Once seen as a luxury, spa treatments are becoming normalized locally, say pundits, and Romania is home to a growing market of spa centers. BR talked to players in the field to hear their own spa stories, and what expansion plans they have in store.
The global spa industry grew 58 percent from 2007-2013, from USD 60 billion to USD 94 billion, with a 47 percent growth in spa locations, to reach 105,591 venues, according to the new Global Wellness Economy Monitor, realized by the non-profit organization SRI International and presented at the 2014 Global Spa & Wellness Summit. And Romania is no exception.
Described as a dynamic, challenging, diverse and niched business, the Romanian spa market has been on a permanent rising wave in recent years, being estimated by Eden Spa to stand at EUR 6.5 million. Following the trend of growing interest in wellbeing, both on the professional and the personal side of life, spa owners are looking to diversify their services and offerings even more. Today, Romania is home to a market of around 80 spas across the whole country, with more categories emerging and expanding. New projects are starting in the cities (day and city spas) and networks of day spas, projects in mountain resorts or at the seaside, in high-end hotels as well as hydrotherapy and treatment resorts (health spa, med spa, balneospa) and among some recreation complexes (areas of entertainment and sport, family leisure, etc.).
The summer debuted with a 4,000 sqm wellness center, Tisa Resort, opening at Baile Olanesti, near Ramnicu-Valcea, following an investment of EUR 5.5 million and said to be the biggest wellness center in the region. Construction work started in 2014, and the project was co-financed through the Regional Operational Program. The center offers a wide range of services, including swimming pools, jacuzzis, outdoor children’s pools, slides, saunas, steam bath, salt room, playgrounds, herbal spa, gym, bars and terraces and a varied menu of spa treatments.
“We strongly believe that we have to learn from the balance with which nature follows its course and to benefit from what it has to offer us. As the season’s cycles are annually regenerating the environment, so does the human body activate its capacities to regenerate. Following this philosophy, the signature Tisa spa programs have their origins in Oltenia’s cyclical rhythms,” said Ioana Rebenciuc, operational director of the TISA group.
The Tisa Spa programs have at their base Romanian traditional procedures said to be inspired by nature and located in the present. The management team alongside the consultancy firm chose to work mostly with renowned local brands in creating the therapy menu, which features Plantavorel, Pell Amar and Farmec. The treatment collection by TISA, Nature’s Pharmacy, is based on extracts from Romanian plants such as melissa, basil, sage and geranium that can be found on the menu in the form of plant baths and compresses.
Attention was also given to naming the rituals and keeping them traditional: the Queen Maria Ritual is made of violet extract, the queen’s signature perfume, The Infinity Column (inspired the famous Constantin Brancusi sculpture in Targu Jiu) is a therapy treatment for the back with sapropelic mud. There are also other rituals such as “Pasarea Maiastra” (another inspiration from a Brancusi piece) and “Tinerete fara Batranete” (Youth Without Old Age).
“It’s the first time that a Romanian spa relies on its own resources in order to create a menu. Alongside the famous Gerovital, we’ve chosen to work with other Romanian brands and laboratories in the hope that the public will appreciate those lines of products, which most of the time have far superior qualities to other lines on the international market. I want to celebrate Brancusi’s, Queen Maria’s and the long line of Romanian healers’ legacies that have kept beautification traditions, wellbeing and therapy alive,” added Oana Manole, from Spa d’Or Consulting.
The spa is dedicated both to families and friends, doubling as a place to relax and have fun, depending on one’s mood and feelings.
Other major spa centers in the country include Cocor Spa Neptun Olimp, Ana Aslan Health Spa Eforie Nord, Ana Hotels Sport Wellness Spa Brasov, Vitarium Spa Poiana Brasov (located in the Alpin Hotel), Atasagon Detox&Wellbeing Centre Brasov, Wellness & Spa Perla Baile 1 Mai Hotel Complex, Septimia Resort Hotel Wellness & Spa Odorheiu Secuiesc, Palace Hotel & Resort Venus, Danubius Health Spa Resort Bradet Sovata and Wellness & Spa Nevis Hotel Oradea.
The year started strongly for the spa industry, with the launch of Therme Bucharest, a 30,000 sqm wellness, relaxation and entertainment center based on thermal waters, some 20 kilometers north of Bucharest, in Balotesti. Therme’s owners, Austrian group A-Heat, said this is the biggest complex of its kind in Europe. The center’s main features are the eight heated pools, where the water has a constant temperature of 33 degrees Celsius. Therme is not just a thermal center, but also hosts the largest botanical garden in Romania with some 800,000 plants. The construction of the project began in 2013, with the initial investment amounting to EUR 29.6 million, and the final investment projected to reach EUR 50 million once all elements are complete.
When in Bucharest…
Eden Spa opened its first location in 2005, becoming the first day spa in the capital. The pioneering wish was strong for Liliana Paraipan in her decision to start this business, but also because this kind of business is connected with an understanding of human beings, which made it attractive to her at that time. “I began from scratch in a completely new field and I learned from mistakes. From the very beginning, I knew that the main concept of Eden Spa should focus on relaxation and inner peace and it has stayed like this over the years. I have not changed the concept and I think this was one contribution to its success,” said Paraipan, owner of Eden Spa, spa consultant & trainer at spabusiness.ro.
As first mover, Paraipan concentrated in the first year of Eden Spa on the professional training of the therapists and the education of the clientele about spa services. “Both the personnel and the clientele have to learn to understand the difference between the services in a beauty center on the first floor of the building and a spa. This is the reason all our employees do training both abroad and in Romania, some of them having vast experience at international spas,” Paraipan told ZF magazine a few years ago.
Upon opening, the team was formed of ten people, but it grew over the years. The initial financial investment was over EUR 200,000.
Today Eden Spa serves approximately 1,000 clients monthly, both men and women, typically aged around 28-42, people working in corporations with an interest in healthy living and self-development. Of all the therapies offered by Eden Spa, the hot stone massage is one of the best-sellers. The holistic healing massage, a signature massage created by the firm’s own therapists, is also popular. “We offer the human touch and the human connection people are looking for when visiting a spa. We are not only a facility, we offer good personalized and customized services and experiences. Many clients book a treatment when they suffer from pains or feel very tired. In the last year, we saw that many clients are trying to make a routine by booking the spa therapies as a preventive measure against diseases or burnout,” said Paraipan.
In 2015, Eden Spa continued to register increases for its tenth year of operation, reaching almost EUR 400,000, and the firm expects to increase its revenue by 8-10 percent in 2016.
The business continued its expansion in Bucharest by opening a second location in 2011 in Grand Hotel Continental, with an investment of EUR 80,000. The 400 sqm dedicated to health, relaxation and wellbeing consists of: four treatment rooms, a Swedish sauna, maxi jacuzzi, gym and spa lounge
Eden Spa continued its expansion by acquiring the management of other spas, such as The Spa Hilton Sibiu. “We have a plan of expansion through our own locations, but also franchising contracts. We are present in the rest of the country in different formulas. In Iasi, we have a management contract with Hotel Unirea and the Unirea Spa by Eden Spa offers similar services and guest experience to those in Bucharest. In Valcea county, we offer consultancy and management services for Forest Retreat & Spa and customers can find our massages and therapies there as well. We target the main cities and also tourist areas for expansion and are looking for different kinds of partnerships for this process,” said Paraipan.
Orhideea Health & Spa is the biggest spa center in Bucharest. Opened in 2011, the center was designed to complete the facilities of Orhideea Gardens. With an initial investment of EUR 3 million, the spa has 3,000 sqm and offers an extended menu of antistress, relaxation, energizing, getting back into shape therapies. It also offers a “fire and ice” area with hammams and saunas, a pool, complex fitness area and kinetotherapy room. One of the original concepts is the signature treatment – the hammam ritual. Moreover, the saline treatment room is a key point of the spa, built with modern technology.
Orhideea Health & Spa entered, according to director Roxana Visan, an immature market. At that time, the idea of a spa was just starting to take shape, the concept of wellbeing just emerging on the market, the harmonization between the body-soul-mind and aromatherapy just establishing its basis. “We wanted to introduce on our market a place that enchants all the senses by the constant presence of spa aromas, therapeutic treatments, calming music and the variation of colors,” added Visan.
Moreover, the firm came with a new spa concept: structured on three different levels, in the same place, the client was able to find a pool, sauna, fitness, aerobics, spinning, areas of relaxation and spa therapy rooms. Since 2013, Orhideea Heath & Spa has been run by the Foundation for Health Orhideea Spa, placing more accent on the idea of health and prevention, as well as adapting to a healthy lifestyle, based on active movement, nutrition and relaxation, a need born out of the routine and agitation of the 21st century. “Monthly, we have over 5,000 clients, their profile consisting of active, busy people, with a dynamic professional life, who spend more than 8-10 hours on a chair at their desk at work and who feel the need to change their lifestyle. It is also someone who feels the need to run or to swim, who has back pains and wants a massage, a person that suffers from a postural medical condition and feels the need to treat it. Last year, we had around 50,000 clients and in 2016 we expect a rise of 25 percent,” added the Orhideea Spa representative.
Eden Spa is not the only one looking to expand. Belle Maison Spa, a boutique situated in the capital’s center, is interested in opening another spa in north Bucharest, looking to target corporate employees. Launched also in 2011, Belle Maison Spa required an initial investment of EUR 50,000 that doubled in the next two years, and was located in Otopeni. Almost three years ago the spa moved to the center of the city and positions itself as an oasis of relaxation, serenity and good vibes. The number of clients varies, according to the weather and the holidays, with the number increasing by as much as 30-40 percent in colder weather. “The loyal clientele is curious and wants to try different types of procedures and treatments, but in general, the most sought after are the therapies that treat the body and the mind in a holistic manner. Also, during the summer, women naturally prefer treatments that will enhance their bodies’ attributes and take better care of their skin,” said Angela Coman, owner of Belle Maison Spa.
Moreover, this year, the boutique spa launched a new summer concept: “Vacation in the City”, with most of the treatments designed to get clients thinking about their holidays and relaxation. “Whether it’s about a trip to Provence, India or Paris, a therapy and a visit to the spa has to be a trip for the senses. One of our foreign clients called us ‘The Relaxation Station’ and that also makes us happy,” added Coman.
Belle Maison Spa offers five relaxation rooms and one for couples, with the number of monthly clients reaching around the 400 mark. The number of new customers is high, and spa representatives are working on creating a good retention program and rate. At the boutique spa, the focus is on a team engaged in trying to see every client leaving the premises smiling and feeling happy and relaxed. Coman says she invested time and energy looking for the right people for the team. “I believe that the secret of any type of business lies in the team of specialists you have next to you and at Belle Maison Spa we’ve selected not only the best professionals, but we’ve put the basis for a real family. People that know how to attend to clients with a broad and sincere smile upon their faces, people that are fulfilled when they have the confirmation they’ve succeeded in making the difference in someone’s daily routine and that are constantly trying to improve themselves. For us, it’s really important to have a special kind of team that becomes part of the story we want to build,” concluded Coman. For 2016, she estimates a turnover of EUR 130,000, up by 15-20 percent compared to 2015.
Sparring partners: competition hots up
On a market growing from year to year with stronger and more determined competition, spa owners need to be in check all the time and make sure their positioning and services are what clients are really looking for. “I am glad that finally, the spa market is beginning to become a competitive one. Many of the existing spa centers are consultancy and management clients I’ve offered these services to over the years. Centers like The Spa Hilton Sibiu and Orhideea Health Spa are two of the main spas which I’ve managed or operated and which are now important players on the spa market in Romania,” said Paraipan. Moreover, with the market increasing year by year, from the supply and demand point of view, more and more people living in Bucharest have visited a spa in the last year or two, “which is a good sign for the business. More and more people appreciate good quality and good customer service. The best services will be successful in the long run,” concluded Paraipan.
For Visan the competition is, first of all, with herself. “I want to be better every day and offer better and more qualitative services. In order to be able to remain in clients’ hearts and minds you need to be the best, you have to always come up with something new and better. Here lies the competition, and it doesn’t relate to anyone else, but to your own business. The challenge is to feel the client’s need and to satisfy it before they feel it. Apart from that, every spa has its own pluses, and clients, when they make their choice, know very well the reasons for making that decision,” said Visan.
Apart from that, with more and more spa centers and diversified solutions and the arrival of international brands, Visan says that the market is maturing little by little and the consumer is starting to become more and more educated. “The spa is no longer a luxury service, it has become a need. One doesn’t go the spa because it’s in fashion, but because one is the direct beneficiary of the result the therapy has on the body. This is the direction that I like and I believe we are moving towards it,” said the Orhideea Spa owner.
This is a sign of maturity that Coman is hoping for as well, believing that educating the target is one of the most important aspects of her job at the moment. “People need to realize that going to the spa is a necessary activity both for your body and mind. We need to start thinking also about ourselves, our health and wellbeing, and go out and prevent instead of simply reacting to a problem that has already manifested itself,” concluded the Belle Maison Spa owner.