As one of many success stories for British spas in recent years, the Spas Directory, the UKå‘s å‘home grownå’ website, has now gone international, following its rise to premier search facility for British spas over the last two years.
The project began in the early 1990s when a number of like-minded individuals with interests in spa tourism and spa heritage got together and formed the Spas Research Fellowship (SRF). The idea of a non-profit making body to provide an umbrella for scholarly activities related to spas and health resorts was seen as an important and timely development. A programme of activities was developed that included publishing, conferences and study tours and the SRF became instrumental in focusing attention on what was then an industry that needed a revitalisation therapy.
As the industry started to respond to growing consumer concern and responsibility for personal health and well being it was apparent that information routes were required to bring the consumer into closer touch with industry developments. The SRF, with its wealth of accumulated historic and modern spa data, was well positioned to bridge that gap. The task was to convey to the consumer, in a readily accessible form, information on spas and health resorts that would simplify the problem of locating the right resort for the person concerned, thereby initiating the greater use of spas by the public.
The Internet was the ideal medium for developing a search facility. Early in 2000 a questionnaire was sent to spas and health resorts probing the type of search facility that they would consider appropriate. In addition a pilot search facility web site created in conjunction with the University of Sussex. From this research and trial a clear brief could be formulated for a sophisticated web based facility.
In May 2000, at the Harrogate SRF Conference, The Spas Directory web site was launched, albeit still in pilot format. With a large handful of entries, some expensive search engine software and a team of dedicated enthusiasts, The Spas Directory went on line. Later that month the pilot was replaced with the real thing, in all its glory. “This represented the largest single investment that we had made in the history of the SRF and it could have cost us everything.” says Dr Bruce Osborne, chairman of the SRF. “We had many anxious weeks as we waited for the hoped for industry support and consumer take up. August 2000 was the turning point, the industry was supporting us and our site hits topped 100,000 for the month. We piled in new entries and our site traffic was on the increase. So were the enquiries that the resorts were starting to receive via The Spas Directory.”
Such growth brought its own problems, as every successful spa operator will know. One result was the rapid appointment of a customer contact executive Zelanie Cooper to join the dedicated team, who were by now concentrating on tuning the Directory operating procedures. In retrospect it can be seen that the year 2000 was a turning point for the industry. UK Spas had been in decline for many years and by the Millennium it was apparent that a new type of modern spa was taking over from the old fashioned notion of the “water cure establishment”. The Spas Directory was just one of numerous initiatives that were taken at the time and the combined effect was to re-establish UK spas on the world map.
As The Spas Directory continued to grow, both in usage and in industry participation it became apparent that the SRF had a pearl of great price. The industry quickly realised the value of enhancing their entries with pictures and logos and the SRF introduced flick-flacks, sequential pictures to accommodate the demand for visual imagery. “The Spas Directory has to be entertaining to the user as well as informative,” says Bruce Osborne. “To hold people’s attention they have to be drawn into the wonderment of spas. The culture and ethos of the spa is something special and the Directory has to encapsulate it.” Other innovations that were introduced included the “Water for Health” scheme whereby entries are flashed with a special logo and a consultancy service is available to encourage the use of natural source waters in spas. More recently the SRF has joined forces with BISA to promote the 5 Waves accreditation scheme. Entries qualifying carry the BISA symbol, thereby guiding the consumer into what quality standards can be expected at the resort.
Two years later the SRF looks back and sees The Spas Directory as an adventure that it embarked on, to perfect the science of bringing together service provider and user. It has not been plain sailing; on one occasion demand usage peaked and the server computer collapsed exhausted, within hours an alternative server was on line. Today consumers can readily search for a spa or health resort that best fits their need and just about every establishment in the UK is represented. Consumer use has reached previously undreamt of levels and the industry is enjoying a massive number of enquiries being channelled through direct contact or via their own web sites linked from The Spas Directory. The Directory is unique and having become the leading United Kingdom search facility it prompted the SRF to consider its potential on a world stage.
During the autumn of 2002 a number of subtle background changes were made to the software and eventually to the user search facilities to set the scene for launching The Spas Directory international. Joining forces with a number of publishers of spa guides, a substantial database was then added to the existing UK based Directory and now The Spas Directory can truly claim to be a worldwide facility, helping the world to become a healthier and more integrated place. Such a story would not have been possible without the continuing support of the industry as well as the consumers who now see us as integral with their aspirations of a healthy lifestyle. “Recently we have launched Spa Gazers, an email based news facility that enables us to provide an ever-expanding service to the consumers as well as those in the industry who have supported us.” says Bruce Osborne, as the adventure continues…..