The sixth Consumer Snapshot Initiative by the International Spa Association (ISPA), which focuses on trends and attitudes among consumers to the spa industry, highlights several small but important variances across four major economies – the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Spending on spa treatments and experiences has rebounded impressively since the financial downturn of 2008-2009 and the industry has a loyal customer base. Across the globe, the sector is in an encouraging position and this study aims to provide spa businesses with information to drive further improvement and growth.
The study, conducted by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on behalf of the ISPA Foundation, was based on a representative sample of 4,000 consumers across the four countries. It examined several areas of the spa industry including the reasons people go to spas, how they go, how much is spent on which retail products and on which spa treatments. Perhaps more importantly, the research also asked non-spa-goers the reasons behind their decision not to visit a spa.
Who goes to spas?
Given the cultural ties between the four participating nations, the differences in attitudes to spas and frequency of spa-going were slight rather than seismic, although it may come as a surprise to learn that British consumers visit spas more than anyone else. In the UK, 47 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men had been to a spa in the last 12 months, with British men more likely to visit a spa than men from any of the other three nations. Least likely to visit a spa are Australians, with just 38 per cent of men and women attending a spa in the last year – although it’s the only nation where men are just as likely to visit a spa as women.
The idea of men only visiting a spa to buy a gift certificate for their girlfriends, wives or mothers is also increasingly in the past. The study was able to pinpoint the typical male spa-goer: aged 25-44, middle to high income, buys moisturiser and gets a massage. Most importantly, male spa-goers tend to view their spa visits not as indulgences but as necessities, whether to maintain their appearance for work or as part of an overall personal wellness programme.
Key to growth?
One of the main areas where the spa industry can drive growth is by turning infrequent spa-goers into regular spa-goers. Across the four nations surveyed, less than 20 per cent of spa-goers visit a facility more than four times a year. And although British spa-goers are most likely to visit a spa, they’re actually less likely to go on a regular basis according to the study. Only 11 per cent of British spa-goers get a treatment more than four times a year, compared to 20 per cent of Americans and 21 per cent of Australians.
Disappointing though the number may be, the data provides a very clear explanation of the infrequent spa trips among British consumers – when they go to a spa, the British like to stay all day. British spa-goers are twice as likely to go for a full spa day than their American counterparts. Only 16 per cent of Americans had a spa day in the last 12 months compared to 32 per cent of British consumers. Consumers in the US go more frequently for single treatments: 58 per cent of American spa-goers went for a single treatment at a spa compared to just 31 per cent of British consumers.
British consumers are also by far the most likely to include a spa as part of a package at a hotel – 14 per cent of them had a spa treatment included as part of a hotel stay, more than double the number in Australia. Meanwhile, just 3 per cent of Canadian consumers took in a spa while staying in a hotel.
So why are consumers not going to spas? Well, not surprisingly cost – or at least the perception of cost – is a major hurdle. More than 50 per cent of American and Canadian infrequent spa-goers (those going less than four times a year) cited high prices as their number one reason for skipping a spa visit, with their British and Australian counterparts not far behind. Having said that, men and women do have different opinions on the matter, for example, 74 per cent of Canadian women said that going to a spa more often was too expensive, but less than 50 per cent of Canadian men agreed.
Location is also a major issue, at least for consumers in Australia and the UK. British and Australian consumers cited travel distance as a top reason for not making more visits to spas – this was more frequently than Canadians or Americans.
The public perception of spas is perhaps as important as practical issues when it comes to whether consumers will visit a spa or not. All three categories of respondents – frequent and infrequent spa-goers and non-spa-goers – strongly agreed that going to a spa involves being ‘pampered’. That word has both positive and negative connotations – some people love to be pampered, others associate it with being spoiled. What they all seem to be able to agree on, however, is that going to a spa is a method of relaxation.
The one outlier in perceptions of spa came – once again – from British consumers – 47 per cent of whom believe that ‘wellbeing’ is an important part of spa-going. That’s a significantly higher proportion than the 32 per cent of Americans, 34 per cent of Canadians and 38 per cent of Australians who agreed.
There was one area where national stereotypes are reinforced: tipping. While American and Canadian consumers are not entirely comfortable tipping their spa staff, they are much more comfortable than British or Australian consumers. The difference in tipping culture in the US and Canada clearly means that doing so causes less stress than in the UK or Australia. If anything a visit to a spa ought to be completely stress-free, some businesses might consider reviewing and publishing tipping policies.
Tipping spa staff may also be influenced by the person who’s paying for the spa visit. While most consumers from all four nations pay for spa visits out of their own pockets, 9 per cent of Australians and 14 per cent of British consumers had their experience covered by a friend of family member. Americans pay out of their own pockets more frequently and are likely to visit spas more often, suggesting that they perhaps form more meaningful relationships with staff.
The research even gave some insight into the attitudes of two generations at each end of the spa consumer age spectrum. The oldest spa-goers are more likely than anyone else to turn up without an appointment, taking advantage of less formal structure in their lives and more free time, while millennials are more likely than any other group to be interested in treatments that include both body and mind, such as meditation. This is food for thought in regards to where the industry may head in the long-term.
Cause for optimism
Previous research on the spa industry conducted by PwC on behalf of the ISPA Foundation concentrated solely on the US market. The fact that attitudes are broadly similar among the four nations in this first international survey is not a huge shock, although each market clearly has its own nuances, strengths and weaknesses.
The spa industry has shown considerable resilience and has recovered admirably since the global economic recession. With economies returning to growth and consumers once again more confident about the future, this research data gives spa owners the opportunity to fine-tune their marketing and convert a new generation into frequent spa-goers.