by Matt Alderton | December 16, 2011
"Amusement park" spas, cold spa treatments, and beauty coaches are just a few of the in-demand offerings that meeting and incentive professionals will encounter when planning the next spa meeting, according to SpaFinder, which this week released the results of its ninth annual "Spa Trend Report," forecasting the top global spa trends of 2012.

"Overall, we see two distinct themes emerging," says SpaFinder President Susie Ellis. "One is the industry innovating with diverse, new sensory experiences and treatments—from cold and 'vibration' therapies to new services for healthy feet. The second is how spas are reimagining and extending their connection to customers, moving beyond the sporadic visit to programs aimed at developing long-term relationships, such as coaching and online wellness gaming."

Based on analyses from industry experts, SpaFinder's "Top 10 Global Spa Trends for 2012" are:

1. Healthy Feet Treatments
The human foot contains 33 joints, 26 bones, and 126 muscles, ligaments, and nerves, according to SpaFinder, which says the average person spends four hours a day on their feet, a fact that's led to a national epidemic of foot problems like bunions, hammertoes, and arthritis. In response, SpaFinder says "spa-goers can now take care of their troubled tootsies with a variety of treatments and classes."

2. Cold and Ice Are Hot
Although spas have traditionally leaned to heat therapies with saunas, steam rooms, and treatments like hot stone massages, "the benefits of icy therapies—including better circulation and reduced inflammation of muscles and joints—are finally getting their due," according to SpaFinder, which says infrared saunas that direct radiant heat into the body without heating the air are becoming especially popular, along with more extreme cold and hot/cold-contrast treatments.

3. Wellness and Beauty Coaching
"Coaching is gathering steam at spas," according to SpaFinder, which says spas are increasingly helping people not only with isolated treatments, but also with ongoing lifestyle changes that lead to long-term health and wellness.

4. Online Wellness Gaming
Half a billion people worldwide play online games for at least an hour a day, SpaFinder says, adding that gaming's addictive features—points, challenges, rewards, and social interaction—are increasingly being utilized by spas to help their customers make healthy lifestyle changes stick.

5. Pairing Fine Dining and Spa-ing
Many hotels and resorts have both restaurants and spas. However, "the two weren't traditionally paired together as a package," according to SpaFinder, which says fine dining and spa-ing are being "aggressively paired, packaged, curated, marketed, and savored together as never before" in the form of creative "culinary-plus-spa" experiences.

6. Vibration, Sound, Music, Light, and Color Therapies
New scientific evidence has revealed the physical and emotional benefits of frequencies and vibrations and inspired "an explosion of approaches based on the idea that various systems in our bodies vibrate at different frequencies and disruptions can affect our health," according to SpaFinder, which says more spas are offering "blended, multi-sensory" experiences. They include new saunas, steam capsules, lounge chairs, massage tables, tubs, and experiential pods that weave light, color, sound, and music and rhythmic pulses together.

7. The Glam Factor
According to SpaFinder, the spa industry is "working overtime" to invent ways for people to "more quickly, more cheaply, and more often change up their looks." Offerings include "funky and flashy manicures" with Swarovski crystals and "creative hair flair" such as intricate braids, ornate feathers, ribbons, crystals, and colorful extensions.

8. Spa Evidence: Showing the Science Behind Spa
In 2012, "more hospitals than ever will incorporate—and more doctors will prescribe—spa and wellness approaches," SpaFinder predicts, citing a "growing trend toward holding alternative therapies up to scientific scrutiny."

9. Spas Become a Family Affair
Because more spa-goers are including children in their visits, the industry is "evolving to accommodate the under-18 set," SpaFinder says. Offerings include everything from kids-only spas to services focused on childhood obesity.

10. Spas Go for the "Wow"
"Gone are the days of interchangeable spas with the same beige, Zen look," SpaFinder says. "As seasoned spa-goers seek new experiences, spas are piling on the 'wow' factor to differentiate themselves from the crowd." Such "wows" include celebrity partnerships, futuristic designs, and unexpected amenities, as well as entirely new concepts like "amusement park" spas that offer tube slides, bubble baths, and themed saunas, steam baths, and swimming areas.

Concludes Ellis: "After four tough economic years that made experimentation challenging, we are seeing the industry once again pushing the envelope with exciting ideas, ever more valuable services, more fun, and quite serious wellness innovation."