The boom in spa treatments has us spoiled about being spoiled: we want to try the best pampering and cram it all into the shortest time possible.
IT SEEMS we've become a demanding bunch when it comes to spas. A spa visit is no longer just about pampering - we want results. And we want them delivered in an interesting, personalised, time-efficient and environmentally friendly way.
And all this without spending a fortune, of course.
Spas around the world say opulence and indulgence are giving way to a focus on needs-oriented treatments, ranging from de-stressing and detoxing to weight loss, yoga and nutrition.
"No longer do we find the gold facials and caviar masks but guests are looking for healing, results-driven treatments," says the spa director for the Beverly Hilton in California, Maureen Schumacher.
"For consumers to justify the large spend that spas still are, they want dramatic results in a shorter time-frame," she says.
And while once we would have gone to a spa for a stand-alone facial or massage, we are now cramming in as much as we can.
One of the fastest-growing trends in spas is sampling, often called "spa tapas", where consumers select from a menu of shorter treatments, which are typically 30 minutes long.
It is partly about wanting to try everything but also about trying to achieve maximum results from the time and money spent.
"If our guests have an hour, they don't want to choose between the massage and the facial, they want both - and with the results you would see in an hour service delivered in half the time," Schumacher says.
The Observatory Hotel in Sydney says personalised packages, made up of a selection of 30-minute treatments, now account for almost two-thirds of bookings at its day spa.
The treatments are shortened "reincarnations" of its traditional, longer treatments, allowing guests to tailor their visit.
The Salus Per Aquum Spa at the Palazzo Versace resort on the Gold Coast has taken a slightly different approach, introducing "SPA Time", whereby guests can buy time on an hourly rate so they can have exactly what they want in their time-frame, rather than being limited to set treatments.
The manager of the spa, Kylie Smith, says while many still spend a full or half-day at the spa, for others it is about getting a glamorous experience in minimal time.
Surprisingly, in a subdued economic environment, many spas are reporting increased demand for longer treatments, such as four-hour packages combining massage with other treatments.
Ripple Massage, which operates a mobile day-spa service in parts of Queensland, NSW and Victoria, says sales of its three- and four-hour packages are up 25 per cent over recent months. Owner Alison Shaw believes it is partly due to improving consumer confidence and to people looking for value and results.
The luxury Qualia resort on Hamilton Island says its longer treatments are particularly popular with couples.
The most popular is a "wine lovers" package combining several body treatments with champagne and fruit in the bath.
Another widespread trend in the spa industry is organic products, which are regarded as better for both skin and the environment - although we are apparently not prepared to wear any extra cost.
"Consumers will not pay more for organic products but now expect spas and resorts to deliver," says the spa curator for Karma Resorts, Judy Chapman. "Any spa not moving towards organic ... will be left behind in the near future."
The Chuan Spa in Melbourne says some customers are also becoming conscious of water wastage and are moving away from treatments that use a lot of it.
Chapman says one thing people are prepared to pay more for is results-oriented facials, which is not surprising given the ageing population.
And while this age bracket is causing spas to look at how they cater for older visitors, there is also growing demand at the other end of the scale.
"(As) the next generation starts to spa much earlier, with 14- and 16-year-olds going to the spa, we will see more destinations offering tailored teenager treatments," Chapman says.
Right from the source
Spa users are seeking treatments relevant to their destination. The group director of spas for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Andrew Gibson, says people like to experience treatments with a "sense of place". "We have an adzuki bean scrub at our spa in Tokyo and at Barcelona we ... use local ingredients including sage, fresh mint and olive oil."
In the US, Inn by the Sea, in Maine, offers a "sea waves" massage using marine-based products and a massage bed that features wave motions and surround sound.