Setting the standard

Quality assurance programs in development for the Canadian spa industry

Much action and debate in recent years has centred on the perceived lack of regulation and standards for the Canadian spa industry. In response, both Spas Relais santé in Quebec, and Leading Spas of Canada nationwide are among associations that have developed quality standards and implemented them on a volunteer basis.

This summer, the need for such regulation or standards was highlighted following the death of Chantal Lavigne, 35, on July 29, after an intense detoxification treatment at a spa near Drummondville, Quebec. Another woman was very ill following the same treatment. That weekend, the Canadian spa industry was put under the microscope, and Lucie Brousseau, president and CEO, Spas Relais santé, gave over 40 interviews. Her message remains the same: standards and regulations are needed, and the public needs to be smart when choosing a spa, to ensure they will be treated by a certified professional.

Brousseau detailed her association’s plan. The first step was to have a standard recognized in Quebec, and then after that, to set higher standards on a national level. “We are seeing progress,” she adds. “Today, everyone is talking wellness and well-being, on an everyday level. It’s great—our industry is here to stay.”

The SPA Standard (SPA BNQ 9700-040) was first published in December 2010 by the Bureau de normalisation du Québec, and was developed through collaboration with Spas Relais santé and Tourism Québec. This standard defines what a “spa” is, and aims to assure a level of quality in services, products, training, equipment, hygiene and safety.

Currently, Brousseau is working with the Standards Council of Canada towards a nationally-accepted standard for the spa

Canada-wide quality

Meanwhile, Leading Spas of Canada piloted a quality assurance program two years ago. Now, at the end of the initial two-year period, the association is reassessing the initial 40 spas that participated, from all across the country.

“It’s really an educational process,” says Diane Sparrow, president of Leading Spas of Canada and owner, Norwood Hotel, Inn at the Forks. “It’s not a rating system, but a way to ensure spas meet set quality levels for hygiene, safety, equipment cleanliness, procedures and staff certification.”

Sparrow suggests to standardize the industry, there are a number of steps to be done. For example, the educational program for therapists and aestheticians would need to be revisited. The quality and amount of training required for certification would need to be standardized across provinces.

“The province to province standardizing requirements are so big, every single step will have to be calculated,” Sparrow says. “It is very complicated, but we’ve made big inroads on the national level to get a program in place. Our feeling is a quality standard is wanted—but it must be industry-driven.”

Industry-driven quality

Though it may not be official regulation, it is important to note many in the industry do follow basic guidelines to ensure their spa maintains a reputation of excellence. One such guideline is employing only certified therapists and aestheticians. It allows the issuance of receipts to customers for insurance purposes. And in some cases, the industry itself is ensuring that properly trained professionals are responsible for spa treatments.

“We won’t sell to anyone who cannot produce the proper certifications,” says Stacey Johnson, president of Esthetics Plus. “That means a school or training certificate.”

In fact, Esthetics Plus provides training for the products it sells, to fill in the gaps left by aesthetics schools. Depending on the level of severity of what a customer is purchasing, that training can be mandatory. “Take, for example, medical skin peels,” Johnson explains. “The customer must first provide their certification, then take our training, before we’ll sell them the product.”

That being said, Johnson cautions against increased regulations for the industry in general; however, she is optimistic that today’s spa industry is much better off, in terms of training, hygiene and standards, than a decade ago.

“We’re definitely in a more knowledgeable place than we were 10 years ago, particularly in the areas of hygiene, expertise and training,” she says. “We just need to continue to be diligent, and work with the schools to promote excellence in their curricula.”

by Heather Ednie | Fall 2011