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by Lisa A. Grimaldi | October 01, 2011

When a planner pressed for time and tight on cash asked Daisye Suduran, spa director at the 527-room Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, how to give attendees a spa experience on a shoestring, she came up with a novel idea: "Skincare 101." Instead of offering signature facials, which start at $140, plus tax and tip, an esthetician taught the group about products and natural ingredients that can be used to resolve specific skin-care issues. Participants were given a customized recommendation and were invited to choose and use the appropriate items from a "buffet" of professional and homemade organic skin products. Each received a recipe book for making their own products at home, along with tips on how to take better care of their skin, all for a cost of $50 per guest.

The program Suduran created is just one example of how planners and spa personnel are working together, in light of today's shortened meeting times and leaner budgets, to give attendees some type of spa component in place of traditional 60- to 90-minute treatments that can cost hundreds of dollars per attendee and eat up an entire morning or afternoon of a packed agenda.

Even if attendees have been spoiled by getting full-length spa treatments at meetings in the past, "I've never seen anyone turn down a 30-minute massage because they used to get a 60-minute massage," says Kelley Whetsell, a planner at Brunswick, Ohio-based third-party firm Meeting Demands.

Spas today, industry sources agree, are more willing than ever to customize their offerings for meeting and incentive groups. Following is a rundown of some fast, fun, creative and budget-friendly group spa experiences, along with tips on how to get the most from resort spas.

Brief encounters So-called "sprint" or mini treatments, which are pared-down versions of traditional massages, facials or manicures, are among the most popular ways to give attendees an affordable spa experience. According to a survey by the Lexington, Ky.-based International Spa Association, 75 percent of U.S. spas now offer these "express" (30 minutes or less) treatments, which typically are performed in the spa, in standard treatment rooms.

Spa room at the Four Seasons Resort ScottsdaleAmong resorts that have jumped on the sprint bandwagon is the 210-room Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (Ariz.) at Troon North. Spa director Lia Rowland says that when she looked over the facility's menu last year, "there was a glaring lack of shorter experiences. Only a small percentage of guests -- from both the group and leisure side -- have time for lengthy services these days." Six 25-minute treatments have since been added, including a scalp message, foot message, body wrap and body polish, each for less than $100.

Other properties, like the 138-room Snake River Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Wyo., don't list shorter treatments on the spa menu but certainly will perform them if the planner requests. The resort offers a number of 20-minute treatments, such as mini facials and target massages (concentrating on a specific area of the body), allowing groups of as many as 100 to enjoy a treatment in a two-hour window. "We've done entire groups between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., leaving them ready for dinner at 6:30," says spa director Dwight Zieman. The key, he says, is making sure enough therapists are on hand, something the planner and spa director arrange prior to the meeting. "We have opened the spa early, stayed late and had all hands on deck for various groups," he notes.