Darpan Sanghvi may have you believe that spa parties are the next big thing in India. Of course you must take what he says with a pinch of salt for he just hosted one such party at L’Occitane, the luxury spa he opened in Mumbai less than two months ago.
Over cucumber and wasabi martinis, the guests snacked on sambal-spiced cottage cheese with spiked tartare on Chinese spoons, roasted corn and bell pepper phyllo rolls with cheddar queso and goat cheese and green garlic mousse in fenugreek tartlets. Nearly 35 women in the age group of 50-65 enjoyed spa treatments of their choice paid for by their host, who held the party in honour of a friend. Sanghvi claims the women had a great time, and his phone has not stopped ringing since with queries for similar events.
Sanghvi, who introduced French luxury brand L’Occitane to India two years ago at Devi Garh in Jaipur, insists that the response to his 8,000 sq. ft day spa in Lower Parel in Mumbai has surprised him. His next target: Delhi and Gurgaon.
Three months ago, another international spa brand Six Senses, which originated in Thailand, opened its doors to customers at its Greater Noida facility at Jaypee Greens Golf and Spa Resort. It has 90,000 sq. ft of space where you can pamper yourself with 147 treatments. Tracey Pool, director at Six Senses, is also elated at the consumer response to her spa that’s set for an official launch on 21 October. She claims the spa is very busy on weekends, with customers flocking to the facility from all across Delhi, 40km away.
Surprisingly, these luxury services are being launched at a time when the economy is slowing and various consumer confidence indices have indicated a decline in spending. Consumer confidence is considered a leading indicator of household spending on consumption and offers insights into the growth prospects of the economy.
Clearly, the business of refreshing and cleansing the body is booming. Darshan Mehta, chief executive of Reliance Brands, which has brought Steve Madden and Diesel to India, says he counted at least 25 spas in Manali alone, while on his way to a trek in the mountains two months ago. Although still minuscule compared with salons and gyms (an estimated Rs.10,000 crore industry), the spa business is growing at 25% to 30% a year.
To be sure, spas—homegrown and foreign—are not new to India but growth has recently gathered steam. Pool, an expert in the business for 20 years, having worked with spas across Asia, says the industry is growing globally on the back of increased demand. China took to spas wholeheartedly some years ago. Now it’s India’s turn.
Two years ago, this column observed that industries that lead you to invest in and transform your appearance would do well, especially those that ensure definitive rather than superficial change. That seems to be playing out as is evident in the growth of the spa industry.
For the merchants of body renewal, the modern lifestyle of urban India is ripe for commerce. Hectic lives, coupled with consumer awareness, are driving the business of healing and pampering. Luckily for spa companies, in India, grooming is no longer gender-led and appearance is a critical qualifier. Besides, spas promise peace of mind and body. So the experience is both sensory and spiritual. Needless to say, this helps in rationalizing the expense to your mind.
Pool does not agree that spas play on the insecurities people have regarding their bodies. “We are not selling skin whitening or weight loss. We are in the rejuvenation business,” she says. Some products do make people feel less confident and anxious about their bodies. “We don’t. We are not just about beauty but about holistic healing,” she explains.
But the proliferation of spas in India shows that apprehensions about the image that your body projects is no longer just a western phenomenon.
In his review of Bodies, the book written by British psychotherapist Susie Orbach in 2009, journalist and writer William Leith explains the writer’s point. “Capitalism works much better if we hate our bodies. If we’re anxious and needy, we are better consumers; if we’re anxious and needy when it comes to something as fundamental as our bodies, we are putty in the hands of marketeers and diet merchants.”
A spa may not be about dieting but it is definitely a lifestyle product which consumers also see as an escape of sorts. Or could it be just a medicinal bath that would be too messy to try out at home? Whatever it is, it is here to stay and thriving. And this is not the last time you will be hearing about spa parties. Get ready for wine tasting sessions and corporate parties at rejuvenation centres.
Shuchi Bansal is marketing and media editor with Mint. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org