BISA Founder speaks about changes in spa education

balibisa Spa Training, Uncategorised 2 Comments

Portrait of Bali International Spa Academy Founder, Penny EllisRecently, I had the opportunity to speak with Penny Ellis, the Founder of the Bali International Spa Academy located in Sanur, Bali.  BISA as it is known  has been operating for 12 years now, so it was an opportune time to get some insights into how spa education has evolved over the years.  We spoke at length about two major trends which she advised that without a shadow of a doubt have had a strong influence on spa education – international awarding bodies such as CIBTAC, ITEC and VTCT, and the rapidly developing wellness movement.

However, Penny first reflected on BISA’s humble origins.  When she first arrived in Bali, it wasn’t with the intention of opening a spa education facility, but she quickly realized there was a genuine need for more professional training in the booming spa industry.  At the time, Bali was considered the spa capital of the world as it had so many first-rate hotel and independent spas.   Thus it made sense to establish a spa education centre on the island as people were eager to experience the island for it’s spas, unique culture and fabulous attractions.

Being based in Asia, Penny decided to focus on Eastern based treatment concepts, especially those with their roots in Indonesia.  She and her team crafted the curriculum, created the training materials and upon successful completion offered students BISA certification.  As the BISA spa education facility’s reputation grew globally, this level of certification was easily accepted by spa industry employers as validation of their ability to immediately apply their newly learned skills within a professional organization.  It was quite common for BISA students  to learn a multitude of treatments in a four to six week program, so that they were fully prepared to take on the responsibilities of a generalist spa therapist in virtually any spa setting.


Bali BISA Founder, Penny Ellis, accepting award as CIBTAC Centre of the Year 2015As the industry started to seriously boom, Penny decided to become a CIBTAC Centre.  Their standards are very high and the qualification process was rigorous, but the examiners were very impressed with the school and the  exceptional level of spa education they delivered.  In 2015, the school became the CIBTAC Centre of the Year which was quite an achievement for a relatively small centre.

Responding to industry demands, CIBTAC also introduced a scheme to “éndorse” training which was not part of their own core courses.   This allowed centres such as BISA to feature their own unique training with the benefit of CIBTAC certification.  An additional benefit is that student abilities were gauged by the centre itself, eliminating the need for oversight by a CIBTAC examiner.  Of course, Penny began with Balinese Massage, followed by a comprehensive pregnancy massage program and now offers 11 different CIBTAC Endorsed certifications from 5 to 15 days.  Learn more about CIBTAC and CIBTAC Endorsed certifications here.

Despite success with CIBTAC’s own programs and the school’s unique courses endorsed by CIBTAC, Penny realized the quickly rising importance of internationally recognized certification by spa owners and managers.  Additionally for spa therapists who wished to work outside of their home country, clear evidence of proficiency was increasingly required by more governments in order for them to receive a permit to work.  Quite simply insurance would not cover any staff without demonstrating competency via a globally accepted certificate.

With these factors in mind, BISA became first and only VTCT Centre in Bali.  Penny and her staff were qualified to do their own practical assessments with student portfolios being graded by VTCT.  This further expedited the qualification process for the growing number of international students enrollments. Bali is a wonderful holiday destination, so students wish to enjoy all that the the island has to offer while fast tracking their spa education at BISA.

A few years on, an unpredictable merger lead to BISA being ITEC’s first training center in Bali after VTCT purchased them.  This amalgamation makes them the largest spa awarding body globally.  Hence it presents BISA students with so many more  course options, based on their interests and the certifications required in their home country or the country they which to work in.  Learn more about ITEC and VTCT here.

According to Penny, many students acknowledge the growing demand for accredited therapists and so choose Bali BISA for their many course options.  Many students embarking on their career journey find BISA desirable for this reason, and also because if you have to study why not learn in beautiful Bali.  It is a winning combination!


Collage photo of BISA Student, doing some massage treatment to their clients

Penny said that unless you have been living in a cave without any access to news or interactions with people, most people would have noticed that many people are at least talking about health and wellness.  As Penny discovered when she made a presentation about wellness to 50 tourism and hospitality students from Indonesia and Singapore, even though they were aware of this trend they had no idea of the size of the market. In 2017 it was worth a whopping 4.2 trillion US dollars.  That represents a lot of potential to earn money from people investing themselves and their paychecks in achieving total wellness – spiritual, physical and mental.

Penny explained that in terms of spa education this has generated more interest in obtaining certification in modalities that were once considered too off the radar to attract customers.  Today, customers are happy to try different forms of bodywork such as shiatsu and A-shiatsu.  Aromatherapy massage can now be found in many massages due to the use of natural essential oils.  One of BISA’s newest endorsed course is based on crystals which when combined with warm stones is a match made in holistic heaven   They also introduced intuitive massage therapy where students can create their own style and techniques as long as they consider fundamental anatomy and physiology principles.

Another outcome of the wellness movement is that spa treatments, especially massage, is no longer considered just a way to relax.  It is now recognized for its therapeutic benefits.  There are many studies which prove that massage can help the body heal more quickly and relieve pain.  Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with conventional medical treatments as prescribed by a doctor.  Today as the wave of people setting realizable goals to obtain total wellness is cresting, so has the demand for complementary therapists.  This booming consumer devotion to wellness has also meant that more and more day and destination spas are incorporating popular and emergent complementary therapies into their  menu of mainstream modalities.


In addition to the plethora of course offerings, there is one constant that has made BISA so successful over the past 12 years.  That is our high standards of teaching by fantastic Balinese tutors.  They are naturally caring people who have a lot of patience with people from all walks of life.  With Penny”s dedication to training her team to be the best they can be and offering them opportunities to take CIBTAC,  ITEC and VTCT exams, she is definitely the glue that has put BISA at the top of the tree when it comes to world-class spa and wellness education.

Written by Lisa Cross, Marketing Consultant

Comments 2

  1. Good evening,
    I am interested in doing the 5 day Balinese Massage course to begin with. Can you please provide me with a schedule for 2020 please and the cost for that? Also, please provide information on what courses would compliment that if I wish to go further with it?
    Many thanks
    Lee Robinson

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