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MAY 29, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 21

Spas: Are You Man Enough for a Manicure?

Illustration for TIME by Davy Liu.

The spa used to be a no-man's land, a fluffy, pink pleasure emporium where the only male in sight was the muscle-bound masseur who pummeled his female clientele into submission. But this is the 21st century, folks, and the old lines dividing guy-stuff and gal-stuff have been blurred. Your average bloke has acquired a taste for being sponged, scrubbed, rubbed and wrapped. Call him Spa Man. According to a recent global survey by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, 35% of spa customers are men.

But who is that masked man? According to spa managers, he is reasonably affluent, has a growing desire to take better care of himself and is man enough to enjoy a pedicure. "Men in the past had a tendency to treat themselves like machines, and the human body is just not meant to be treated that way," says Sharron Searles, training manager for Elemis Day Spa in Hong Kong. Elemis also runs Cathay Pacific's new day spa at Hong Kong International Airport--where the clientele tends to be overwhelmingly male. Here, the long-haul passenger can get a relaxing massage and "anti-jetlag treatment" before facing 15 hours of airborne tedium. Various therapies help travelers avoid problems with sleep, circulation and digestion. Searles says that as more men come to value healthy de-stressing--as opposed to a nice single malt and a fat cigar--the demand for male-friendly spas will increase. Cathay's decision to invest serious money--the carrier is shy about saying how much--in Asia's first airport spa means that the number crunchers are taking Spa Man seriously.

Spas: Are You Man Enough for a Manicure?
Your average bloke has acquired a taste for being sponged, scrubbed, rubbed and wrapped

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It isn't just day spas that are benefiting from this trend. Chiva Som International Health Resort in Hua Hin, Thailand, the oldest dedicated wellness retreat in Asia, has seen a substantial increase in male customers. "In the beginning our clientele was 10% male, and now it's running at about 40%," says Anna Keen, spa manager at Chiva Som. She attributes this to two factors: a change in the men and a change in the spas. "Men are becoming better educated about taking care of themselves," she says, "and the spas are moving away from being all flowery and pink."

While you may be imagining manly men getting rub-downs and sitting in steam baths, that old-fashioned stuff is just the tip of the well-trimmed toenail. The most popular treatments for men at Chiva Som are facials, foot massages, manicures and pedicures. Girlie stuff? Not anymore. "Once the chaps have the treatments they realize how much they benefit," Keen says. Unlike some spas, Chiva Som doesn't divide its offerings into male and female sections for fear that it would keep men from treatments listed on the women's side. For $320 a person per night, Spa Man and Woman can check in for a complete mind-and-body overhaul from Chiva Som's dieticians, doctors and therapists.

Michael Kemp, general manager of the Regent Resort Chiang Mai, says spa facilities are now crucial in drawing discerning guests. "The lie-on-the-beach holiday is not where it's at," he says. "People want to have an experience. And our new spa offers a very good experience." Kemp says men are shedding inhibitions about indulging their senses. "Taking treatments is really about relaxation and having some 'me' time; it's no longer seen as cosmetic. We had a guest the other day, a 60-year-old man, get his first reflexology foot massage, and he wondered why he'd waited so long." It just goes to show, it's never too late to evolve into Spa Man. To start your search for facilities near you, visit Spa Asia's website, Your toes will never be the same.

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