Anna Bjurstam on the latest trends in luxury SPAs and beauty products

Grand Hotel Nordic, SPA

Anna Bjurstam is a co-founder of Raison D’Etre, Swedish based consultancy which createsand manages luxury spas around the world.

More luxury hotels are developing co-branded fitness centres with famous trainers or brands. Given your extensive experience, what do you think about this concept? And to what extent luxury fitness centres within hotels can become concepts beyond just mentioning the brand of the equipment.

 Fitness in hotels is extremely underdeveloped today. In most cases it ends with placing the equipment in the facilities and opening the doors. Many city hotels operates clubs, some do it well, but most attract their membership not because of the offering, but the hotel brand and location.

The challenge for hotels is to invest in the right people, systems and education to develop their fitness offering, as it is costly and takes time. We have seen the challenge for hotels when it comes to spa, where it is about building a whole team and not a one-man-band, as it then becomes very subjective. Both the spa and fitness industries are very subjective industries, where, for example, one spa person in charge of a hotel chain spa loves natural products and the next one hired is an advocate for chemical products, and that completely changes the spa strategy.

 The same with fitness and it therefore makes sense to bring in outside help with a proven track record may it be a brand or a B2B consultant.

 Which has been the most sophisticated organic product based treatment you created? Why?

I think that we have given it all at our Grand Hôtel Nordic Spa, by Raison d’Etre in Stockholm, where we have a Nordic concept and we have developed our own product brand with hand picked organic ingredients from the Nordic countries, which means that we have to book the framers crops for next season and sometimes have to make adjustments to the product due to farmers availability of herbs and flowers. The products are so pure and potent, that they speak for themselves. We have then put them to use in three 2 hour treatments, for example Arctic Detox, which uses the above products to greatly heighten the result, with a variety of techniques using lymphatic, connective tissue, cupping, warm stone bead bags and various other techniques. Together with proper food and advice, the result has proven to be profound.

What do you think is, nowadays, the key competitive advantage for a successful SPA brand 

Authenticy and quality. The spa brands that are and do what they say they do, and do this at a very high quality, are the successful ones. Today, this is still not implemented to the degree we would have hoped for, for example massage – the number one treatment in any spa – is rarely quality controlled or even trained(!). Product companies do not train in massage, and it is normally the product companies that conduct all the treatment training there is.  

        Luxury hotel chains have created their own SPA concepts and dedicated teams. Do you regard this as competition or a challenge for SPA operators?

 It depends on how you look at it. It is definitely a competitive advantage for the hotel chains, but the implementation is not always that successful, and it then instead becomes a disadvantage. We see that brands are introduced everywhere, but the authenticity and quality does not follow. This is not true for all, and those who do introduce an authentic spa brand, and delivers these with great quality are indeed successful. Hats off to for example Andrew Gibson and Mandarin Oriental, who has truly succeeded in all of the above.

How can consumers rate or evaluate the quality of SPA products, especially since nowadays there is a growing confusion between organic, bio, natural and cosmetic. What are the ingredients SPA product manufacturers should avoid placing in their products and why?

It is indeed difficult, this is the case that “the more you know, the less you know you know”. Natural and organic is not the same, although a selected few are both natural and organic. Then there is the labeling where it is written “natural ingredients, natural, ecological” etc. where you are free to write that even if you only have 1% of natural ingredients.

To have a list with you, for example on your phone, with ingredients to avoid, for example


- mineral oil, paraffin, petrolatum

- SLS or sodium laureth sulfate

- Acrylamide

- Propylene glycol

- Phenol carbolic acid

- Dioxane

- Toulene

These are all ingredients that you find in many of the product brands today, for example SLS Found in over 90% of personal care products and they break down the skin’s moisture barrier, potentially leading to dry skin with premature aging. And because they easily penetrate your skin, they can allow other chemicals easy access. Others are cancerogenic, linked to organ problems etc.  

More and more diseases are linked to the chemical cocktail we nowadays carry in our body, and there is no reason to increase that cocktail with so many great more natural, safe yet still very active product brands there are out there today. 

What are the latest trends for SPAs at leisure luxury hotels? Maldives, Bali, Seychelles, Caribbean

Local treatments, outdoor treatments, more wellness-oriented programs, natural products and more and more result oriented alternative therapy coupled with other offerings in the hotel such as food & beverage.

When creating a SPA treatment or a SPA menu, for instance for a SPA in India versus a SPA in theMiddle East, which are the key elements you take into consideration? – skin type, weather conditions, pollution, genetics etc

When choosing products, it is very much dependent on weather, humidity, skin type, and genetics, together with what the market research shows us. There is no one product that fits world wide, and this is why we have chosen to be independent of any product brand and choose freely among the many brands available.

In India, for example, there is such a long tradition of sesame oil, which is used instead of more modern product brands (with great results!) and the new product brands therefore had a greater challenge then for example Middle East, which is very brand savvy.

When it comes to developing treatments, that as well as depending on the culture, tradition, target market and each country’s healing history, in our spa at Grand Hôtel in Stockholm we have developed a authentic Nordic spa experience, whereas for Taj hotels when creating the Jiva brand, we worked with Ayurvedic doctors’s and chose to work with only Indian treatments. Then again, for Atlantis in Dubai it was more a world wide experiential aquatic theme. We work with a number of strategies, ranging from the more traditional market analysis, to brainstorming, meditating and thinking completely out of the box, creating the perfect fit and further something unique for that exact spa.

Thermal waters and muds are more and more used at SPAs worldwide. What are the main differences between treatments based on thermal waters and treatments based on muds?

They have similar properties, their traits are derived from the earth. Whereas thermal water is identified as a hot water with composition rich in salts, iodine and gases, muds are product of natural decomposition of multitudes of plants under special conditions. They work in different ways and are often used in a combination, with great success. The water is good for the respiratory system, skin conditions and the muds strengthens the immune system, improves circulations, and relieves pain.

What projects are you currently working on? Which are their common features?

We are working with a number of exciting projects, for example Baccarat Spa in Rabat, Morocco, Away spa for W in Verbier, 2 stand alone 3000sqm day spa and clubs in Riyadh, an Auriga spa in Singapore and another 10 something projects. They all have their different traits, ranging from crystals, moon phases, Nordic avant garde, seasonal to European concepts.

The common features are the quality in which the staff is trained. We devote 4 weeks of pre opening training, while also having our Operations Manager on site to support and opening the spa. Thi si about double compared with our competitors, and of course train in massage with the aim of growing people. First we grow the actual staff delivering the experience, and these can then in turn enhance the lives of the guest.

Which is your number one every day motivation which drives your passion for wellness ?

The ability that I have by doing my part to enhance peoples lives, simply to grow people. That gives me the absolute greatest fulfillment in life, when I see a person grow either physically, mentally, emotionally and/or spirituality. This is what spas can do, it enhances people’s lives, and there is no one right science, each person is treated differently depending on their needs and wants and the results are astounding.

For me personally, to meditate every day is the basis of my wellness, and then try to eat healthy and work out at least 3-5 days a week and couple that with emotional wellness through children, spouse and friends. Spas has taught me to live a more balanced life.