Face it. Few experiences are as soothing as stepping into a luxury spa, where the air is scented with aromatic oils and the softly spoken therapists seem to anticipate your every need. Peek behind the scenes, however, and you will find that feeling good is big business.
Wellness travel is one of the peak drivers of the travel industry, growing by 6.5 per cent annually. In 2017, wellness tourism was worth $639 billion; by 2022, it is predicted to grow to $919 billion, according to the Global Wellness Institute.
The wellness boom is part of larger changes sweeping the travel industry, with travellers less interested in the destination than in the outcome.
"For many travellers, it's no longer about where you want to go, it's about how you want to feel," says Michael Londregan, Virtuoso Asia-Pacific managing director. "People are tired; they are saying, 'Improve me, teach me, help me kick-start the life I want to have'."
For these travellers, a massage menu and a daily yoga class no longer cuts it, Londregan adds, with the burgeoning health and wellness category of travel now featuring multiple wellness categories.
"Some people are looking for a spiritual element, others are interested in exploring the local culture through wellness," he says. "Knowing that your treatment contains native plants from the area that the locals have used for hundreds of years gets you more engaged in the process."
The leading players in the spa sector are diversifying their offerings, with treatments ranging from the esoteric – think chakra healing or sound bowl sessions – to medical interventions.
"There is more than just one pathway to wellness," says Lisa Manser, director of business development and spa operations for the COMO Shambhala group. "Some people will be interested in functional fitness, others will lean towards meditation or empowerment. Our job is to create the space and offer the opportunities for people to explore."
"We see many guests looking for rejuvenation; they are interested in everything from our super-popular IV drip therapy to the vampire facial, which uses blood platelets in a healing synthesis with the skin," says Sarah Dalton, director of Wellness for MSpa International, which operates luxury spas around the world, including at Anantara Resorts. She says guests are increasingly demanding visible results, which is why MSpa encourages longer stays.
"There is a limit to how much you can detox mentally or physically in two days," she says. "Seven days is the minimum if you want to see deeper impacts, whether that is real physical change or changed behaviours such as sleep patterns."
One of the companies pushing the boundaries of wellness is Six Senses, which has a portfolio of properties around the world. Recent additions to the brand's offerings include everything from jetlag programs for arriving guests to a holistic anti-ageing centre at Six Senses' Turkish property at Kaplankaya.
The company's wellness guru, Anna Bjurstam, agrees that helping guests effect long-term change is the ultimate goal. "It is not about what happens in the spa; it is about eating well, sleeping well and learning something new."
So, with so much to choose from in the world of wellness, and the new year the perfect time for a new you, Traveller, has compiled this virtual sampler of some of the most intriguing treatments from hotels and resorts around the world (BYO whale song CD).
THE SHAMAN SESSION
IDEAL FOR Ditching bad vibes
THE SPA The Spa at Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Los Cabos, Mexico. The pampering at this five-star resort starts on arrival, when guests are escorted to the spa for a complimentary 10 minute hand massage.
WHAT TO EXPECT This ceremony prepares guests for a massage by clearing their mind and refreshing their energies. It draws on Mayan shamanic traditions which focus on the interconnection of body and soul and the flow of ch'ulel, or life force. Like qi in the Chinese tradition, ch'ulel is seen as an energy that connects all living things: not just people and plants, but also rivers and mountains. In a candlelit room, the shaman drives out negative energies and boosts positive energy using sage smoke, shamanic chants, and a large eagle feather. The ceremony, which involves no touching of any kind, concludes with a period of quiet meditation.
HOW MUCH Complimentary with any 90-minute massage
THE LAUGH LESSON
IDEAL FOR Shaking off the blues
THE SPA Borgo Egnazia, Puglia, Italy. Built to resemble a traditional village, or borgo, this luxurious retreat features a championship golf course as well as a spa where treatments are informed by traditional Puglian rituals.
WHAT TO EXPECT The idea that laughter is the best medicine shapes the treatment called A Atrignul. Led by Giuseppe, an actor, dancer and musician, this session uses movement and the voice to release stress and tension and liberate your body from everyday tensions. Starting with local dances such as the lively pizzica and going on to dancing duels accompanied by tambourines, this class encourages guests to free themselves from mental and physical constraints and celebrate in a joyful manner.
HOW MUCH €55 for a group class or €220 for a 90-minute private class
BATH TIME, BERBER STYLE
IDEAL FOR A clean start
THE SPA Le Spa, Fairmont Royal Palm, Marrakech. With a design is inspired by traditional Moroccan riads, this sprawling spa also relies heavily on local ingredients.
WHAT TO EXPECT The spa's signature Maison d'Asa Berber Bath Ceremonial is not a treatment that can be rushed. Lasting between 60 and 90 minutes, this ritual draws on ancient bathing traditions and consists of no fewer than 11 steps. The aim is to purify not just the body but also the mind, with a series of relaxing treatments including exfoliation of the body, face and hair as well as hydration and a footbath. The ritual incorporates traditional products including Morocco's famous black soap, rhassoul clay, and a body mask made with argan oil and honey that is rich in anti-oxidants.
HOW MUCH 1020 MAD a session
IDEAL FOR Fragrance fans
THE SPA Euphoria Retreat Spa, Mystras, Greece. Greece's first destination spa draws on healing practices and philosophies from ancient China as well as ancient Greece to help guests achieve their goals.
WHAT TO EXPECT Also known as olfactory wellbeing, this fragrant treatment uses essential oils to delve deeply into the patient's sub-conscious. The goal is to use the links between our sense of smell and our subconscious not only to help patients uncover their less-developed talents but also to identify any areas that may be troubling them. As each oil is associated with a specific area or emotion – such as joy, action or truth – the guest's reaction to the oils helps identify areas on which to focus. Guests may choose to incorporate the oils that they respond to most strongly in their daily life.
HOW MUCH €50 for a 30-minute session.
IDEAL FOR Restless souls
THE SPA The Spa at Mandarin-Oriental Tokyo. Set high in the sky, this haven draws on Asian and western traditions. All treatments begin with a foot ritual that symbolically washes away everyday cares.
WHAT TO EXPECT Sound sleep is essential for physical and mental health. Mandarin-Oriental's Sleep Support Therapy draws on clinical research as well as ancient Vedic practices to help with insomnia and troubled sleep. The session starts with guided pranayama breathing exercises, followed by a massage that activates the marma points – Vedic pressure points – as well as a facial massage that stimulates the pineal gland. The treatment concludes with the nasya, or application of nasal oil, an ancient sleep remedy. The aim is to prepare the body for a solid night's sleep.
HOW MUCH ¥46,000 for a 105-minute treatment
IDEAL FOR Being bowled over
THE SPA Amangiri, Utah. Spread across 2300 metres, this dramatic desert spa is designed to reflect the healing traditions of the Navajo.
WHAT TO EXPECT Crystal bowl therapies work on the idea of the body as a network of vibrational fields and energy currents. When the rims of the sound bowls are rubbed, the sound waves that they emit function like a deep tissue massage. Every treatment at Amangiri ends with a five-minute crystal sound session; the spa also offers a Thai massage during which a second therapist plays the sound bowls. For maximum benefits, the spa also offers dedicated sound bowl sessions during which the patient lies on a mattress and lets the vibrations wash over them. The sessions are available in 30, 60 and 90 minute variations.
HOW MUCH From $125 for a 30-minute session.
THE TREATMENT Instant boost
IDEAL FOR A quick pick-me-up
THE SPA Drift by Niyama, Niyama Private Island, Maldives. This over-water spa offers a full range of holistic, nutritional and cosmetic therapies.
WHAT TO EXPECT Let's face it; few of us are at our best when we arrive at a spa. We may be tired, suffering from chronic stress, or perhaps even jetlag. That is when a session of IV drip therapy might be called for. The treatment uses an IV to deliver nutrients and vitamins directly into the bloodstream, allowing them to be absorbed much more effectively than through oral supplements. The spa offers a range of drip therapies tailored to particular conditions. Those who have been training energetically, for instance, will benefit from a therapy that delivers hydrations, electrolytes, vitamins and amino acids to help in recovery and muscle building.
HOW MUCH From $US275
IDEAL FOR Natural beauties
THE SPA Six Senses Fiji. With its lush jungle setting, the spa at Six Senses Fiji is designed to resemble a Fijian village, with treatment rooms scattered across separate bures.
WHAT TO EXPECT Most of us think of spa as a zero-effort experience. Show up for most treatments and you will be expected to do absolutely nothing, lying back and letting others do the work. Six Senses' Alchemy Bar turns that concept on its head. Designed for those who want to keep up the blissed-out spa vibe when they are back home, a session in the Alchemy Bar gives you all the skills you need to create your own aromatic spa products. Using organic ingredients grown on the island, guests choose their favourite fragrances and learn how to make a range of products including body scrubs and face masks. You can even get your potion used in a treatment.
HOW MUCH FJD60 a session
IDEAL FOR Salt lovers
THE SPA Equilibrium Spa, SALT at Palmar, Mauritius. The beachfront property SALT at Palmar is all about keeping it local. That applies not just to the furnishings, artworks and activities, but also to the spa.
WHAT TO EXPECT When it comes to instant mood boosts, it is hard to beat the simple joy of getting to the beach and inhaling that salt air. Halotherapy, or salt therapy, takes that idea to its logical conclusion. A session in the spa's in the salt room, made of salt bricks, promises to help with respiratory problems and general health. The idea is that the negatively charged ions contained in salt boost skin, immunity and energy levels. The treatment, which can be enjoyed in conjunction with any massage, is suitable for all ages.
HOW MUCH 15 minutes free with any massage, or MUR700 for 30 minutes
THE TREATMENT Taking the waters
IDEAL FOR A sense of the sacred
THE SPA Como Shambhala Estate, Bali. Set on 9.5 hectares of lush tropical forest, this wellness retreat offers an extensive range of treatments including an Ayurvedic program.
WHAT TO EXPECT The river that runs through Como Shambhala is a favourite with guests, who enjoy splashing around in its refreshing waters or reclining in the loungers by the plant-fringed rock pools. If you are looking for more than relaxation, however, you may want to join in the Sacred Spring Walk to a water source revered by locals. You will need a moderate degree of fitness to tackle the 300 steps that lead there, but it is the opportunity to take part in Hindu rituals, including making offerings at the spring itself, that is the real appeal.
HOW MUCH No charge
FIVE MORE RETREATS THAT OFFER TOP-TO-TOE WELLNESS
KAMALAYA KOH SAMUI With programs tailored to treat everything from sleep issues to emotional imbalances, this island retreat has achieved a cult status among serious spa fans. See kamalaya.com
BANYAN TREE PHUKET The flagship property of the wellness-focused Banyan Tree brand is known for its blend of eastern and western treatments. See banyantree.com
CANYON RANCH, ARIZONA AND MASSACHUSETTS North America's top wellness destination now has spin-offs on several cruise liners, but devotees still flock to its properties on terra firma. See canyonranch.com
FUSION MAIA, VIETNAM Guests at this Vietnamese boutique hotel enjoy two daily treatments as part of their room rate. Yoga classes, massage oils and juice shots change daily, focusing on a different chakra each day. See fusionresorts.com
SHA WELLNESS CLINIC, SPAIN Sleek design, macrobiotic food and a holistic approach that draws on not only meditation and yoga but also genetic testing, have won this Costa Blanca hideaway a worldwide reputation. See shawellnessclinic.com
FIVE BREAK THE BUDGET SPAS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
WHERE The Peninsula Spa Beverly Hills
WHAT The Ultimate Indulgence Facial
HOW MUCH $US1500 for 120 minutes
This facial promises to revitalise your skin in no fewer than six different ways. The high-tech treatment includes diamond-tip micro-dermabrasion to remove damaged skin and stimulate collagen regeneration; the use of radio frequency to increase oxygen supply; and an LED face mask that uses the energy and vibrations associated with various colours to restore the skin's balance. See peninsula.com
WHERE Four Seasons Resort Mauritius
WHAT Let it Go eight-handed massage
HOW MUCH MUR 36,000 for 90 minutes
Four-handed massages were once considered the ne plus ultra of pampering, but Four Seasons Mauritius has doubled-down with a massage that requires no fewer than four therapists working together in an intricately choreographed ritual. Developed from Ayurvedic principles, the massage aims to balance the body's energies while relaxing the mind. See fourseasons.com
WHERE Ritz-Carlton New York Central Park Spa
WHAT Caviar Luxury
HOW MUCH $US575
Gourmands have long considered caviar to be a delicacy worth its high price tag; now beauty fans are following suit. The Central Park Spa is one of several properties offering anti-ageing treatments that use caviar extracts, said to decrease the production of excess skin pigmentation. The Caviar Luxury package includes both a Caviar Firming Facial and a massage. See ritzcarlton.com
WHERE Spa Montage at Montage Beverly Hills
WHAT L. Raphael Secrets of the Dead Sea
HOW MUCH $US680 for 120 minutes
The sprawling 1800-metre Spa Montage is the only place on the US West Coast to use the prestigious products of Swiss company L. Raphael Geneve. The indulgent Secrets of the Dead Sea body treatment promise to tighten and tone your skin, using products including a cherry blossom exfoliating scrub, Dead Sea salts and body toning oil. See montagehotels.com
WHERE Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Dubai
WHAT The World's Most Luxurious Spa Experience
HOW MUCH AED 25,000
As the name suggests, Talise Ottoman Spa is pulling out all the stops with this treatment. The experience includes a skin-softening rose bath, a revitalising Arabian gold hammam and the infamous gold facial, which involves donning a 24-carat gold chain mail mask that is said to slow down collagen depletion and the breakdown of elastin. The price includes one night's accommodation. See jumeirah.com