A commercialized approach to pampering and wellness may work for some spas, but the emerging Sparga Wellness Spa sticks to the basics

Like many people these days, Ruth Gautier has explored alternative healing for everything from headaches to back pains. So when she wanted to boost her immune system and lower stress levels a few years ago, she constantly turned to Ayurveda, a medical system that originated in India where she was working at the time.

“I’ve been a Food and Beverage Corporate Director for a number of hotels in different countries, and it’s a job that sounds very glamorous. But what it really gives you is a lot of pain in the back,” laughs Gautier, a wellness advocate and now the proud owner of Sparga Wellness Spa along Sunset Boulevard. “Here in the Philippines, spas are more into relaxation and pampering. But when I discovered the kind of spa environment they had in India, where it’s not just leisure-focused but more into alternative Dhealing, I wanted to bring it here. We need more places where people can get quality massages, as well as help them with disease prevention.”

The result is a quaint healing-focused day spa that opened July 2010 and has been quietly gaining popularity through its patrons’ word-of-mouth recommendation. Set amidst an old Spanish home formerly owned by Dr. Mina Gabor, Sparga offers a menu of services that range from the usual Shiatsu, Swedish and Combination massages to its more “holistic approach to wellness” that include Modern Hilot, Reiki, and Ventossa with Abyanga Indian massage.

From A to Zed

With the number of spas mushrooming not just in Manila but also around the Philippines, it can become quite the challenge to set up another amidst a sea of competition. Even more so if it isn’t your area of expertise. Shares Gautier: “I’ve always believed in alternative medicine—in prevention, living a healthier lifestyle, and medicinal plants. But when I put up Sparga, I had just come from a year spent working in Maldives and I did not know so much about the spa business here.”

While it was an arena that she was often exposed to as a result of a 20-year F&B career spent working from Africa and Moscow to India and the Seychelles, Gautier admits to knowing next to nothing about the spa and wellness business. “I was prepared to study out of the country, but I learned that there was an intensive CIBTAC (Confederation of International Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology) program here organized by the European Union so I said, enroll me in,” Gautier shares. “I learned that therapy is a different line of business from what I was used to. You really have to like it; you have to be passionate about it and you have to know the A to Zed—anatomy, physiology…what doctors learned in two semesters, we had to learn in a few months. That’s how intensive the training was.”

‘A Very Different Market’

While the more commercial spas often follow a streamlined approach to healing and pampering, Gautier’s is more personalized and individual-centric. Having been in the hospitality business, she understands the importance of making her clients feel at home. “One should take the time and effort to converse and know the client’s quirks and needs,” shares Gautier.

The owner’s personalized approach in entertaining clients, coupled with the spa’s homey ambience, succeeds in bringing back guests, which a recent survey revealed to be comprised of a majority of Japanese repeat customers. “Surprisingly, we have a very different market. Most of the people coming here are actually of the older generation—mostly above 30—and we get a lot of foreigners…diplomats from the DFA,” Gautier shares. “I think what lures our first-time customers back is because they know we understand their needs, especially when it comes to body, mental and emotional pains.”

Gautier also lends her culinary expertise in Sparga’s indoor house garden restaurant, where she remains very hands-on. The menu consists primarily of healthy Indian vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, as well as an assortment of refreshing drinks that Gautier has dubbed “Live Life Drinks.” “We have talbos ng kamote, lemongrass, and avocado pandan that’s unique to us.”

An Industry Dilemma

With its modest yet high-quality list of services, Sparga’s prospects are looking good. However, it isn’t without its share of challenges; the most pressing of which is the one felt by fellow peers in the industry. “The Department of Health is implementing that all massage therapists in spas be licensed with the DOH within three years,” shares Gautier, a member of the Philippine Wellness Association (PHILWELL).

Most massage therapists have acquired the TESDA (Technical Skills Development Authority) National Certificate Level (NC-2), which is globally recognized. However, a DOH license entails a more comprehensive examination process that requires knowledge on topics that touch on anatomy, physiology, micro-pathology, and legal background of massage therapy. “Most of the massage therapists in the country are not necessarily good in the theoretical aspects of the craft because what they possess are skills that were passed on from one generation to the next,” says Gautier. “A lot of gifted therapists are having difficulty with these subjects because most of them are only high school graduates. I think we will see the effect of this new law next year, and I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be good for the business.”

More than just another administration trying to implement something new, Gautier asserts that the way to address the state of wellness in the country is really through education. “It starts with the administration. Right now, we are under a system that is very reactive. We have a long way to go in terms of wellness. I think the way to go is really by educating the Filipino about the importance of healthy living, and we should start with the younger generation.”

Sparga Wellness Spa is located at #1 Sta. Escolastica St. cor. Roxas Blvd., Pasay City. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday from 12 noon to 11 p.m. Call (2) 836-9143 to book an appointment or e-mail sparga-manila@live.com.

Published on March 14, 2011 in the Business Agenda section of the Manila Bulletin.