December 3, 2023

I.H.T. Special Report: Business of Green: Spa Treatments by the Dead Sea

Cleopatra may have partly misunderstood the science. Whatever the qualities of the mud, the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 400 meters, or 1,300 feet, below sea level, has more than the usual amount of ozone in the air above it, providing  protection for sunbathers against skin-aging ultraviolet rays.

Today, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the hot springs of Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea’s western shore, have become the basis for a thriving spa-based tourism industry.

But many of the spas in the region are becoming concerned about the impact of their operations on an already-fragile environment. Such spas are strengthening efforts to lighten their environmental footprints by putting an emphasis on water conservation, on recycling treatment oils and muds and by producing a full range of treatments in-house.

“Water is and has always been an issue in Israel in that it is a country located in the middle of the desert,” said Guy Nadler, director of Akasha Holistic Wellbeing, a spa that opened last month in Jerusalem and that overlooks the old city walls. “Supply is never guaranteed and all Israelis understand this fundamental reality.”

The spa, which is far from the coast, consciously focuses on treatments that are not water-based and uses muds and locally made oils. “People don’t come for water treatments in Jerusalem as they would do when going to the sea, so we in fact use very little water,” Mr. Nadler said, adding that he purposely chose not to install a Jacuzzi and to avoid hydro-treatments.

“We’ve made every effort to use local, natural ingredients where possible,” Mr. Nadler said, “whether it be through the use of organic massage tools such as basalt stones, or the products used, which include organic sesame oils and creams made of organic sage, jojoba, aloe vera, natural minerals and rosemary.”

To treat the water that the spa does need to use, “we’ve incorporated a carefully selected electrolytic process,” he added. Avoiding chemical treatment agents “has enabled us to make serious headway in our efforts to recycle water for irrigation purposes, ” he said.

To remain consistent with this approach, Akasha has an organic bar and lounge that offers locally grown, seasonal products, uses biodegradable cutlery and employs local staff.

“For a spa to be eco-friendly, it is a matter of ethics more than actions” said Gili Chupak, coordinator of Eco-Israel’s Hava Adam farm in Modiin, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, that aims to raise awareness about the impact of human behavior and lifestyles on the environment.

“In order to be truly ethical and sustainable, a spa should procure its produce and materials for the spa from local resources,” Mr. Chupak said, adding that “the challenge is to still supply the needs of Israel while promoting the health and well being of these natural resources.”

Using local resources is one of the core principles of the Hotel Spa Mitzpe Hayamim, in Eastern Galilee, which is surrounded by 15 hectares, or 37 acres, of land.

The spa has an ecological farm on which it raises its own goats, cows and chickens, and provides the hotel with homemade cheeses and yogurt; it also has an organic garden and orchards, where it grows vegetables, fruit and plants used in the hotel restaurant and to make the spa’s in-house treatment products.

“A lot of treatments we offer at the spa are entirely produced on the farm,” said Ella Dagan, a manager at the hotel spa. “For example, we have developed our own oil treatment, which is made from our own olive trees,” she said, referring to the “Olive Branch Massage” that uses oil and branches from the farm’s olive groves.

A variety of other treatments at the spa use herbs, oils, and flowers produced on the farm.

Still, “water and energy use are the obvious areas where most spa businesses could make considerable improvements,” said Michael Stusser, who is on the board of the Green Spa Network, which seeks to bring sustainable practices to the global spa industry.

Priorities should include “conserving resources, eliminating toxic exposure and becoming more relevant to their communities, ” Mr. Stusser said. In particular, coastal spas that are heavily reliant on water-based treatments need to address water conservation issues, he said.

This is starting to happen, with water recycling and conservation increasingly incorporated into treatment practices. At Sea of Spa at the Ein Gedi hot springs, for example, managers are developing a water-recycling system that is expected to be in use within months.

“We use about 5,000 cubic meters of water per month, and we are now negotiating to begin recycling water from the showers, toilets and gardens,” Merav Ayalon, the spokeswoman for the spa, said. The spa’s water consumption is equivalent to 1.3 million gallons.

In a nod to energy conservation, “the hot thermo-mineral water is not heated, nor are there any chemicals added,” Ms. Ayalon said, and other conservation measures include “recycling plastic bottles and cardboard boxes, not using plastic bags, and even recycling oil after use.”

Developing environmental awareness is a gradual process, said Mr. Nadler of Akasha Holistic Wellbeing. “We are taking steps in our way, little by little, to preserve resources and not be wasteful.”

“Our hope is that these efforts, such as recycling, taking public transportation, and saving water and electricity, will help the longer-term sustainability goals of our nation.”

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