Modern spa business is a fast growing industry everywhere in the world including facilities, consultancy, education, media, events, retail and much more. Spas provide a wide range of health services and therefore act as sanctuaries for overall well- being

Historically natural spring water was the central element of various treatments. The tradition of using thermal water (hot spring water) was widespread in Greek and Roman society, and later found its way to many other European countries: Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Great Britain. The places known for their healing water quickly developed into resorts offering additional accommodation, food and leisure to travellers coming to “take the waters”. The curative water helped against many health problems, such as poor digestion, muscle and joints pain, and insomnia. To get well again, people had to drink the water and bathe in it. The healing period lasted for several weeks. Socialising was always included as an important part of the experience.

In the 18 and 19th centuries, sea water was thought to be curative and people started to travel to the seaside. Bathing in the sea water was first considered a terrifying activity, which was strictly supervised by doctors, but it quickly developed into a modern habit for the upper class. Little fishermen villages in Great Britain, Germany, France but also in Estonia and Latvia became popular seaside resorts attracting travellers with sea water, beaches, fresh air and sunshine. All these elements had a curative character. Soon, however, having a long holiday and spending time outside on the beach was not only done on doctor's request; it became a status symbol, an activity all members of the upper class had to pursue. 

Pěą„rnu beach, Estonia

Bathing facilities started in resorts offering heated sea water or thermal baths, hydro- and balneotherapy - all based on natural remedies such as salt, mud, water, herbs. Over time these establishments have become complex centres - spas with different variations of services. There are spas for everyone: day spas, medical spas, destination spas, wellness spas, nature spas, mobile spas and many other types of spas. Despite the changes spas have still retained their basic curative character. Providing alternative therapies to improve general health and prevent illnesses, spas act as mediators between traditional medical institutions and beauty and fitness centres.

In contrast to the historical spas, modern spas also offer services related to mental health, fighting stress, fatigue and burn out that can cause serious illnesses. Personalised consultations on nutrition and physical training helping to develop a healthy personal lifestyle are gaining popularity.

Spa and wellness merge in holistic services targeted to body, mind and soul. That holistic approach takes into consideration more than one aspect of our overall well- being. We are talking about holistic services contributing to the improvement of our physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social wellness.

Reiu river, Estonia

There are many ways in which spas can improve our health. Relaxing in saunas and Jacuzzis; swimming and bathing in swimming pools; enjoying quiet relaxing rooms and sound therapy; learning to master your body taking yoga lessons; joining breathing classes and having full relaxation during aroma massage; taking a refreshing Nordic walk; practicing tai chi and meditation; experiencing floating or Kneipp therapy – the list of spa services is endless. Be aware of your actual needs and chose the spa accordingly.

All our senses are activated and correspond to sound, light, taste, aroma and touch. Do not underestimate the importance of spa design: the elements of water, plants, stones, candles, smell are created for your full relaxation and well- being. Take time to notice and enjoy the spa experience fully!

Destination spa provides all- included services such as accommodation, food, spa treatments, personal consultation and coaching, group trainings, outdoor activities and leisure. Location usually plays an important role in service design (canoeing, golf, tennis, mountain climbing, hiking, snorkelling, fishing), it can be even the deciding factor for choosing this particular spa (a resort in coastal area, thermal springs natural area, mountains, forest, lake, island, city). Historically destination spas were located inresort towns close to thermal springs providing curative treatments and relaxation.

Some destination spas have developed from retreats or camps that were organised in remote areas for group trainings. The main purpose of joining the group is the theme (such as fasting, yoga, meditation, life coaching, emotional healing, anti aging). 

Destination spas can also be described as successors of sanatoria that were hospital like spa facilities offering professional medical care, accommodation, food and social activities in 20th century Eastern Europe.

Nowadays destination spas are popular places to go for holidays, to take time off and improve the overall health. Destination spas promote healthy lifestyle and focus on prevention rather than treating illnesses. Variations of alternative and complementary therapies, beauty care as well as wellness services are provided in destination spas. The services are often promoted as packages attracting guests with special offers for national holidays, festive events and seasons.

Guests are encouraged to enjoy the beautiful landscape; to practice outdoor sports and recreational activities according to their hobbies and interests; to learn about local history and culture.

Example: Chiva Som in Thailand, voted ‘The World’s Best Destination Spa’ for the third time in the Condé Nast Traveller magazine (UK edition) Readers’ Travel Awards 2016.

Medical spa is offering traditional medical procedures performed by professional medical staff. Although medical spas have similarities with hospitals and clinics, they are still different because of combining diagnostics and medical treatments with alternative and complementary medicine such as hydrotherapy, kinesiotherapy, thermotherapy, cryotherapy, aromatherapy, balneotherapy and many more. The medical staff guarantees the quality of the procedures but also makes sure that the choice of treatments are meeting the needs of the spa guest. Before receiving any treatment a spa guest will have a medical appointment that allows to create a personal treatment programme. Spa guests are invited to get treatments at least for 3- 5 days to get good results. Accommodation is usually offered by the spa, the special diet is decided according to the medical condition of the guest.

The medical spas have similarities to sanatoria that were successful in Eastern Europe in 20th century. In those days spa treatment programme lasted three- four weeks and was almost fully covered by  public health insurance. Located in coastal areas and resorts, sanatoria used seawater and -mud, pure salty sea air and sun for healing purposes (resort therapy using local favourable climate conditions for healing; thalassotherapy using seawater, sea salt and algae, sea air for healing purposes). A destination or a day spa can also provide medical treatements.

The medical spas lost most of their popularity but are now fortunately gaining it back again. The use of thermal water for healing purposes is gaining interest as well as naturotherapy.

Example: Lanserhof Tegernsee Spa, World's Best Medical Spa 2016

Day spas focus on providing spa, wellness and beauty services without offering accommodation. Day spa can be independent business or connected to health clubs, hotels, or department stores. Many beauty salons have been expanded and turned into day spas. Day spa is an popular place to spend an hour or more for relaxation and pampering. The spa usually provides a big variety of spa treatments, beauty and wellness services but also pool, gym and sauna facilities; healthy food; personal consultation and retail.

Many day spas are lifestyle oriented participating actively in healthy lifestyle promotion. Day spas often offer membership; special offers and packages for the members. Day spas can target the services to certain age groups, organise workshops and theme events; focus on niche interest groups with special needs. Popular topics for personal consultancy are weight management; anti- ageing; good sleep; heart health; spiritual wellness; epigenetics and many more.

Example: Gaia Retreat and Spa voted as World's Best Day Spa 2016

Wellness spas find the focus on prevention and improvement of overall wellbeing of their guests. The wellness services are designed following holistic approach: to balance body, mind and soul.

Wellness spas in urban areas have less possibility to link to the environment than spas in resorts or other natural environments. In those spas the spirit of place influences the design of the services (zen gardens, Nordic walk, tai chi on the beach, meditation corners). Wellness spas usually promote healthy lifestyle through healthy nutrition, life coaching, weight and stress management workshops, yoga and meditation classes, personal trainers and coaches.

Wellness services include combinations of alternative and complementary therapies and relaxation but also active recreational activities and learning experiences.

Wellness spas guarantee high standards for services and offer personal approach and private space for the guests, silence and peace for ultimate relaxation and recovery.

Example: Six Senses Duoro Valley, listed as one of the best wellness spas in Europe