Middle East spas lure travellers seeking health solutions

Spa travel is on the rise worldwide – and the Middle East is perhaps one of the most uniquely positioned areas to capitalise on this trend. CHERYL MANDY reports
The lure of the Middle Eastern spa

The Middle East has a wide range of spa choices and a huge number of travellers from both the holiday and business sectors are coming to this region, which is fast becoming the destination of choice for young, health seeking, affluent spa goers.

According to industry expert Cassandra Cavanah, executive director SpaFinder Europe, Middle East & Africa, the growth of spas all over the world over the past decade has been phenomenal.
“This can be directly attributed to a new generation of travellers who have embraced health and wellness – no longer simply a luxury, spa going and all of its benefits have also been proven to reduce stress, encourage fitness, and help people focus on specific health related solutions,” said Cavanah.
“Additionally, a plethora of spa types and programmes have developed over the years – medical spas, boot camp spas, detox spas, child friendly spas, smoking cessation programmes, and so on, giving travellers a huge array when it comes to choosing a spa.”
She believed that the biggest level of interest drawing visitors to the Middle East will be the medical developments that are being incorporated into spas in this region.
“Health and wellness are becoming watchwords for some of the major Middle East spa developments (Dubai Healthcare City as an example). The abundance of capital in the area means that investment in medical facilities and staff will likely be unmatched,” she said.
“The lure of the Middle East for spa goers is immense. Spas are in abundance and the focus on service and very new extremely high end facilities makes the Middle East a fantastic choice. The level of luxury available is unsurpassed and, compared to similar levels in other markets, it’s more affordable,” she said.
Unlike previous generations who may have regarded spa going as an unaffordable bit of a luxury and even self indulgence, the new generation has grown up regarding spa as commonplace and very acceptable, she added. 
The sentiment is echoed by Ketaki Narain, director of communications, Oberoi Group, who found that awareness and experience of global standards in hospitality had increased among luxury travellers. “Today, a spa in a luxury hotel is as common as a florist. This is an example of the new demands and changing needs of today’s travellers.”
According to Tracy Lord, spa manager, InterContinental Dubai Festival City, there is an increase in the occurrence of business meetings incorporating a spa element, whether it be express massage treatments during meeting breaks or delegates being offered a range of treatments to enjoy in their leisure time.
“Spas are moving away from offering just basic treatments and developing more signature experiences for the male guest,” she said. Leisure guests were also looking towards treatments that included local traditions and ingredients to gain a sense of place and uniqueness.
According to SpaFinder spas were becoming very attuned to eco issues and the industry was pushing to create spa environments that were as green as possible. “This promises to factor into spa development in the Middle East, especially now that we see more spa and hotel developments focussing on the history, art and culture of the Middle East rather than the opulence of the region,” said Cavanah.
However, research from the World Travel Market ‘No Water, No Future’ Report 2007, prepared in association with International Centre for Responsible Tourism, Leeds Metropolitan University, was concerned that the escalating popularity of spas involving “inherently water hungry activities”  would increase water use if not carefully managed.
The report, prepared to stress the need for the tourism industry to reduce water consumption because it was a limited resource in some parts of the world, quoted monsoon showers as an example.
“This is a regular feature of luxury spas, and each one uses up to 50 litres of water a minute, more than three times the rate of a normal shower; for comparison the average person in the UK uses 142 litres of water a day,” said the report.
“Spas use large amounts of water and energy, but also use large amounts of chemicals in the water and for washing towels,” it concluded.
Rhoda Adams, public relations manager at The Sharq Village & Spa operated by The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, in Doha, Qatar, believes the latest trend in the spa experience is the rebirth of the destination spa but with a new approach to tradition.
“The discerning spa user today has a genuine need to retreat and will travel far and pay a premium price to find an authentic experience in a luxurious setting.
“When it comes to hotels, affluent travellers are increasingly in pursuit of something completely unique. Imagination is the key asset in a highly competitive world. Affluent travellers want a highly personal, memorable vacation, whether it is a specialised spa, fine dining experience or a cultural experience.”