Valentine’s Day is a popular celebration for Virgin Islands spa owners, with gift certificate sales rising in anticipation and regular customers preparing for dinner dates that evening.
“It will be a big day for nails: fingernails, toenails and facials,” said Toni Simpson, owner of the Solé Day Spa on Wickhams Cay in Road Town.
“This is probably second to Christmas,” Ms. Simpson said, adding that Mother’s Day is the third busiest holiday for her business.
Solé caters primarily to a local clientele, she said, providing facials, massages, waxing and nail care mostly to VI residents for the past 14 years. The spa also offers some services that are particularly suited to the island environment, including a non-invasive facial peel that Ms. Simpson said is appreciated by customers who will be exposed to the harsh tropical sun.
Especially popular among swimmers and divers, Ms. Simpson said, is ear candling, where a hollow paraffin candle is inserted into the ear and ignited.
“It creates a vacuum and pulls the wax out of the ear, into the candle,” she said.
At Oasis Spa, located at the Village Cay Hotel & Marina in Road Town, owner Joanne McGuire said she also caters primarily to residents, offering manicures, pedicures, massages and hairstyling.
“I can definitely say our clientele is mostly, 90 percent, local,” she said.
Her staff, though, hails from around the world. Ms. McGuire herself is from Trinidad, although she’s been living in the Virgin Islands for the past 14 years, and, she said, she has employees from England, Romania and the Dominican Republic.
“It’s hard to find a belonger who does hair,” she said, “or wants to massage.”
A shortage of technical training in the territory makes it difficult for her to find Virgin Islanders to hire — and makes it difficult for any VI residents to get the requisite qualifications for the job, she said.
“It’s something the BVI government should look in to,” she said.
Importing salon chemicals can be a challenge, too: Most of Ms. McGuire’s products are imported from the United States, and she works with distributors throughout the mainland and on St. Thomas.
Still, she has no plans to leave any time soon.
“I’m here as long as the BVI allows me here,” she said.
Devi Paul, owner of Spa Blue Lotus at Prospect Reef, also imports most of the herbs she uses in preparing massage oils – many of them from her native India.
“FedEx charges are very high,” she said, but her traditional Indian massage techniques and yoga classes are popular with many residents, including a few government officials.
More intricate procedures, including a four-hour massage session that includes a lunch of rice and lentils, cater primarily to the tourist trade.
“Tourist business is very good,” she said, but she estimates her customer base is still 80 percent residents.
Ms. Paul, who first came to the territory in 2001 accompanying her accountant husband, has also worked in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and Mauritius. She said the main difference in her industry between the VI and other countries in which she has worked is that customers here are willing to receive massages from therapists of either gender.
“It’s the first time I do males,” she said.
Other spa directors also said their services are becoming increasingly popular with men. Monali Bhatewara, the assistant director of Amara Spa at Mariner Inn Hotel at The Moorings, said male clients even enjoy pedicures. Men, she said, often get their feet massaged and their nails and cuticles trimmed, but skip the polishing step.
Emily Lancaster, the director of Ixora Spa at Scrub Island, said, “I think spas have in the past few years become more accepted and popular” with men. For Valentine’s Day, Ixora is offering a number of specials, including a cherry-and-chocolate-milk bath, and a honey-and-sugar scrub.
“We take warm honey and drizzle it over the body and work it in with rum sugar,” to exfoliate the skin, she said. Then, they apply a cherry-scented body butter.
Ms. Lancaster said most of the product lines she uses are from the US, but she tries to use local ingredients whenever possible. The honey used in the scrub, for instance, is from Virgin Gorda, and the spa previously offered a pumpkin facial with local pumpkin.
“I think the more simple that things can be, the better,” she said.
Some spa customers also sought simplicity during the recent economic downturn, the spa managers said, but for many a certain level of service, particularly hair care, is nonnegotiable.
“When people don’t have, they leave [luxuries like manicures and pedicures] to last,” Ms. McGuire said, but added, “If people have roots, they’re gonna come do their roots, recession or no recession.”
Traffic is still somewhat down at Amara Spa, Ms. Bhatewara said, but it is slowly recovering.
“It’s not like before when I was used to, with work, busy-busy,” she said.
At Ixora, Ms. Lancaster said she’s not sure the territory is out of the recession yet, but added that some of her tourist clients may not be affected.
“Because Scrub Island is a five-star resort, our guests live a pretty opulent lifestyle,” she said. “I’m not sure they’re really the type to be affected by the recession.”