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The History of ISPA
The spa industry has come a long way from early images of women sitting in a tub of mud sipping on cucumber water. The spa lifestyle has arrived and visiting a spa is no longer seen as a luxury, though as a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. The realization of spa as an attainable and important way of life can be attributed to the work of the members of the International SPA Association.
In the early 90s, the need for a guiding voice in the industry is what led to the development of ISPA, then known as the International SPA and Fitness Association. Twenty years later, ISPA is the most recognized voice in the industry. With members in over 70 countries, ISPA advances the spa industry by providing invaluable edfucational and networking opportunities, promoting the value of the spa experience and speaking as the authoritative voice to foster professionalism and growth.
Back to the Beginning
In 1990, a group of spa professionals from all over the world came together for a spa symposium at New Age Health Spa in Neversink, N.Y., and little did this group know that they were forming the framework for ISPA. The first ISPA Conference came just one year later at Turnberry Isle Resort & Club in Aventura, Fla. With 150 attendees from 10 countries, the group that attended the inaugural Conference was so intimate that they were able to hold hands in one circle. It has been said that this first ISPA Conference enabled spa professionals to talk to one another about the challenges they were facing, instead of relying solely on advice and conversations with those focused in the hotel industry.
In 1991, the inaugural meeting of the ISPA Board of Directors was held. The late Werner Mendel of New Age Health Spa was the first president and John Lopis of JGL Spa Consulting served as the first vice president (these roles are now known as chairman and vice chairman respectively.)
Colorado, Florida and California were the sites of the next three ISPA Conferences, and it was during those early years that the association started developing groundbreaking tools the industry had never seen. In 1995, ISPA funded the first research on the spa industry, which was conducted by Cornell University. More research followed; in 1999 with the American Spa-goer Survey conducted by Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown and 2000 saw the inaugural foray into the Industry Study and marked ISPA's first time to work with leading research firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Today, ISPA conducts research each year, alternating between studies focusing on the industry, trends and those focused on habits and demographics of the spa-goer. The studies help ISPA members operate their businesses more profitably and efficiently, and the research has also put ISPA on the map with the media. It was in1995 that ISPA put its messages and members directly in front of leading journalists for the first time at the Media Event. This inaugural event was held in New York City in July as a luncheon. Sixty-three journalists were in attendance to hear then ISPA President Alex Szekely and past ISPA Medical Advisor Dr. Pamela Peeke speak. The ISPA Media Event averages 150 of the world's top journalists and 25 spa sponsors.
The year 1997 was a pivotal one for the association on many fronts. The ISPA Conference was held for the first time outside of the United States. The event in Banff, Alberta, Canada, is still referenced as one of the defining Conferences for the association. The European Chapter was also established this year. And, I came to the association during this very busy time as 1997 also marked the year when the day-to-day tasks of running ISPA became managed by a staff of association professionals.
In 1998, the first Conference of the European Chapter was held and the Annual ISPA Conference & Expo broke the 1,000-attendee mark at The Broadmoor in Colorado. Branding efforts for the association kicked into high gear as "fitness" was dropped from the association's name, and a new logo incorporating the lower case "i" and capital "SPA" was launched.
Another big year of enhancements for the association came in 1999. In April, the first Asia Spa Summit in Singapore was the launch pad for the Asia-Pacific Chapter. The membership category was reorganized to include club, cruise, day, destination, medical, mineral springs and resort/hotel spas, plus product suppliers (now called resource partners). This restructuring was essential so that all realms of the spa experience were included.
In 1999, the ISPA Foundation was established from an initial grant of $30,000 from Vincenzo R. Marra of Innovative Beauty Innovations. Created to serve the educational and research needs of the spa industry through endowments, curriculum development and scholarships, the ISPA Foundation is the nonprofit 501(c)3 arm of ISPA.
ISPA's publication Pulse evolved from a newsletter into a glossy magazine in 1999. Pulse is another great example of how ISPA continues to flourish. In June 2008, Pulse's editors introduced LiveSpa, a timeless educational resource for spa-goers that sought to teach consumers about the entire spa experience and lifestyle.
The New Millennium
With the dawn of the millennium in 2000, when most businesses were concerned with the Y2K Bug, ISPA was making major technological moves. ISPA's Web site, experienceispa.com, launched and brought a digital version of the membership directory to all members. The association also began holding regional Roundtables (now known as Knowledge Networks) and the first Spa Industry Study was released and reported that spa revenues totaled $5 billion; today that figure has grown to nearly $10 billion.
In 2001, the spa industry united in Palm Springs, Calif., following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The 1,400 Conference attendees banded together in a showing of support and unity. The Conference was the launching ground for the Hands of Hope Relief Fund, which went on to raise more than $10,000 for the Sept. 11 Fund.
While many industries struggled following Sept. 11, the spa industry thrived as people were seeking a nurturing and safe haven. ISPA's membership reflected this growth as the highest level to date - more than 2,000 members - was reached in 2002.
The association's mission and vision took center stage in 2003 when both statements were strengthened into the ones that are used today -
Mission: ISPA advances the spa industry by providing invaluable educational and
networking opportunities, promoting the value of the spa experience and
speaking as the authoritative voice to foster professionalism and growth.
Vision: To be the leader in promoting and enhancing the well-being of the spa industry
and the people it serves.
The year 2003 was also pivotal to strengthening benefits for members worldwide through uniting the Europe and Asia-Pacific chapters with the rest of the membership to ensure ISPA's strength and unified voice. The association also released its first studies on the Japan and United Kingdom spa marketplaces this year.
A tool that was launched in 2003 continues to gain steam. The Certified Spa Supervisor Program consists of nine workbooks customized with specific case studies from the spa industry. As of today, more than 150 people have passed the exam and have the designation of CSS.
In 2004, the task of defining spa was completed. The association's board and marketing task force worked for years on a solid definition for spa and came to a consensus with the following: Spas are places devoted to enhancing overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit.
Significant launches in 2004 included the inaugural ISPA Consumer Trends Report and, from the Foundation, the Uniform System of Financial Reporting for Spas and Compensation Workbook. The Uniform System and Compensation Workbook were significant tools as they represented an important step in the financial wellness and development of the spa industry.
ISPA's 15th anniversary was celebrated in 2005 and a redesigned Web site was launched that year, making it easier for consumers to find ISPA member spas. ISPA and the Foundation also partnered this year to create a retail management course.
A partnership with the Resort Hotel Association in 2006 led to the creation of a risk management program for spas. The first part of this program was the Code of Conduct, and an online learning tool was later released at the end of 2007. A first in research occurred in 2006 when ISPA partnered with the Canadian Tourism Commission on a groundbreaking new spa traveler study.
In 2007, ISPA partnered with Beyond Beauty, a large trade show in Paris; and Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (commonly known as LOHAS) and their annual meeting in California. Also in 2007, a tool that included hours from dozens of dedicated volunteers, the Spa Professional Career Guide, launched as a free benefit of membership, and the association reached a milestone of more than 3,000 members.
In 2008, ISPA and the Foundation released an introduction to spa collegiate course. This course includes a comprehensive textbook and online video component and is invaluable for students interested in a spa career. It's no secret that there's a labor shortage in our industry and this course is another way that ISPA is helping build our members' businesses, while sustaining the spa industry.
Following its mission of improving and enhancing the value of the spa experience, the Foundation is thriving and has many significant releases. The first scholarship from the Foundation, the Mary Tabacchi Scholarship, was given during the 2008 ISPA Conference & Expo in November. The Foundation has expanded its educational endowment opportunities with the new Dr. Howard Murad Research Grant and Ruth Stricker Spa & Wellness Award.
The 18th annual ISPA Conference & Expo was held Nov. 10-13, at the Venetian Hotel-Resort-Casino in Las Vegas. Keynote speakers included Sidney Poitier, photographer Dewitt Jones and best-selling author Jean Chatzky. The 2008 Conference included the unveiling of the newly designed ISPA Web site and the release of the 2008 Global Consumer Study.
In 2009, the definition of spa was updated to the following: Spas are places devoted to overall well-being through a variety of professional services that encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit.
As the association continues to develop into a critical resource for education and networking, spa industry professionals worldwide are drawn to its knowledge. This relationship is mutually beneficial as that knowledge can only be found through the wisdom and insight of its members - there's not one without the other.
We welcome your questions, comments and feedback; feel free to contact ISPA at firstname.lastname@example.org and 1.888.651.4772.