“Spas from throughout the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain have backed the move and a regional ISPA committee has been formed to help create awareness of the spa and wellness sector,” said Daniella Russell, Director, Health & Leisure division, MKM Group which owns and operates the luxury Cleopatra’s Spa brand, and the region’s first ever ISPA board representative.
“The spas involved in the committee are both stand-alone facilities and those within hotels. All believe awareness of spas, their treatments and benefits should be raised throughout the region and that the Middle East is now sufficiently well provided with facilities to be able to move into the international wellness tourism sector.”
The ISPA Middle East regional committee, for which regulatory moves are already underway, is also aimed at raising the regional standards of spas and their services.
“ISPA is currently working on a specific definition of what constitutes a spa and we hope to persuade Middle East company regulating authorities to adopt this. Too often the word is used by small salons, which have limited facilities and untrained personnel. We need to address this issue.
“We will also look at establishing minimum training and qualification standards for spa personnel.”
The wellness tourism market is a major pull, particularly for Europe and the Far East.
“There is huge demand for it, particularly within the meetings, incentive, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) sector,” said Russell. “With increased global awareness of the Middle East’s facilities and standards assurances, the region should be able to increase its share of this rapidly developing segment.”
As a first step, the ISPA Middle East regional committee has commissioned market research among the region’s spa operators and the public.
“The aim is to begin to benchmark operational standards within the industry and to use the information to co-operate with authorities to define job categories within the spa sector.
“We also want to establish the general public’s perception of spas and what they want from them,” said Russell. “We want to grow the entire industry throughout the Middle East and to ensure we are seen, heard and understood. We need to differentiate ourselves from salons and ensure spas are seen in the wider context of healthy living.”
Spas wishing to join the initiative have to enrol with ISPA. “Once we have sufficient ISPA members in the region, we could submit a case for a Middle East Chapter in the future,” added Russell.
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