When Spafinder published their Trends to watch in 2012, I was surprised to hear that kid friendly spas are booming. Resorts such as SpaWorld have broken ground not only in business model design but in making room for the family. In many ways though, I have mixed feelings about it. I love the concept behind Spa World but I remain confident that this will not be an all-encompassing industry wide trend. The age limit for Spas has traditionally been 18 for a number of years and some Spas have gone as low as 14 to 16 but in my experience, these are in the minority. Teens as young as 14 however do have problems with acne and rosacea and they can stand to benefit from a professional facial. While this market may be small, it is a powerful one and the theme of wellness and a healthy lifestyle should be instilled in young people by their parents, so why shouldn’t spas lower their age limits?
There are a lot of reasons why I think spa age limits serve a purpose. If including younger guests remains a niche market the problem is mostly contained but if it goes viral so to speak, I hope Spas don’t go overboard. I like the social aesthetic of having exclusivity provided by age limits. Not because I have found or believe Spas to be centers of elitist decadence that would in any way damage younger guests but because I think there should be a realm reserved for mature aesthetic experience and Spas provide that. Let me provide an example of what gives me pause. Some spas serve alcohol to guests while they wait for services but still expect their therapists to monitor guests for over indulgence and health concerns that might result from a guest whose judgement may be impaired, such as someone who is so intoxicated that they can’t tell if their massage therapist is giving them too much pressure during a massage. This also occurs with guests who think it’s ok to take a muscle relaxer before getting a deep tissue session but don’t tell their therapist before hand. What happens if a group of unruly guests happen to be in the same waiting room as a parent with a child or teen who don’t believe in alcohol consumption? What about a child or teen in that same waiting room with no guardian? A whole new set of policies and procedures will need to be reconsidered on a case by case basis to formulate new family friendly policy and my concern is that this could veer into a kind of morality policing that will ultimately be detrimental. Then there is always the question of pushing beauty on younger and younger children and if a backlash occurred, it might really hurt Spas image as well. Personally, I don’t have a problem with a guest having one drink. But if I know they have had more than that, I tend to treat them as if they have taken a muscle relaxer and adjust the massage accordingly, as is the discretionary right of a therapist.
Another issue is how young can the children be? Are spas going to begin providing day care services for parents who are receiving treatments? I think the trend of younger guests is an outgrowth of spas attempting to stem the tide of Wellness centers that are open to families with children. Not all spas are going to be equipped to provide such services and there is also an issue of liability to be considered if this is the case. This could potentially raise insurance rates for business as well.
There is also the issue of product lines. At present, I am not aware of a professional product line that makes a skin care regimen for teens. This will create a new trend in esthetics and such a move may require new product line development and procurement to meet the needs of younger guests. We can’t talk about esthetics without considering spa industry aesthetics. The development of new product lines would be good for the esthetics market and the growth would promote a family oriented wellness aesthetic that the spa industry could build on. It would also assist the alignment of esthetics with the push for spa evidence while also requiring additional training for some estheticians who may not be prepared to deal with the skin challenges of younger guests. I don’t know anything about esthetics training so I am proceeding on the assumption that not all estheticians are trained in dealing with problems like rosacea that are more commonly treated in a Dermatologists office, rather than a Spa. I for one am horrified by the fact that Wikipedia lumps Esthetics in with an entry on cosmetology and I find that esthetics all too often co-opts or attempts to co-opt aesthetics while failing to note that there is a difference between the two. That is wrong and an Industry problem in my opinion that ought to be addressed with vigor. If there is an example of Democracy that is ugly, and a syncretic problem socially, this is it in my humble opinion and this is my theory of social aesthetics talking. When we envision a new model of Spa guest relations we need to keep social aesthetics in mind.
Spafinder’s Susie Ellis suggests that objections to guests younger than 18 tend to fall into three categories. Liability, the comfort of other guests, and body physiology. Liability is perhaps the biggest factor working against the inclusion of younger guests and it is an argument with teeth woven throughout the Spa experience from the steam rooms, saunas and hot tubs, to aromatherapy, to the risk of a child being abused or harmed in some way. I think that the second objection is where Spas are dropping the ball in the name of Industry diversity and pluralism. An example is the distinction between various types of spas and what markets they cater too. I think that there is an issue with trying to keep the industry open to all comers while sacrificing uniqueness on the altar of a non-existent unity. Usually diversity of approach to Health and Wellness is a strength of Spa but in the case of meeting the needs of guests but we can’t talk about Industry standards and include spas that reject all of the premises we claim to hold dear. Day spas are NOT Resort Spas for instance and Resort Spas are not Holistic Spas. Best practices such as Health intake forms are not universal across the industry. We can’t push for spa evidence and fail to distinguish between holistic spas that practice herbal medicine and those that partner with the mainstream medical community. When it comes to age limits in Spa, we can’t fail to reconsider our marketing plans and our vision of service when including younger and younger guests. If including children and teens actually moves beyond a wiggling of toes in the water stage, many things that have been previously acceptable may need to be altered to meet the needs of a new reality. And this includes a vision of Spa, how we sell it and to whom we sell it. The claim that body physiology is another reason cited for Spa age limits rings a bit hollow to me. Designing a new product line or procuring one simply requires investment capital and a market to sell too and I think there are plenty of companies who will jump at the chance to create new product lines. Aromatherapy is another issue but not all treatments involve essential oils or can be performed without their use. But when it comes to fitness facilities such objections have merit and this also ties in with liability. To include younger guests, Spas will have to reconsider their hiring practices and go the extra mile to include fitness professionals who can oversee fitness activities. This also includes a deeper committment to Wellness as a lifestyle and an acknowledgement of how the industry is growing.
Ultimately, I will be interested to see how the Industry has changed once I graduate. As I am in my senior year of undergraduate studies, I am disconnected from what is really going on since I am not working in Spa now. I hope to find a reinvigorated culture recovering from the economic downturn when the time comes and even though I have mixed feelings about including younger guests, I am finding that I can’t deny the growth curve that the industry is in. I started working in Spa back in 1998 when I was twenty three. Spa age limits were in full force and introduced me to another world and social aesthetic. I feel priviledged to have experienced Spa at the time that I did and even if the vision we are selling changes, I think there should always be a place for Spas that choose to go with the tried and true vision of selling aesthetic experience to mature audiences. But what I like about this new trend, is that Spas seem to be acknowledging mortality in a different way. I titled this post Spas acknowledge their mortality in a nod to parenthood because parenthood is the closest to immortality that science can get without retreating into full-blown mysticism. I am a big believer in the value of parents and family overall and this includes children. Ultimately, this is the reason I think Spa World has been a success. They saw a need and filled it rather than focusing on the liability factor. I don’t know whether or not to call it family centered Wellness, cultural decadence or economic genius to be honest. But I do stand amazed! I have become an Aunt in the past ten years and I would love the opportunity to expose my nephew to the wonders of Spa. By the time I graduate, he will be ten. If I go back to work in the Spa Industry, I would relish any opportunity to have he and his mother visit the Spa for a day. This does make Spa a family affair for me and I hope that the trend doesn’t die out before I get an opportunity to show my nephew what I do and have done for a living during my adult life thus far.
But tell me, what do you think about young people enjoying Spa? How young is too Young?
- Spas, Spa Evidence and Interdisciplinarity (mycoignofvantage.wordpress.com)