- Written by Aija Rozenberga - University of Derby
We have become an open book for algorithms. Your smart mattress may know more about your health than your GP. If you have a smart kettle that talks to Alexa, it may as well chat to a hacker on the other side of the world. Digitalization is changing the way we do everything at unprecedented speeds across all households, organisations and businesses in the developed world. The spa industry is no exception.
Without a doubt, various innovations allow us to learn better,reach our goals faster,communicate across continents and make fewer mistakes. Official media channels constantly remind us about the benefits of innovations and symbiotic relationships with smart technologies which could take us beyond our wildest dreams. We are expected to merge with technology in the near future, apparently. However, challenges and threats of technological advancement are mostly discussed in scientific circles, behind closed doors, remaining a controversial topic. A growing body of scientific literature documents evidence of non-thermal cellular damage from non-ionizing wireless radiation used in telecommunications. Scientists are warning against growing health concerns related to, for example, 5G technologies needed to facilitate further innovations and the Internet of Things. Thousands of satellites are orbiting planet Earth already. Thousands more will be added to facilitate 5G. Permanent, prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields have various chemical effects including increased cancer risk, structural and functional changes to the human reproductive system, oxidative stress, and neurological disorders. Radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) negatively impacts serotonin and melatonin levels, leading to declining mental health. Studies have linked RF-EMF to the weakened blood-brain barrier, allowing harmful toxins to accumulate in the brain.
There are also talks about mental obesity. Due to technology advancements, information, like food, has become nearly unlimited in developed countries. We are struggling to maintain tech balance and become mentally obese. There are certainly many benefits of modern technologies, but it comes with a price tag attached. We are paying with our relationships with loved ones, health, time, physical movement, and connection to nature.
What does this mean for spa business?
The aim of technology in the spa is to solve problems or serve a particular purpose and can become a game changer for business. Technology removes accessibility issues, creates various unique revenue streams and improves the guest service journey. For example, smart, advanced LED technology linked with high-grade networking and sensor platform, are able to adapt to its environment automatically, based on user’s needs. Modern technology enables spa managers to drive and influence demand via various social media platforms and apps. Most importantly, it permits the gathering of very precise, insightful data about a target market and consumers which can be used for personalisation and to design programs for enhancement and prevention.
There have been discussions, that human manpower will be replaced by robotics to drive down the costs, due to the high level of competition in the markets. The booking systems are already computerised, spa reception may be operated by artificial intelligence in near future, but spa treatments will still be the domain of the humans with their compassion, emotional intelligence and therapeutic touch. Innovations in 3D facial recognition and artificial intelligence ability to track emotions may replace traditional customer satisfaction surveys.
It is anticipated that spas of the future will be longevity centres enabling customers to greatly enhance their life expectancy and quality. Scientific discoveries in gene editing, DIY genomics, epigenetics, and research in telomeres will drive the growth of the medical spas. However, the wellness industry is becoming increasingly exposed to tension between high-tech wellness innovations from Silicon Valley and the anti-tech philosophy.
What about spa consumers?
Will tech savvy spa consumers be on the front line when it comes to equipping themselves with (the) newest wearable technologies? Maybe, being a health-conscious crowd, they will shy away from unnecessary digital devices and will turn to nature, healing foods and energy medicine to resolve health issues?
One thing is definite: there isa growing inequality and divide in modern society. Certain elites areflying in private jets to far away destinations, expecting everything to be ready fast, fuelling the demand for an instant fix.Others, by necessity or choice, are going on camping trips locally and embracing “slow” movement: “farm-to-table” ethics, “slow food” and “slow” travel.The same can be observed when it comes to the use of technologies. Agrowing popularity in high-tech aesthetic procedures is signalling the strong, global anti-ageing trend, driven by baby boomers who refuse to grow old. However, there are also consumers who graciously embrace their age and are looking for facial reflexology rather than an instant facelift.
Some not only equip themselves with the newest devices: tiny jewellery that measures heart rate, clothing that adjusts the body temperature and smart glasses that promote sleep, but implant wearable technology in a form of chip card under their skin.At the same time, others are going on a digital detox, decluttering and using only strictly necessary technological devices due to associated health concern that comes with increased digitalization. Modern consumers are very knowledgeable and often have a D-I-Y attitude when it comes to personal wellness.US-based LOLI Beauty, launched in 2018, is already tapping into this trend and offers Blend-It-Yourself customisation using raw, food-grade ingredients. This gives their customers the tools and sustainably sourced ingredients to mix their own personalised skin care recipes at home.
The way forward?
Futuristic discussions about Humans 2.0, transhumanism and singularity may sound far-fetched, but looking at the current speed of change, this may become reality sooner than we anticipate. Visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk is already venturing into neurotechnology and founded Neuralink reported to be developing an implantable brain-computer interface. 
Digital technology is here to stay.Every single commercial sector will indeed experience an increasing disruption in the near future thanks to advancing technology. To what extent this will happen in the spa industry depends as much from many different factors globally as from the business strategy, target market and location of any particular spa. However, spa therapists and managers of the future may need specific knowledge and tools in order to minimize harm from potentially damaging radio frequency electromagnetic fields.
Moreover, many of us in the industry could adopt a holistic approach to technology and information intake as well by incorporating cognitive assessment, mindful consumption, and time for reflection to avoid mental obesity.
A few years ago Jeremy McCarthy, group director of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, in his Global Wellness Summit presentation concluded that technology is the greatest threat to human wellbeing but it is also the greatest hope for our future.Indeed, a careful consideration is required when introducing newest technologies in spa industry. Will artificial intelligence and virtual reality enhance spa client’s personal well-being or maybe hinder it?
Technology development and innovations are what defines us as humans. Right now, we are in a new era of innovation where technology is valued not just for the devices it produces, but for the experiences it makes possible. While it is important to embrace modernisation in the spa, it is equally important to safeguard and adequately value the precious, unique human touch of therapists in the workplace.