Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, president of the Republic of Mauritius and a biodiversity scientist, highlighted wellness as a key industry opportunity in her opening speech at the first continent-wide spa conference in Africa in late September.
“Spas and wellness centres have a big future ahead,” she said. “But they should repackage existing offerings and develop new ones to define and market spas as a wellness necessity – especially by drawing on traditional, cultural-based therapies...
“There’s also a strong need to build a body of evidence-based consumer research that connects spa with wellness.”
Gurib-Fakim was talking at the inaugural annual show for the Spa & Wellness Association of Africa (SWAA). The two day event, held at the gorgeous Lux Belle Mare resort in Mauritius, attracted 60 spa operator and supplier delegates from nine countries across Africa. The show is a milestone achievement for SWAA, an organisation set up in 2010 to support the development of the sector on the continent.
Made in Africa
Many discussions over the two days focused on promoting home-grown talent. SWAA president Elaine Okeke-Martin, who’s passionate about raising the profile of spas in Africa, said: “African countries have so much to show the world and I think the SWAA is their platform to showcase what each country can offer in terms of wellness and traditional healing.
“Some spa owners in Africa will continue to look to the west and redo what’s been done but some will create a format that actually fits with African lifestyle expectations. I think these ‘made in Africa’ spas will deliver services compatible with people’s beliefs, allowing the authenticity to shine through, entice and inspire the rest of the world.”
In fact, research shows Africa is the fastest growing region for spa and wellness even though it’s most often overlooked. According to the 2014 Global Wellness Economy Monitor, the number of spas in sub-Saharan Africa quadrupled to 1,544 between 2007 and 2013.
Standards and education
Delegates heard that addressing therapist and product standards is essential if Africa’s spa industry is to reach its full potential. A training panel discussion outlined a particular challenge in this area. With no certification body for facilities or therapists, it’s difficult for companies to substantiate spending on training, or to be able to recoup their investments.
Another fascinating discussion centred on standards for authentic African spa products which are increasingly popular with tourists. Local brand owners Stephan Helary of Terres d’Afrique, Amanda Khan of RoxSpa and Helen Cassan of Seven Colours were candid about the issues they’ve had in sourcing local ingredients, packaging and quality control.
The second day of the conference included a full-day spa management training course by Wynne Business for 29 students. The course covered best practices in operations management, understanding financial metrics and the latest marketing concepts to help them better position their spas for the international tourist market.
Overall, it was agreed that the whole conference provided delegates with a rare opportunity to be further educated on many aspects of spa operations.
The next SWAA networking event will take place in Nairobi, Kenya on 21-22 January. It’s one of a number of events planned by this growing association which expects to have 50 members signed up by 2016 and 100 by 2017.