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Raising the bar

September 30, 2011

Celebrated globally for devoted pampering and centuries-old traditional healing techniques, Thailand’s spa operators are now raising the bar on their Thainess and looking to prove the scientific merits of folk wisdom, says Andrew Jacka, President of the Thai Spa Association.

Many of the spa operators are becoming ‘more Thai’ by stylizing their menus with more cultural or indigenous elements, and researching family or region-specific traditions. They are looking at what grandmothers and great-grandmothers practised, but are also intent on providing treatments that have a scientific basis.

To these ends, they are consulting doctors of traditional medicine, traditional Thai doctors, university professors – and even using high-tech machines for evidence of real benefit. With its great diversity in spa services – ranging from destination, hotel and resort spas to medical and day spas – coupled with international industry accolades, Thailand is now firmly established as the spa capital of Asia.

The recent emphasis on evidence base treatments reflects a push to be even more exemplary. Mr Jacka believes it is a trend towards greater professionalizing of the industry. “These Thai operators recognize they are part of the health care industry and thus the world of science,” he says.


Over the past several years, the Thai government has invested in the development of Thai-style holistic health care, herbal products, a training curriculum on Thai traditional massage, a bachelor’s degree curriculum on Thai traditional medicine and the use of herbal products in public health service facilities. The Department for the Development of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine of Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health highlights the following aspects as being key elements of Thai Sappaya – Thai-style spas based on indigenous folk wisdom.

The use of essential oils extracted from native herbs, roots, flowers and plants
The practice of Buddhist meditation and Ruesri Dat Ton — sometimes referred to as the Contorted Hermit Thai yoga poses. An ancient form of Thai physical exercise, the technique combines stretching and the application of pressure to energy points with breathing techniques and meditation to enhance the flow of energy throughout the body.
Nutrition based on the Four Elements – Earth, Water, Wind, and Fire – in accordance with the principles of Thai traditional medicine. Much of the creativity, growth and development in Thailand’s spa sector to date has been driven by members of the Thai Spa Association, many of whom are pioneers in the industry and who have been voted ‘best’ in various categories through such competitions of merit as the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Spa Awards, Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards and the Asia Spa Awards.


Established in 2003, the Thai Spa Association is a non-profit organization consisting of 81 Thai and 19 international members that promotes and helps further develop the spa industry in Thailand. According to the association’s records, the total number of international spa visitors has steadily increased each year, from 3.3 million in 2002 to an estimated 4.7 million in 2010. Total revenue generated by the Thai spa sector in that same period is estimated to have grown four-fold to more than 13 billion baht in 2010.

Despite a constant turnover in the day spa landscape each year, new businesses continue to open, and the total number of spas is holding steady at around the 1,800 mark. The industry is expected to grow by 7-10 per cent in 2011, generating up to 14 billion baht in additional revenue. According to Thailand’s Department of Export Promotion (DEP), the spa industry has been steadily expanding at home and also branching further abroad as standards improve. Consultancy services that range from design and management of spas to staff training and recruiting currently represent much of the outgoing skills. The Department is seeing an increase in the number of Thai companies investing in, managing or selling franchise licenses for spas in other countries.

Although research and development is a budding field for Thailand’s spa industry, the government is urging its agencies to assist entrepreneurs towards improving their production technology and quality standards to a level that is competitive with international producers. The DEP is concentrating on increasing joint ventures between Thai and foreign producers to enable greater technology upgrading.


In the spirit of deepening industry professionalism, the Thai Spa Association is working to help strengthen Thailand’s market potential internationally. It has four priorities:

International positioning The variety of awards that the industry garners year after year boosts Thailand’s credibility in the global spa mainstream. But there remains a need to increase the numbers of outlets with certified standards that are internationally respected. Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health registers spa operators and then certifies those who apply (and pass) through its World Class Spa Standard process, which retains more local importance. 

Building on those standards to acquire international recognition, the Thai Spa Association has developed with the independent auditing firm SGS a Thai Spa Excellence Quality Standard. This is an internationally-designed audit and certification programme specifically for spas, which covers four areas:

Facilities and infrastructure (and technical aspects)
Spa operation control (including licensing and hygiene)
Sanitation and cleanliness
Personnel (certification, grooming, training, etc.)

The standard was developed over four months, commencing in July, launched to the media in September, and will be launched to the industry in October, and includes monitoring and the establishment of guidelines and measures for improving performance. For participating spas, an improvement plan will be proposed to help them reach the required standard, if they have failed to do so, or to improve their standards further if they have passed the audit. With the Thai Spa Association acting in an advisory role, Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports is spearheading the development of ASEAN Spa Standards. Aimed at making the spa establishments in the region highly competitive and on par with global standards, the certification process will be applied across the regional grouping by 2015. The initiative reflects a coordinated effort to raise the standards of services and facilities and enhance the individual competence and capabilities of personnel in the ASEAN spa industry.

Marketing Thai spas and spa products To further promote Thai spas as ‘destinations’ among a foreign clientele, the Thai Spa Association is encouraging more dialogue and closer cooperation between spa operators and travel agents as well as product suppliers and spa operators abroad. The association has recently organised site inspections and tours of spas for travel agents and product suppliers to promote a better understanding of spas and how they operate. Together with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Thai Spa Association has produced Thai Spa in Mind, a new spa directory for distribution within the foreign trade. 

It features every spa that belongs to at least one of the many spa associations operating in the country. The DEP is meanwhile producing a new video promoting the national spa industry. Mr Jacka sees significant but overlooked potential in linking with travel agents. However, he says the travel operators are looking for spas that promote their certifications, but finds many certified Thai spa owners are unaware of the importance of this.

As part of the promotions of the Thai Spa Quality Excellence Standard, TSPA will be actively working with the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations (FETTA) to encourage their members to work with spas that are certified under the Thai Spa Quality Excellent Standard. In the past few years, there has been a surge of spa-related Thai products, such as oils, scrubs, body lotions and shower gels, many of them aimed at export markets. The ASEAN countries, China, India, Russia and Europe are particular targets. It is an expanding sector, and one the Thai Spa Association believes has considerable growth potential. According to the Export Promotion Department, exports of cosmetics, soaps and skin care products in 2011 are expected to reach US$2.69 billion, up 25 per cent from last year. In the first seven months, Thailand shipped a total of $1.4 billion in products, up nearly 20 per cent year-on-year. Five destinations accounted for 53 per cent of total exports: Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Australia.

Industry education To complement its promoting of Thailand’s international positioning, and its products and services abroad, the Thai Spa Association organizes seminars to educate local operators and manufacturers. Topics are broad and wide ranging, across numerous relevant subjects including: intellectual property issues, design and packaging, international marketing and ensuring consistency of supply.
Going Green: Environmentally friendly initiatives The environmental element is continuing to influence the forward-thinking of Thailand’s spa industry. Six Senses and Chiva-Som lead the way with their participation in the Green Globe certification programme. Green Globe, has developed Sector Benchmarking Indicators (SBI) for spa operations


The push for more professionalism and stronger positioning helps to raise the visibility of Thai Spa products and services on the international stage. This in turn generates increased interest in and demand for the export of Thai spa products and services.

At the third Thailand’s Best Friends annual award ceremony in June 2011, a hundred distinguished trade partners, including people from service industries, were invited to receive a certificate of recognition. Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, specifically cited Thai spa products for their export potential.

The general outlook is indeed bright for the industry’s future as an important player in a global industry. “Thailand is still growing in terms of innovation,” Mr Jacka believes. It’s also still growing in uniqueness, he adds, citing the cave like, Rai-ra Spa @ Muang Samui Spa Resort, on Koh Samui and the hot tin stone massage at the Raintree Spa Phuket. “There is a level of genuine creativity in the service that continues to inspire.”

For more on Thai spas, please visit www.thaispaassociation.comor

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