In order to rate every spa in the country, from hotel spas to spa resorts, in a fair and consistent way, the Good Spa Guide has devised guidelines based on the spa's promises and your expectations. Does the spa live up to them, and if not, why not? This means that you can be confident that a "good" spa is not necessarily a very expensive spa, and an affordable spa is not necessarily a bad one.
The following guidelines are intended to be a kind of checklist of what you should expect from a spa, and what you should not.
All types of spas should have a relaxed and positive atmosphere, and be pleasing to the senses - the spa should look good, smell good, and it should be peaceful and comfortable. Today, wellness tends to be the focus in the spa industry.
However much your spa visit costs, you should expect a very high standard of cleanliness at a spa. If this means you see the odd mop and bucket whilst you're gliding from pool to the hammam, so be it.
Friendliness, courtesy and sensitivity
Staff should be polite, friendly and attentive. They should be professional at all times, and focused on you and your spa experience. You should never experience any snottiness or snobbery from people working at the spa, nor should you ever feel intimidated. It is the job of a spa to make you feel relaxed - friendliness and courtesy is where this starts.
Of course you don't want overfriendliness either. You're (probably!) not going on a day spa to make friends and influence people. Staff at a spa should be sensitive to your mood and pick up on whether and how much you want to talk. This includes asking you if you're happy and comfortable during your spa treatment.
Information and communication
You should have your booking confirmed in writing, including information on any cancellation fees, details of how to get there and the time to arrive, and information on what is included in your treatment or package.
You can tell a good spa by how easy they make your spa break when you're there. A good spa will have signage to direct you to and from facilities, and instructions on how to use them, if needed.
A good spa should also keep you informed of anything that is going on while you're there. This includes, for example, telling you when the pool might be closed for cleaning, and whether the sauna, steam room and hot tub is broken.
Good communication makes for a more comfortable, more enjoyable spa experience. In a good spa, your therapist will explain the stages of your treatment, what the health benefits are, and ask important questions, such as whether or not you are allergic to anything. This way there'll be no surprises, and you will be able to fully relax.
Standard of treatments and facilities
Charging less for a spa treatment is not an excuse to give you a bad one. You should expect your massage therapist to be skilled at performing the given treatment. Your therapist should also be informative and intuitive enough to ensure that you relax into your chosen therapy.
If we've awarded a spa a full five bubbles in our Good Spa Guide review, this doesn't mean you should expect a gold-plated rooftop swimming pool! You should expect the standard of facility to live up to what the spa promises, and what you have therefore been led to expect. If the spa sells itself as "affordable", don't expect the facilities to be lined in Italian marble, but do expect the pool to be perfectly clean. You should always expect the spa facilities to be finished, working, clean and appropriate for what they are used for.
Availability of water by spa facilities, and advice to drink plenty of it after treatments, are indicators of a good spa. If you've been in a hot sauna and don't have enough fluid, you could pass out. Almost every body treatment will get your lymphatic system going and this will accelerate how quickly your body loses fluid, too.
Attention to detail
This isn't about expensive flourishes and freebies. It's about whether the spa has thought about the little things that make the difference to your visit. If you see plenty of spare fluffy towels and handy toiletries in the changing room, up-to-date magazines and fresh drinks in the relaxation room, and helpful hooks for your gowns by the hot tub and thermal spa areas, you can tell the spa has put some thought into making your spa experience easy and enjoyable.
Value for money
Whether you paid a lot or a little, do you feel you're getting your money's worth? You should. If you don't, tell them.
A good spa should let you know what products they use, and why, but you should not expect any kind of "sell". Your massage therapist should tell you what products they have used during your treatment. And if you really loved that cream they used, you'll probably be happy to buy it.
It is normal to tip at a spa if you felt your massage therapist did a good job. Most spa-goers tip between 10 and 15 per cent. But you should not be expected or pressured to tip; your therapist shouldn't linger around you as you're coming round from your pampering hot stone massage.