01 MAY 2018: It’s been a long love affair. Visiting spas has been an integral part of my life for almost 30 years. My first introduction to “massage” was not with a girlfriend or at a spa but in an office where I worked part-time for a cheque approval agency that required me to wear a headset. One day a co-worker and friend offered to rub my neck and shoulders when I complained about being very sore. Of course I said yes, and a massage addict then spa addict was born!

Decades later, I have been fortunate enough to visit spas in more than 75 countries on six continents. Getting naked on a massage table and being massaged has been my modus operandi. Mud, clay, fish oil, seaweed, chocolate, orange peels, hot stones, shells and many more items have been kneaded and placed on this body. I’ve been pounded, buffed, hosed, pummelled, massaged and pricked. I’ve even had an Egyptian therapist say “I love you” and “please take her to Canada” while on the massage table.

I am surprised even today of all the different styles, techniques and treatments and how varied the therapist’s training is depending on what country they are in. For me Thai therapists are still the best when it comes to their strength, agility and knowledge.

MY FAVOURITES

Many people ask me which spa and treatment are my favourites. For me it depends on the situation.

I don’t have it often but if I’m in the mood to just chill and need to surrender my body into the warm and skilled hands of a therapist it can be a simple aromatherapy massage – preferably four-handed. Two therapists in perfect sync massaging my body with warm soothing oils is my concept of heavenly bliss. Now if they aren’t in sync and the therapists are gossiping about their boyfriends (as I experienced at a spa in Tunisia) it seemed I was sent to that other place!

If I’m in more of a mood to find out what’s wrong with me (and there is a lot) then a favourite treatment is a deep tissue or reflexology treatment. Even though it can be painful as the therapist unfurls the knots a deep tissue massage is necessary. One of the most powerful and effective treatments in assessing what’s wrong with my body is a reflexology treatment. I find it amazing a trained reflexologist knows if you have anything from a bladder infection to shoulder pain just by feeling and manipulating the feet and toes.

WHERE ARE THE BEST SPAS?

What are the spa hotspots? Thailand, Bali, Arizona, California, Mexico, Caribbean, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Czech Republic are on most lists. Spas in the Gulf Region (Dubai, Muscat and Doha) and in Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Eastern Europe and Central America are becoming increasingly popular with spa enthusiasts. Africa has seen a proliferation of spa resorts in recent years especially in South Africa, Kenya, Botswana and Namibia.

Canada is emerging as a spa destination in the eyes of foreign travellers. Destination Canada however needs to increase its efforts to promote the diverse spa product available. There is everything from fabulous urban hotel spas to wilderness resort spas in oceanside and forest settings.

SPA EVOLUTION

Spas are a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the biggest growth sectors in the travel industry.

People love to combine lying on a massage table while incorporating other elements – nature, adventure, culinary and cultural activities.

Spas are continually raising the bar in how luxurious they are but also the range of treatments they offer. Swedish massages and mani-pedis won’t cut it now at most spas. Spa menus have expanded to include a full range of aesthetic, cosmetic, medical and body treatments. Many spas now have medical doctors and specialists on staff.

Spas have evolved the past ten years. When I first started visiting spas decades ago (especially in Europe) it seemed like I was in a hospital.

It was non-smiling personnel with an emphasis on medical and therapeutic care. Not much thought was given to the aesthetic aspects – furnishings, wall colours for treatment rooms and relaxation lounges. I remember going to a spa in Poland years ago where I was put against a wall and a powerful hose sprayed water at me from 15 feet away. I felt I was lined up for a firing squad!

Thankfully those days are long gone (I think!) and most European spas have now added more aesthetically pleasing spa elements. They have always had some of the best therapists and treatments but needed help on making it an overall sensory pleasing experience. Colour, decor and furnishings can have a huge affect on a person’s mood and stress level when visiting a spa. No need for that sterile hospital green look anymore thank you.

In recent years, North American spas have placed more emphasis on health and therapeutic benefits like they do in Asia and Europe. For too long spas here were seen as for the rich only or for pampering on special days like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries or birthdays. Today people are visiting spas to relax, soothe aching bodies, or for a chance to bond with loved ones or friends.

Spa and wellness getaways are a goldmine for travel agents and tour operators alike, although I see so few take advantage of this by developing packages. You don’t need a special occasion to visit a spa. Everyone is feeling stressed and overworked these days. Why not suggest a getaway? The spa industry also needs to do a better job connecting with travel partners, offering commissions and putting together packages.

Perhaps a spa retreat is the answer to getting spa and travel pros together in a brainstorming therapy session.

While they figure it out I’m going to continue my addictive spa ways.

Bring on the hands – four please!

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Chris Ryall

An industry insider with strong, outspoken opinions that readers enjoy, whether they agree, or take issue with his point of view.

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