Last week, almost 250 spa professionals gathered in the Caucasus thermal springs region of Russia for the 4th annual Spa & Wellness International Congress, or SWIC.
Organised by the Spa & Wellness International Council, headed by Elena Bogacheva, the congress presents a wide variety of speakers and topics for the Russian and Russian-speaking spa world.
The event served as the test for the soon-to-open Green Resort Hotel & Spa, perched on the hill above the river in Kislovodsk, one of four thermal cities in this part of Russia. The hotel is a well-designed and modern space that features a large spa and pool complex on the ground floor, overlooking a rose garden.
This year, 56 speakers made presentations over three days, covering topics including staff management, wellness tourism, psychology in spas and marketing.
According to the most recent Global Wellness Institute statistics, Russia ranks 8th in the world in the number of spas, with more than 3,000 locations, mostly in large cities, and is also 4th on the list of thermal spring areas, with over 800 establishments.
Because of visa and language issues, international tourism to Russia is flat, but domestic tourism is strong, with between 33-36 million annual travellers. According to the Russian Union of Travel Industry, domestic tourism is growing between 8 and 10 per cent a year.
The market is very interested in wellness tourism, and the Russian Ministry of Health reports that only 30 per cent of Russians have expressed satisfaction with foreign wellness visits, feeling that their home market provides a better experience.
The Russian Federation has a Strategy of Development of Tourism in place through the year 2020, in which they hope to improve the quality and competitiveness of their tourism products for both domestic and international visitors, indicating a growing opportunity in this region for spas and wellness-related businesses.
Some highlights from the myriad conference lectures included a presentation by Marion Schneider of Germany’s Toskana Therme on the economic effect of a therme, with her three current facilities providing a strong foundation for growth and tourism in their villages.
Gennady Bartukhin, president of the National Bath Federation, shared his organization's plans for a National Bath Museum in Moscow, and Gayane Suriakhina, director of La Salute Fitness Club & Spa, gave a detailed presentation on the best metrics to create revenue in a club spa.
Neurobiologist Dr Claudia Aguirre shared her findings on skin and beauty synergies with the brain, and local marketing guru Roman Tarasenko gave an SRO gallery ideas and examples for current successful marketing strategies.
A small expo with global and local brand and equipment sponsors including Thalgo, Comfort Zone, Sundari and Iyashi Dome was available for attendees to browse the latest in offerings from these companies, while demonstrations and spa treatments were available in the spa for further experience and participation throughout the conference.
The fourth day of the congress offered tours of local sanatoriums and some other cultural activities, and the evening culminated with the Perfect Spa Awards and Gala Dinner, which honoured local Russian spas across a variety of categories.