Why Good Spas Go Bad

massage-therapist-bad-attitude-of-therapsistWhat is it about some spas that make you want to return over and over again? Though it may be the unique “spirit” of the spa that attracts you, there are a few common elements that contribute to making a spa a success. Based on visits to hundreds of spas over the years, I’ve found that the following features contribute to whether a spa is a winner or one to avoid.

No matter how beautiful the spa, or how interesting the treatment menu, if the practitioners are subpar, it’s unlikely that the spa will ever really thrive. Hiring poorly trained and inexperienced massage therapists is one of the quickest ways to make a good spa go bad.

Most common signs of bad practitioners:
1. Pacing of treatment is too fast, making what should be a relaxing spa experience feel stressful and rushed. Though there are some massage styles that involve elements of fast paced strokes, in general, most massage should be done slowly and with intention.

2. A clumsy start to a treatment is a sure sign that what you are about to experience is not going to feel good. Beginning a treatment with a signature touch (slow, strong strokes or gentle rocking, aromatherapy, etc.), is a great way to put the client at ease and get things off to a good start.

3. Cold hands, cold rooms, cold treatment table or cold ingredients (lotion, scrub, oils) will ruin an otherwise enjoyable treatment. Warmth is important especially in winter, but is also important at other times of the year as well. If at any time you wish that you were warmer during your treatment experience the chances are good that you aren’t going to enjoy it as much as you could if you were warm.

Spa Environment
A beautiful, soothing spa environment helps to put clients at ease right from the beginning. There are certain elements that contribute to creating the perfect place to retreat, relax and rejuvenate. When a spa neglects these features, they’re headed down the road towards being a bad spa.

Limited selection of magazines
Though this might seem like a small detail, when the spa lounge has outdated or a poor selection of reading material, it makes it hard to feel that you can relax and linger in the spa lounge, defeating its purpose. Current, relevent magazines that the target spa clientele can relate too sets a welcoming tone for the spa as a whole.

Poor choices in spa refreshments
Having an appropriate selection of drinks and spa snacks is a key element in creating a comfortable environment. A spa is supposed to be relaxing and nourishing, so having only caffeinated teas available, or a offering stale or unappetizing spa snack shows a lack of hospitality that the client will notice.

Sensory Fail
Bad lighting, irritating music and a dangerous layout are a sure way to ruin a good spa. When lighting is too bright or dim in the spa lounge, treatment rooms or reception area, it creates an uncomfortable environment. Poorly thought out music choices can also create a tense or annoying background vibe. Spas that neglect safety mats around water features, or have hard to navigate steps in saunas or showers are not only risking law suits, but the chances are good that clients won’t feel safe or relaxed.

The Fifty Minute Massage
Some spas are still offering only 50 or 80 minute time options. Though some very experienced and skilled practitioners can manage a decent massage in 50 minutes, for the most part, the 50 minute massage is a mistake. Both the client and the practitioner usually end up feeling rushed and as if the experience was incomplete. When a spa only offers the option of 50 minute or 80 minute massages, it sets a vibe that they are more interested in rapid turnover and high profits than creating a high quality spa experience for guests.

Bad Products
Spa stores that don’t offer creative and interesting products and retail items are missing out in a number of ways. Sourcing local, organic and artisan products from their area is a great way to support and connect with the community and share the best of their region with visiting spa clientele, not too mention that a thoughtful product and retail store is a great way to generate revenue.



  1. Great article, very perceptive and good recommendations about how to avoid the corporte spa experience. Being the owner/operator of one of the earliest destination day spas with an emphasis on holistic aromathereapy treatments using quality products in beautiful serene atmospheres, and building a staff of caring professional practitioners doing at least 75 to 120 minute treaments. I am both surprised and disappointed in many of the spas I visit. There seems to be a lack of perception by management on what constitutes a true spa experience with an emphasis more on the bottom line than on the aspect of creating a haven for health and wellness.

    I hope your article will be recognized as a wale-up call for current and potential spa owners. There is no need for anymore half-thought-out spas with inferior services, mediocre products, and badly trained staff.

      • Hello, Heather~ You’re welcome! I have been following your blog for several years now, and always enjoy your articles.

        My spa closed in 2001 due to the owner of the property wanting to sell the quaint bungalow with large garden where my spa was located as the real estate market in Laguna Beach was beginninhg to skyrocket and at that time, I did not have the energy (my mom was very ill and other personal issues had come up) to re-create what I had done. Only two years before had re-located from the original Corona del Mar location where I had begun five years previously and had just gotten everything set up and was beginning to thrive so it was such a let-down in addition to the fact that I could not find a similar milieu tp re-locate again. I had also invested so much in time, effort, and money already, I decided just to stay in private practice. So, I continue to do therapeutic work on my clients from a small studio and woud enjoy giving you a treatment sometime when your are in the South Orange County area.

        I have accepted your Linkedin invitation so we are now connected and you can contact me at your conveniece at the contact info I have posted there. We can also keep informed with each other’s updates.

        Best wishes and keep up the wonderful work,


      • Hi Mary, I hope that you get a new spa up and running soon! You definitely have a great spa philosophy and would love to come and visit when you do. take care, Heather

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