million adults in the U.S. and 3.7 million Canadian adults.

Source: ISPA 2006 Consumer Report.

For more than a decade, ISPA has been researching this global and diverse community and its impact. ISPA has collected hundreds of hours of interviews and multiple data tables on both the industry and consumer. From these, one message is clear: Pay attention to the spa world. Pay attention to yourself and take time to relax, reflect, revitalize and rejoice in the world of spa. Pay attention to the economic effects of this industry, which are growing at a steady and impressive rate. But most importantly, pay attention and engage in this global movement toward the greater good of revitalizing humanity through “spa.”

ISPA and its members want to help you benefit from the spa experience. Additional information on the association, as well as links to all of ISPA’s members, is available on Or, feel free to call ISPA toll-free at 1-888-651-4772 or e-mail at

Stefanie Ashley is the director of research and development for the International SPA Association and ISPA Foundation. Since 1999, she has worked with both groups and has written numerous articles for the tourism and spa industries. Ashley has also assisted in the development of the books, Uniform System of Financial Reporting for Spas, Retail Management for Spas and Supervisory Skill Builders for the Spa Industry. This Kentucky native has traveled extensively to promote the spa industry to ISPA’s network of 2,700 members in 75 countries.