It is hard to believe that, despite the incredible leaps and bounds in technology, immersive spas are still something of a novelty as far as experiences go. Though not for a lack of interest from hopeful guests, however, with over 1.6bn views on TikTok from waterfalls to thunder and lightning the immersive experience offers the guest the opportunity to relax and promote well-being like never before. Propelling guests into multisensory experiences made up of light, sounds and smells perfected for guest well-being and treatments, it is no wonder that the demand for immersive spas is steadily increasing. Imagine a tranquil morning of yoga at the beach or a massage in a forest, and it seems inevitable, as technology – along with hotels and spas – continue to adapt and innovate.

The road to immersive spas has been a long one though, as the industry continuously shaped itself to meet the well-being needs and desires of its patrons, originating as a place of rest and relaxation for Roman soldiers before its slow evolution over the centuries to the luxury we recognise now. “In the last century, spa, and especially thermal baths, were mainly focused on treating physical illness and now I believe that it’s more focused on emotional recovery,” explains Andrea Quadrio Curzio, CEO and founder of QC Terme spa and resorts. In the light of the pandemic the industry has shifted back to its roots to focus on health and relaxation. “After the pandemic, where moments of relaxation were few and far between, the ability to relax in such a manner is more desired than ever. Touch and connection being essential elements of this industry, it suffered greatly during the pandemic,” adds Anne Scott, general manager at One&Only Cape Town. The spa industry, Jess Sanchez agrees, has become “more of a lifestyle, offering a range of treatments and services that focus on promoting self-care, wellness, and holistic health.” As spa director at St Regis, Sanchez asserts that the demand and popularity of this evolution comes as a response to the increase in social media awareness on the importance of health and wellbeing. And immersive wellness experiences offering a potential answer to this demand.

Frontiers of reflection

An immersive spa is more than just your standard treatment package or influencer photo opportunity, and it comes in many shapes and sizes. From experience rooms offering different landscapes and weather, sounds baths and meditation, all the way to VR experiences such as Relax VR, and even hyperbaric Oxygen therapy and cryotherapy machines. For example, The Lowry Hotel in Manchester, UK, has recently updated their spa treatments to offer a cryotherapy chamber, meditation pod, flotation tank (sensory deprivation) and a VR experience so guests can transport themselves to a new environment while accompanied by uniquely crafted pure essential-oil blends.

At One&Only Cape Town in South Africa, the hotel is also going beyond basic treatments: “Merely offering a facial, while always appreciated, is no longer sufficient. Guests now seek deeper experiences and connections,” says Scott. “In response, we have embraced new techniques such as sound baths and sound meditation, which allow us to intertwine different experiences and provide our guests with a more holistic approach to relaxation.” A sound bath – a full-body meditative experience where guests are bathed in relaxing sound waves – is all part of One&Only’s immersive focus, which incorporates multisensory experiences that “encompass the mind, body and soul”, as Scott puts it.

Curzio agrees, which is no surprise if you have seen the TikTok videos making the rounds of QC Termemilano’s Cinema pool. “Our purpose is to immerse our guests in a pleasant environment that is made of beauty and wonder that guest can discover,” he explains. “There should be a rhythm in the experience, and that’s why we provide so many facilities because it’s needed to disconnect and immerse, and to keep the guest engaged in this discovery.” Offering on average 30 different facilities in each of QC Terme’s spa centres, from the Water and Salt room, the Cinema pool to Monte Tabor relax – an enchanted world of aromatic and visual suggestions of multisensory treatments – the choice is up to the guest. “All of us feel different,” Curzio continues, “and maybe sometimes we need to breather better and that’s why we’d go to a salt room or we need to detoxify and that’s why we choose a sauna or a steam bath, or if we need to relax we prefer the whirlpool, and if we prefer to disconnect we lay down in a Japanese bath with underwater music. It’s up to us to decide.”

At St Regis, the hotel spa prioritises personalisation for their guest as well, transporting them to a carefully crafted experience: “We want to encourage a sense of capturing a moment, embracing the natural elements of our spa, takes the guest out of everyday life, and encourage them to languish in a moment from a truly extraordinary history,” says Sanchez. At St Regis Spas, “every guest is given a journey of choice where they can enjoy the spa on their own terms, select product textures and aromas based on their own preferences and enjoy the experience of the spa precisely as they like”. In surroundings that indulge the mind, body and spirit, guests can select a treatment from the Caroline Collection, Wellness Collection, Body, Massage, or Facials, all featuring products from the world’s bestknown spa and beauty brands, including Sothy’s, Omorovicza, and Intraceuticals. One treatment that exemplifies Caroline Astor’s lavishness – mother of the hotel founder John Jacob Astor IV and the inspiration behind many of St Regis’ cherished rituals – is the 24K Gold Wrap exclusive to The St. Regis Bal Harbour Spa, which consists of “a 90-minute bespoke journey designed to relax and reconnect the mind and body while leaving the skin hydrated and luminous”.

With experiences specially curated for its guests, such as its Mountain Tonic Massage, the African Journey massage and the Essence of Cape Town, One&Only takes the inspiration of its surrounding seriously when crafting its treatment offering. “In doing so, we allow our guests to feel a part of something bigger than themselves; a connection with One&Only Spa but with nature too,” she explains. “One of our most captivating experiences is Nature’s Resonance, which offers a multilayered journey that progressively builds upon each level. It begins with our Sound experience and gradually evolves into a comprehensive Sound, Face & Body encounter.” The immersive nature awakens the senses and leads the guest to a state of deep meditation through sound, touch and aroma, adds Scott.

The pathway to zen

The appeal of immersive spa is without a doubt clear, and it is more than likely to play a key role in the evolution of the spa and wellness industry. However, incorporating such an offering across the spa and wellness sector is not without its challenges. “I certainly think immersive spa therapies and experiences are the future of the industry,” asserts Scott. “The industry is working to elevate themselves and to deliver at a higher lever – from unique wet facilities to extraordinary spa technicians.” But incorporating these changes presents several challenges.

“My biggest challenge with my team is consistency in delivering technical expertise across the board from therapist A to therapist Z,” explains Sanchez, “As guests become more health-conscious, they are likely to seek out spa experiences that are tailored to their specific needs and preferences.” Scott and Curzio agree on the importance of personalisation and the challenges it presents for immersive spa experiences. “The challenge is to always be in tune with the desire and needs of the customer, the guest,” Curzio adds. “Recognising that each individual is unique, we believe no two treatments should be the same. By tailoring the specific needs and preferences of our guests, we can create a truly bespoke journey that surpasses expectations and leaves a lasting impression,” agrees Scott.

With innovation such as virtual reality, multisensory experiences and wearables, Sanchez believes that the spa experience will enhance despite these challenges. “In my opinion, with the rapid evolution of technology and awareness, the industry is likely to continue growing and evolving as we see an increasing emphasis on longer life expectancy, health, wellness and relaxation.” While still long way off, as the demand for immersive experiences continues to grow alongside technological advancement, spa and wellness is set to reach all new heights of rest and relaxation.