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Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

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A "Second" ISPA

The International Spa Association (ISPA) held its annual convention at the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nov. 8-11, 2004. If there is one adjective I can use to describe it accurately, it is BIG - very, very big. Humongous. Large.

There were over 3,000 people in attendance for the first time in the event's 13-year history. I have a unique perspective on the conference's present-day size because I was one of the 125 attendees at the first ISPA conference here in Miami back in 1993. I remember choosing up sides for the beach volleyball tournament at that conference, which most of the attendees participated in. We had a barbecue and got to know each other. The tradeshow hall was an echoing quarter-ballroom space with a few dozen purveyors of massage tables, natural products, architectural services and basic equipment. We felt like we were on a mission to educate the world about the life-transforming potentials at our facilities. It was a magical time of birth for this industry and as so often happens after a magical birth, rapid growth followed - massive growth.

Steve Capellini, Lynda Solien-Wolfe and Cliff Korn. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Veteran Massage Today columnists Steve Capellini and Lynda Solien-Wolfe visit with their friend and colleague, Massage Today Editor Cliff Korn, at the ISPA media reception. Now, I suppose, the worldwide spa industry is like a "teenager" with all of the usual problems of the age (including a major case of acne) that seems can only be remedied by cosmetics companies, and yes - the cosmetics companies have arrived. The ISPA convention felt more like an esthetics convention than a massage or natural health convention, and while it makes me personally sad to report that, I realize that in order to grow at such a tremendous rate, we need to sustain ourselves economically. I encourage that, but is economic sustainability the only kind out there?

Thankfully, no. Another, deeper undercurrent at this year's convention - one that provoked a number of breakout sessions, discussion forums and expert panels - was the issue of sustainability. I attended talks on the "greening of the spa industry." I heard testimony from pioneers in the field of gray water recirculation and was impressed to learn that one such expert has created a self-sustaining spa environment in Taos, New Mexico, at El Monte Sagrado.

The industry is not only moving forward with big bucks and glitzy press; it is also moving deeper - deeper into its own mission. In fact, it felt to many of us that there were actually two ISPA conventions happening concurrently this year - one featuring all the latest cosmetics and surface-oriented trends, and another featuring small grassroots groups and individuals committed to the vision of a spa industry that runs itself in a manner congruent with its core values and its core message to consumers.

Natural. Stress-free. Spiritual. Holistic. Ergonomic. Ecological. We use all of these monikers and more to describe ourselves, but how do we actually go about our business? I am sure that you as a massage therapist or allied professional think of yourself in these terms, and you would hope that any spa you worked for had the same values. If you build your own spa one day, you'd like to commit yourself to this same vision, most likely.

So, I am glad to report that there is indeed a "second" ISPA, flickering like a shadow beneath the behemoth that our own success has created. And this other ISPA is still striving mightily to attain those lofty (some might even say idealistic) goals that we entered this industry with in the first place.

Sustainability. It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to create something that is sustainable? That is what we are all about. I am still vastly encouraged by this spa industry. I am still of a mind that we as therapists can find a home here that makes sense and is consistent with who we are.

There is no need to turn away in shame from this industry simply because it is so successful and generates so many amazing profits with its emphasis on products and retail and beauty. Why not take advantage of that success to build a profitable place for ourselves in this industry and in doing so, also build a more sustainable place for ourselves to live out our professional lives, encouraging others and helping the planet along the way? Why not have the best of both worlds, while always striving for a world better than either? Why not have our low-fat, low-carb spa cake, and eat it too? I know of few other industries where it is even realistic to dream such dreams. Why not dream them?

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