Spa Industry Fights Donuts…Inc.


Fitness buffs have long fought against the seductive lure of donuts. So it seems apropos that a group of spa and wellness centers is locked in a high-tech battle with a company called Donuts Inc.

This fight is over more than just empty calories -- it’s about prime online real estate. 

The showdown tests the viability of a process aimed at allowing certain groups to control some top-level Internet domains, such as .spa, as communities, rather than putting control in the hands of one entity.

The Asia Spa & Wellness Promotional Council Ltd., a regional trade association for the spa and wellness industry based in Hong Kong and Malaysia, recently won the right to operate the .spa domain. The group  prevailed in its evaluation for community status in the new generic top-level domain program, leapfrogging over standard applicants for the .spa string. Had the evaluation failed, Asia Spa & Wellness would have competed for the string in a private auction against none other than Donuts Inc.

Heavily backed by private equity, Donuts is by far the largest new company in the top-level domain space, applying for 307 domains (out of 1,917 total applications submitted) and currently operating 187 based on those applications.

Donuts issued a statement saying the decision was clearly wrong and that it would pursue all available remedies – which was hardly necessary for it to say, because pursuing all available remedies has been central to Donuts’ strategy against community applications. Asia Spa & Wellness is only the fourth applicant out of 19 to prevail in its community evaluation. (A 20th community applicant, dotgay LLC, did not prevail but was awarded a currently pending do-over following a reconsideration request.) Donuts has challenged each of the previous three (applicants for .hotel, .radio and .eco) through either a cooperative engagement (mediation) process or an independent review panel appeal.

Some have suggested that Donuts is attempting to game the process by using its deep pockets to hold up less robustly funded community applicants, hoping they run out of money before processes with unclear end dates can fully play out. Others, though, have wondered whether industry-based groups are the types of “community” the drafters of the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook had in mind when they created a special procedure for community-based applications.

In its application for .spa, Asia Spa & Wellness defined the spa and wellness community as follows:

“There is a strong cohesion among the spa and wellness community beyond a mere commonality of interest. Beyond business interests, the advocacy of the spirit of the spa approach of a therapeutic and holistic mind and body relaxation and revitalization is an important shared philosophy among the spa community.  It is also this shared philosophy to life and society that bonds the spa community.”

If past is prologue, Asia Spa & Wellness would be well-advised to savor its community evaluation victory, kick back, have some coconut water and a cucumber peel, and relax, because there’s little reason to think it will be operating .spa any time soon.