Putting Ballarat's spa industry on the map

On the morning after the World Luxury Spa Awards in St Petersburg Russia, Sarah Emmanuel woke up in a hotel room to her phone buzzing. Still half asleep, she was surprised to see so many congratulatory messages from staff and clients.

Sarah Emmanuelle at Ballarat's Sanctuary Day Spa

“I posted on Instagram before I went to bed and it went semi-viral,” she says, laughing. “So many people had liked it and shared it. I was a little bit in shock.”

It perhaps comes as no surprise that Sarah’s post went viral. After all, her business, Ballarat’s Sanctuary Day Spa, had just won three major awards – Best Luxury Hotel Spa (Australia), Best Luxury Day Spa (Australia) and Best Luxury Spa Retreat (Australia and Oceania) – putting Ballarat on the global stage.

The annual awards, which are held in July at a formal gala ceremony in St Petersburg, recognise and celebrate spa establishments from all over the world. The winners are selected by a judging panel and a public online vote.

“I thought I might get a participation certificate or something,” says Sarah. “But then they called out my name and I was kind of speechless. It was beyond anything I expected.”

Sarah opened Ballarat’s Sanctuary Day Spa in August 2009 when she was 26. At the time she had recently moved to Ballarat and was working as a manager for Thalgo Sanctuary, a franchise company that had dual locations in Ballarat and Lorne.

“I got approached by the hotel to take over the ownership of the spa. I didn’t know if I was ready, but everyone said, ‘go for it’, and I thought, what have I got to lose?”

She adds: “I wanted to change the name, because I wanted a fresh beginning and I wanted to bring the business back to Ballarat.”

Fast-forward 10 years, and Ballarat’s Sanctuary Day Spa is the ultimate destination for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Set within the serene gardens of the Mercure Hotel and Convention Centre, the spa comprises six luxury treatment rooms including two dual suites, private bathing, a floating pedicure lounge, and a spacious lounge with a fireplace.

The prized jewel is the hydrotherapy pool and sauna, which is bathed in light and looks on to an oasis of gum trees and natural fauna.

Wellness tourism is a $600 plus billion global market, growing twice as fast as general tourism. Australia is in the top five wellness tourism markets in the Asia Pacific. It’s a trend that Sarah has experienced first-hand. In just a few years, her day spa has become a significant contributor to Ballarat’s tourism economy.

“We now have clients who come from Melbourne or Geelong just for the spa experience,” she says.

Sarah has been working as a professional spa therapist since 2002. Prior to launching her business, she worked on a luxury cruise ship in Hawaii, and in hotels and resorts in Mt Hotham, Broome, Lizard and Dunk Islands in Queensland. During this time, she has seen the industry change.

"It used to be that spas were just something you did when you were on holidays, but the world today is a lot more stressed and there are a lot more things people need to take time out from."
– Sarah Emmanuel

Through the Ballarat is Open process, the City of Ballarat has been working with the community and local businesses to envisage a city that is embedded with innovative thinking and entrepreneurialism; a city where the spark of creativity is nurtured everywhere to produce thought-provoking and fulfilling human experiences and exciting, worldclass offerings for visitors and residents. Businesses such as Ballarat’s Sanctuary Day Spa embody this vision.

Over the past decade, Ballarat’s Sanctuary Day Spa has grown from three staff to 11. It has expanded its menu and now offers beauty services as well as traditional spa treatments.

“The entire spa journey begins the minute (customers) turn off Main Road,” says Sarah. “They walk through these beautiful gardens and are greeted by our staff. They get changed into their robes and leave their mobile phones in their lockers… It’s all about letting go, switching off and completely immersing yourself in the experience.”