May 10, 2010

Spa-ced out

Stem cells, gold dust, caviar. It would appear that the oil massage as we knew it is passé, and exotic spas are big business.

As more and more Indians with disposable incomes discover the pleasures of being pampered with facials and massages, the spa industry in the country is growing by leaps and bounds (see box below) and spa entrepreneurs are innovating fast to keep the excitement going with new and exotic treatments.

Myrah, a luxury destination day spa in Mumbai’s upmarket Juhu area, has launched ‘stem cell therapy’, an 85-minute treatment priced Rs 5,500. “It’s considered a breakthrough in anti-ageing,” says Nisha Jhaveri, Myrah’s owner. The frozen stem cells used at Myrah are imported from Spain and contain Tropoelastin, a chemical that experts believe has anti-ageing properties. While the ‘stem cell therapy’ is Myrah’s USP, Jhaveri has other treatments, including exotic ones that use powder extracted from 1.5 carat diamonds, gold and caviar.

‘Organic’ is the USP of Aparna Raghavan’s White Mantra Spa, spread across 7,000 sq ft in Bangalore’s Rustam Bagh. White Mantra claims to use products that are not only natural, but also mostly grown within the spa premises. “Every ingredient — from the mix of herbs to the hand-pounded powders, the essential oils, the fresh, organically grown fruits and flowers — is sourced from the spa centre,” says Raghavan. White Mantra Spa specialises in creating customised packages based on individual need and body type. Some of the more exotic treatments it offers are an almond-chocolate body exfoliation, strawberry-oatmeal skin treatment, and massages using macadamia nuts and coconut milk.

Speaking of new therapies, Shen Reflexology, a wellness centre in Mumbai’s Bandra locality, has just brought in Moxibustion, an ancient Chinese therapy that aims to relieve stress around the eye area. The 30-minute treatment uses special ‘Moxa sticks’ (cigar-like, infused with herbs) that are warmed and gently massaged around the eye area and help to reduce dark circles.

Juhu in Mumbai also has the brand new Caressa Spa which offers a special ‘life spa capsule’, a spaceship-like chamber in which you lie down and are engulfed in a gush of temperature-controlled steam infused with aromatic herbs and essential oils.

It’s not quite the same, but New Delhi’s Radisson Hotel too has a special ‘aqua suite’ inside which it offers a ‘body detox’ treatment using micronised seaweed. Later, you are cocooned in a warm water blanket that gives you a feeling of complete weightlessness. At R The Spa, as the Radisson’s spa is called, the therapy is often combined with facials, body massages and body wraps such as the green coffee wrap, introduced this summer.

Anupam Dasgupta, general manager of Ananda in the Himalayas, an hour’s drive from Dehradun, well understands the need to offer unique, yet effective therapies. “That’s why 70-80 per cent of guests here,” he says, “are repeat customers.” Ananda recently introduced an exclusive treatment, a 45-minute Tibetan massage using hot Himalayan salt poultices infused with cardamom and lavender, and a blend of five types of organic oils.

Not just spa owners, spa vendors too are providing increasingly exotic stuff. Eminence Organics, a Hungarian brand of natural skincare products, has come out with a ‘chili facial’ cream that contains extracts of paprika, which heats the skin naturally, thus facilitating the opening of pores and removal of dead skin.

“Every hotel wants to give its customers a wholesome experience and that’s why they are opening spas,” explains Sanjeev Mansotra, chairman and MD, Core Wellness. The company runs Sohum Spa and Wellness Sanctuary, which has day spa centres in Baroda, Pune, Chennai and pilgrimage centres such as Shirdi and Katra, and also plans to offer certified spa courses.

Despite all these innovative new experiences being offered at spas within the country, those who can afford it — and many increasingly can — go abroad for exotic treatments at dedicated spa destinations. Dr Purnima Mhatre, who runs Gorgeous, a chain of cosmetology clinics in Mumbai, says: “Indulging in exotic treatments is a status symbol today.”

Megha Kawale, model/DJ/musician, takes regular ‘spa vacations’ and has just returned from a Polynesian spa in New Zealand. It was Nisha Jhaveri’s travels to spas all over the world that prompted her to open Myrah. In India, hotels such as Westin have developed properties in places like Sohna and Pune as quick spa getaways.

Arun Thapar, who anchors and produces the show Spectacular Spas for Men on NDTV Good Times, says, “Men, too, know the importance of a manicure or a fruit facial and are unapologetic about enjoying a spa treatment.”

Take Mohamed Morani, CEO of Cineyug, a Mumbai-based entertainment company, and his wife Lucky, who pack in a two-hour session at a spa every week getting back massages, hair treatments, foot reflexology, body wraps, etc. “Spa treatments are an intrinsic part of our lives; it’s no more a luxury, it’s a necessity,” he says. This year, they hope to go to Chiva-Som in Thailand, a luxury health resort which offers treatments such as marine mud wraps, volcanic mud facials and spiced coffee body glow, where ground coffee — which reduces cellulite, it is believed — is used to cleanse the body.

If you think that’s exotic, then some of the therapies at spas across the world would make your stomach turn — ‘snake venom’ facials to freeze wrinkles, ‘bird dropping’ massages for supple skin, snakes (non-venomous) slithering over you in a ‘body massage’, and a ‘hay stack bath’ where you’re buried under moist hay (heated to 40° C) for 20 minutes to open the pores and detoxify the body!

Clearly, spas have come a long way from the ‘water therapy’ they began as. Most people in India do not even realise that what most spas offer is ‘pampering’, without any ‘therapeutic’ benefits. “With pampering, one just feels good; but when it’s therapeutic, it works at a deeper level of health,” explains Dr Issac Mathai, medical director, Soukya International Holistic Health Centre, Bangalore. India also lacks regulations and standards, he adds, and even Ayurveda, India’s ancient medical system, tends to be widely misused.

These are important concerns, and the spa industry would do well to heed them if it is to continue to grow in India.

THE PRICE OF PLEASURE

Pegged as a significant part of the Rs 11,000 crore wellness services sector, the spa industry, says a FICCI-E&Y report of 2009, is growing at 35 per cent per annum. The report further says that there are 2,300 spas in the country now, and by 2014 ,700 new ones will be added, comprising both homegrown and international brands which will open in India to meet the demand. What’s more, by 2012, nearly three lakh spa therapists will be required in India.

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