Hannelore Leavy: A Legend in Aesthetics

Jeffrey Joseph’s Spafinder Travel Arrangements was the introduction for Hannelore Leavy’s involvement with the American spa market. In the 1970s, however, she started health and wellness travel programs to her native Austria as the North America marketing director for the United States office of the Austrian National Tourism Board. This received a lot of attention and other European organizations started similar events. With so much of the attention on Europe, Leavy realized that spas in the United States represented an underdeveloped market.


“It takes a leader, someone like her, with fresh ideas and the ability to help people see them. For an industry to grow, it takes someone willing to take on a wider role – that of an advocate, mentor, and guide – someone willing to work for the success of a group of people and not just one individual or company,” said Sarah Light, former writer for Spa Management.


As vice president of sales and marketing, and associate publisher for The Spa Finder, the first directory of spas and health resorts in North America (not to be confused with the current SpaFinder.com), Leavy set out to improve consumers’ accessibility to quality spas and spa services. Thus, began her proactive approach to
spa marketing.


Not only was there a lack of facilities, but a lack of owners and managers to realize the potential of joining together to advertise their properties and programs to enable industry growth. Under the auspices of Spa Finders, Leavy organized the first spa symposium in 1990 at the New Age Health Spa in Neversink, New York – during which she co-founded the International Spa Association.


Pampering treatments for women, adapted from Europe, started becoming popular in the United States during the 1970s. Leavy’s research found that, although some isolated programs, such as Elisabeth Ardens’ Red Door and similar, had been around for quite some time, the development of the American spa industry was not keeping step with growing consumer needs. “From the very beginning, she advocated taking a holistic approach to beauty – a European approach that combined mind, body, and spirit. Looking at today’s market, clearly her vision was correct,” said Eric Light, former president of the Strawberry Hill Group and of the International Medical Spa Association under Leavy’s leadership.


The late ‘80s saw a rather surprising amount of salons starting to offer aesthetic and wellness programs to build the bridge from resort to day spas. At this point, Leavy started the first in-depth market analyses in the United States spa history. She also realized that this would require the development of standards and the quest to do just that would not change unless education and development resources became available.


Unfortunately, Leavy’s marketing efforts on behalf of The Spa Finder did not translate into long-term success for the catalog and SpaFinders Travel Arrangement, although the second edition carried an unheard amount of advertising, including skin care products. “I have never been much aware of an aesthetics industry in the United States, I have to admit,” says Leavy. “But, I got educated very quickly by visiting the first aesthetic show at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City organized by DERMASCOPE.”




On stage at CreativeColor


Leavy standing beside Katie Armatage


WolfMountain Distinguished Day Spa of the Year Award


“I tried to convince I/SPA to start including day spas in their membership roster of resort and destination spas, but I got outvoted,” she says. The continual lack of recognition of the day spa sector of the industry became an increasing concern as she felt that the day spa sector was destined to play a bigger role in the industry’s growth. Leavy’s solution was simple. She turned her attention towards starting The Day Spa Association (DSA). Founded in 1991, the Day Spa Association’s mission was to help the spa industry grow through education, development of standards, and guidelines for consumers.


“I spent countless hours at the New York Public Library, researching every spa and salon listed in the yellow pages for every major metropolitan area across the country. Remember, that was before the internet – a tedious job, indeed!” says Leavy.


As the industry started to grow, it did so without a name. The term day spa did not come into existence until the mid-1980s, when Catherine Atzen, founder of ATZEN Superior to Organic® Skin Care and fellow AIA Academy of Legends inducteed (2016), opened the first day spa in Manhattan, New York. Atzen noted, “Hannelore is an exceptional mover and shaker that motivates the leaders of our industry, the press, and the business world to see this industry’s incredible potential. And, she was doing this before most knew what a spa was.”


“Definition: What is a Day Spa?” was the first research study that dealt exclusively with the day spa industry. This research helped to distinguish the differences between day spas and hair salons with some aesthetic services. These new guidelines were presented to the industry at the 1994 I/SPA Conference and were recognized for the next two decades as the industry standard, and still is today. They were used by trade magazines, industry researchers, and the consumer press. The Day Spa Directory, the first-ever listing of day spas was published in 1994 and received a tremendous reception from consumers. “One small mention in COOKING LIGHT brought in 700 inquiries for a copy of that directory,” recalls Leavy. Later editions of the Directory, as it grew and included information on product and service members, became a major information source for many spa professionals, eventually being renamed The Day/Medical Spa Directory, in 2002.


Day spa industry leaders, like Michael Carter, president of Athena Health Club and Day Spa, applauded Leavy for “being a visionary to recognize the need for a day spa association and having the intestinal fortitude to work tirelessly over many, many years in growing and expanding the organization.” Rosemary Weiner, the owner of Brass Rose Spa, credits Leavy for her exceptional help in connecting her with those individuals and companies she needed to open her award-winning day spa in northern New Jersey. “She was the only one that was willing to listen and give me advice,” Weiner comments. “Invaluable resources at her fingertips that no one was able to convey.” Industry members felt that, for the first time, an association offered proper representation and resources for their sector of the exploding day spa market. The Day Spa Association members proudly displayed the DSA decal on their doors and their membership certificate hung prominently on their walls.


As the industry matured, Leavy understood that the association had to respond to change. The Day Spa Association needed to update its guidelines and continue to differentiate true day spas in the marketplace. DSA’s spa accreditation was implemented, given spas that adhere to the DSA standards, the industry seal of approval as an Accredited Day Spa.


Then, came the big change. At the turn of the century, services that promised longer-lasting effects increased in popularity. What was once the privilege of the rich and famous now became available to everyone. Medical spas were designed to offer medical-grade aesthetic services in the relaxing and pampering atmosphere women and men have come to expect from a spa. Once again, Leavy recognized that this sector of the industry needed the support and structure of an organization dedicated to helping it grow successfully and it needed to be distinguished from the day spa industry. In 2002, after discussions with numerous industry leaders, she founded the International Medical Spa Association (IMSA). This new organization focused on providing consumers and industry members with the education to ensure the highest standards of care. Lauren Olson, owner of Radiance Advanced Skin and Body Care, located in The Woodlands, Texas, says this of the association: “As a new business owner, having the right tools at the very start is so critical. I came from the medical world, so I needed some way to learn more about the spa business. Having an active association has given me the extra support needed to succeed.”



The DSA 2009 Board Of Directors


The Day Spa Business Bible



The IMSA was the first spa industry association that offered an active mentoring program and a medical spa malpractice insurance program. It has also become heavily involved in legislative matters. As each state in the United States sets its own standards for the practice of medicine, every day brings a new set of proposed
legislation. Responding to change, Leavy, through her association, reached out to medical and other related associations to lobby jointly on the industry’s behalf.


Skip Williams, vice president of the Las Vegas, Nevada-based spa development firm, Resources and Development, first spoke with Leavy while the two were sitting on a park bench outside an industry conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “Hannelore has had many opportunities to make a lucrative career in our industry, yet, because it would violate an implied trust that her members have in her, she has instead passed those opportunities to others. Her high ethical standards allowed her to stand head and shoulders above other spa professionals and keep the DSA and IMSA well above reproach,” said Williams.
With a growing international membership, Leavy was invited to address major industry conferences in China, Italy, Germany, Jamaica, and South America. Thus, the need to form chapters for both DSA and IMSA in Europe, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Asia, and South America emerged.


Sharon Chambers, vice president of Positive Tourism Limited in Jamaica, and executive director of the Caribbean chapter of the Day & Resort Spa and International Medical Spa Association believes, “[Leavy’s] greatest strengths are her contributions to the industry that can be used by other entities to grow. Due to her longevity in the industry and her commitment, she has developed an incredible body of knowledge from which others can draw benefit.”




The cover of DSA's 2007-2008 directory


Standing with Cheryl Whitman, president and CEO of Forever Beautiful



Leavy has always been at the forefront of industry innovation and development. For over 20 years, she
has encouraged and supported new thinking in an industry that thrives on innovation.


She is a supporter of media, having conducted hundreds of interviews and quoted in most, if not all, major newspapers and magazines around the country. She has also appeared on various radio and television shows over the last 20 years. In response to the overwhelming number of calls from reporters and writers, Leavy published, “The Evolution & Future of the Day Spa Industry,” a history of the development of the day spa industry in the United States. She also wrote many articles for trade and consumer magazines and created a number of industry publications. In addition, many books on the subject of spa include a quote or forward from her.


Industry leaders describe Leavy as dedicated, tireless, unselfish, and knowledgeable. Wendy Bosalavage, president of American Leisure, said, “I believe Hannelore to be one of the industry’s greatest pioneers – both in the formation of the DSA and IMSA. She is an outstanding consensus builder. Everything she has done has been based upon her principles.” John Buckingham, CEO, and founder of Solana MedSpas echoed these comments when he said, “She is a tireless worker with the total passion for our industry. She is the beacon of integrity and openness.”


In the mid-1990s, Leavy predicted that American day spas would embrace the idea of wellness just like destination spas had a decade before. “Baby Boomers are adapting to anti-aging and preventative medicine, along with the desire for an improved quality of life,” she said. Leavy believes that this trend brings less of an emphasis on external beautification and a stronger focus on prevention and maintenance, on a local basis, without having to travel to a resort spa.




Susie Ellis of the Global Wellness Summit & Global Wellness Institute commented on Leavy’s congratulations on receiving an award from the Metropolitan New York Chapter of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women. “Thank you, Hannelore, for your very kind message. Anything that I have accomplished includes many people’s contributions and I especially appreciate the pioneers – like you – in the early days, when there really had to be passion and vision. These days it is easier to see how important what we do is – but all those decades ago, there were just a few voices. And you were definitely one of the most important!”


Another prediction Leavy made in the early days of the 21st century was the belief that medical spas would mushroom and procedures would become more and more advanced. She also foresaw that heavier emphasis on the participation of licensed health care professionals would be necessary to keep quality standards at the forefront of the medical spa industry.


Rosemary Weiner of The Brass Rose Day Spa in New Jersey said, “Hannelore Leavy embodies the perfect mentor. The organization she founded, the Day Spa Association, embodied the value of collaboration. Mentorship is, most often, a person that inspires you. But also, it may be a group of people or an organization. Both offer advice, inspiration, education, and resources to help attain your goal. Mentorship and collaboration are a gift to the future of the industry. That is the gift she has given to the day spa/medical spa industry!”


L20Leavy’s legacy, her impact upon the spa industry past and future, was summed up by Cheryl Whitman, president, and CEO of the consulting firm, Forever Beautiful. “Hannelore is the foremost day and medical spa expert in the country. I highly admire her integrity, ethics, and proven dedication to our industry. I consider Hannelore both an inspiration and a mentor.”


Leavy retired in 2010 and passed on the helm of both the DSA and IMSA to Alan Share. She can be reached at her offices for HRLeavy LLC, Spa & Wellness Business Consultancy.

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