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Luxury, spa and vacuity

By Charlotte Reverse

Sought after by townies in search of well-being, officialised by the 2004 Larousse edition, honoured by the very last Relais et Châteaux guide, the spa is more than ever synonymous with luxury and pampering. However, the lack of regulations on which it is based could in the long run compromise its successful expansion.
This may only be a three-letter concept but it is already worth millions. In less than 5 years, the spa has conquered the hearts of cities and that of their over-stressed workers, always keen to offer themselves a little relaxation and more importantly, without having to spend a whole week-end or even worse their next holiday doing it.

Taking its concept from both the thalassothérapies and the beauty salons, the spa is first and foremost a luxurious environment. In fact, many spas have elected to be both situated in the most expensive areas of London and the top hotels or department stores: La Samaritaine, le Printemps, Les Galeries Lafayette in Paris; Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols in London.

Nuxe spa
The environmnent provided by those temples dedicated to the body is indeed a decisive matter. "A spa is, primarily, a place where people go to recharge their batteries. It is therefore key that their environment be conducive of escape of the senses" comments Erwan Madec, head of Thalgo Spa Management France. Wooden floors, empire style furniture, white flowy drapes, everything is pure white in the "Agua Bathhouse" designed by Philip Starck and situated at the Sanderson Hotel in London. It banks completely on its dream like decor. The costs of the treatment leave you also slightly bemused: £85 for a "Reiki", an anti-stress massage. Looking for an all day treat? Then the day package "Pure Indulgence" offers its "spa-tients" a revitalising bath, a massage with essential oils, a facial and a full seaweeds scrub. The cost: £232. It's expensive but doesn't luxury dictate it. The expense becomes slightly more acceptable if qualified beauticians carry out the treatments.  
   However, this concept is far from being adopted by all spas. This is due to the fact that to this day neither in the UK nor France, there hasn't been any legal definition of the term `SPA'. Effectively, any hotel or beauty salon that so wishes, could call itself a Spa. They could then use totally inexperienced staff.

The `over' usage of the term `Spa' may eventually lead to the collapse of this industry. Of course, defining the spa concept is therefore critical if we are to avoid opening the gates to abuse, but where do we start?
The word `SPA' is in itself a linguistic enigma. Some believe that its origin come from the Latin expression "Sanitas per Agua" - Health through water, others think that it derives from the famous Belgian Water Spa.

  The possible meanings of the word are varied. For the Anglo-Saxons, a spa was more connected with pleasure of the body whilst the rest of Europe thought of it as something useful. "I would say that we focus much more on pampering, beauty treatments and relaxation in our spas, rather than the European strictly medical focus. Having said that the health benefits of simply taking time out for yourself are not to be underestimated, in these times of stressful and long working hours and intrusive technology." Analyse Catherine Lloyd, Secretary of the British Spa Federation. Phytomer advert  
  Faced with this world of unknown facts in which this industry seems to be based, some of its principal players have decided to put into place their own way of assessing the spas. Since 1998, BISA, the British Internation Spa Association has decided to classify the Spas according to a rating system defined by waves. Six waves is a top rated spa. To get this rating, the spa has to fulfil a minimum of 10 set criteria. In France, Relais et Chateaux only calls spa a hotel which has been able to comply with very strict requirements. Note that to this day, out of the 450 hotels part of the chain, only 70 have been able to be called spas.

In order for the spas to retain its luxury image they cannot cut corners. They have to be of the highest professional standards. Once the concept spa has been defined in terms of professional integrity and transparency, the concept will become more meaningful and less vulnerable to a fad phenomenon.

  Top of the page Agenda: Open to the public, the exhibition Thermalies takes place this year from 4 till 8 February, Palais des Congrès, Paris. For more Surfing the wave, the Bon Marché in Paris has reserved a large space to spa and relaxation, until 21 March 2004. or 00 33 1 44 39 80 00. 


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