August 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions Gathering Steam August 1999 Current Issue
August 1999

Gathering Steam

New and rejuvenated spas are hot items at hotels. Once a luxury, these facilities are now de regueur for groups

By Carla Benini

A vigorous ride on the stationary bike, a jog on the treadmill, a grunt-and-grimace session on the Nautilus machine and a nice, long steam. Although not long ago these were considered the minimum requirements of any trip to the spa, today in the era of seaweed wraps and thalassotherapy the notion of going to a spa for a simple workout seems almost quaint. The exercise-focused spas of the early '90s no longer can compete with modern facilities that offer life-enhancing, stress-reducing and skin-improving techniques. As a result, properties that have had spas for years are renovating or expanding their facilities at an unprecedented rate.

Why are venerable golf resorts and meetings-minded properties spending millions on spa projects? Because they recognize the spa no longer is just an afternoon activity for a spouse whose husband is out on the course."That's not the case anymore," says Cheryl Hartzo, spa director at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in Farmington, Pa. "The women are playing golf, and the men are going to the spa."

Many spa facilities also are being built specifically with groups in mind. "Resort hotels started revamping their spas to attract the meetings business," says Eva Jensch, principal at Spa Concepts International, a Sonoma, Calif.-based spa consultant and management firm for hotels and resorts. Moreover, to position their spas as integral to the resort experience, many properties are building separate lounges and reception desks for them. The facility at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Mich., for example, was built so a group can take over an entire floor of the spa.

The following is a sampling of some the newest, the newly expanded and the recently renovated spas around the country. If your attendees are ready to have lunch wearing terry-cloth robes, read on.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa

Farmington, Pa.
(800) 422-2736
274 guest rooms
28 treatment rooms
23,000 square feet of meeting space
Spa sales coordinator: Kim Macelt

About 61 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in the bucolic Laurel Highlands sits Nemacolin, a sprawling resort with 36 holes of golf, an equestrian center, hiking and biking opportunities, a 270,000-square-foot polo field, even a private airstrip. Its recent $6.5 million spa expansion brought its facilities from 20,000 square feet to 32,000 square feet. New York City-based Clodagh Design International, which created the look at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door salon chain, designed the space according to feng shui principles, to maximize positive energy.

Signature treatments: The European-style Water Path uses troughs that are lined with a pebbly surface and filled with cold and hot water, all designed to stimulate circulation. Spa-goers do stretching exercises with a therapist and then hit the Vichy shower (alternating hot and cold water sprays). Another signature treatment is the Woodlands Vitamin Facial, a vitamin repair and hydroxy acid exfoliation that improves the skin's elasticity and texture.

Group programs: Aerobic walks, guided hikes and bike rides, volleyball, fitness olympics and boot camp are available. Nutritionists and wellness experts teach classes on sports nutrition, eating for the executive, cooking, boxercise, makeup application and baby-boomer skin care. Several programs can be designed for groups that return to the spa, to track attendees' health or wellness progress.

The Homestead

Hot Springs, Va.
(540) 839-1766
525 guest rooms
40 treatment rooms
70,000 square feet of meeting space
Spa director: Christie Ford

THERAPY FOR THE BOTTOM LINE Spas are keeping resort-goers relaxed and resort owners rich (or so they believe), according to a February 1999 study by Health Fitness Dynamics Inc., a spa consulting and management firm in Pompano Beach, Fla. The company polled resort managers from 30 resort-based spas that were an average of 10 years old.

The following are percentages of those who answered “yes” to the statement: Does the spa enhance or increase&?

Room rate: 57 percent
Perceived value for room rate: 70 percent
Occupancy: 73 percent
Length of stay: 43 percent
Marketing advantage: 97 percent
Revenue per occupied room: 83 percent
Number of people per occupied room: 27 percent


Tucked in the Allegheny Mountains, the resort has a long-standing history as a center of wellness and healing. Founded in 1776, the Homestead was built especially for those who migrated to the area's natural mineral springs. Recently $5 million was spent to completely renovate the spa, which had not received a spruce-up in more than 50 years. The interior upgrade, done up in Southern and Victorian styles, used renderings from the resort's original spa as inspiration. An indoor pool is surrounded with marble tilings, and wicker chaise lounges surround the spa's wet area.

Signature treatments: The Allegheny Raspberry Relaxer begins with an all-over raspberry body scrub, which is then washed off in a multiheaded shower. Next, raspberry oil is applied and the guest is wrapped in blankets and left to relax. Another treatment is one of the oldest at the spa: The Cure starts with a mineral water soak, which is followed by a salt exfoliation of the skin. Guests are then washed off in the multiheaded shower and sprayed with a scotch hose, a high-pressure water stream that is aimed by the technician at the body's various muscles.

Group programs: Private yoga sessions, stretch and healthful-hint breaks are available, as are quick massages in the meeting rooms.

The Diplomat Resort and Country Club
Hollywood, Fla.
(800) 327-1212
1,000 guest rooms at the resort (opens fall 2000); 60 guest rooms in the country club (opens fall 1999)
15 treatment rooms
209,000 square feet of meeting space at the resort; 8,000 square feet of meeting space at the country club
Spa director: Gloria Lawrence

In its heyday, the Diplomat hosted the likes of Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra, but that resort was imploded to clear the way for a new and sprawling structure. Set to debut in December, the 30,000-square-foot spa will be decorated with rich-colored fabrics and warm wood tones. Guests will be treated to personalized service, and will be evaluated for any health problems before undergoing treatments. (For example, someone with high blood pressure shouldn't be wrapped in cellophane for a seaweed body wrap.) Classes will focus on body enhancement, stretching and meditative techniques, shying away from high-intensity exercise such as spinning and kickboxing.

Signature treatments: The Rejuva treatment will diminish what time has done to a face by sloughing off dead skin. Another specialty will be fruit-acid-based Alpha treatments, which promote cell renewal and generation.

Group programs: Designed for conventioneers who may not have an afternoon to sample spa offerings, the Diplomat Spa Blast combines a 30-minute facial with a 30-minute massage or body treatment, allowing visitors to experience two services in one session.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Acme, Mich.
(800) 748-0303
660 guest rooms
17 treatment rooms
49,000 square feet of meeting space
Spa director: Kate Hurley

Four racquetball courts were converted in May into an 11,000-square-foot spa. The new amenity is part of a 100,000-square-foot sports and health complex that includes four hot tubs, two pools, nine indoor and outdoor tennis courts, two studios and a weight-training room. The spa's interior shies away from typical marble and glass accoutrements and instead is decorated with rock walls, a fireplace, mahogany woods and warm tones. Designed for the meetings market, the two-level spa enables groups to take over the entire bottom floor for simultaneous services, pre-meeting gatherings or even a cocktail party, without affecting guests using services upstairs.

Signature treatments: The 45th Parallel is an intensive 2-1/2-hour treatment (yes, that's 150 minutes) that begins with a sinus-cleansing technique. Next is a full-body exfoliation followed by a rinse in a specially designed overhead shower system that gives a water-based Shiatsu-like treatment. That's followed by an oleation massage, which coats the body in oils to purge toxins. The guest is then put in a steam chamber, and the treatment is completed with a shirodhara, a technique that flows oils from the center of the forehead and across the crown. Its purpose is to induce the delta brain wave, considered the deepest relaxation level achieved while still awake. Since walking at this point would be unfathomable, the guest is wheeled in an Adirondack chair to a relaxation area.

Group programs: Called life-enhancement activities, groups can do anything from a five-kilometer run to enjoying a sweat lodge (a Native American ceremony that places groups in a heated room more intense than a sauna to purify heart and mind). Guided nature hikes, herbal garden tours and wintertime snowshoeing on the 1,400-acre property are also available. Therapists will even infuse a meeting room with an aromatherapy pick-me-up while the group is at lunch.

WORDS TO SPA BY Spa jargon can be intimidating. Here's a list of common terms, courtesy of the Louisville, Ky.-based International Spa Association.

Ayurvedic (massage): Ancient system of traditional folk medicine from India, using a large variety of techniques, incorporating nutrition, herbal medicine, aromatherapy, massage, meditation, etc., to restore perfect balance.

Body wrap: Strips of cloth soaked in herbal teas and cocooned around the body to relax muscles, soothe soreness and soften skin.

Brush and tone: The body is brushed in invigorating, circular motions to remove dead skin and stimulate circulation.

Deep (tissue) muscle massage: This technique separates muscle groups and loosens fascia (a thin layer of connective tissue covering and supporting or connecting the muscles or inner organs of the body) to realign the body and increase the freedom of movement. This massage is a sometimes-painful kneading of the muscles.

Deep-cleansing facial: Use of sophisticated machines to open pores, extract blackheads by hand, purify skin, close pores and revitalize skin.

Reflexology: Ancient Chinese technique using pressure point massage (usually on the feet, but also hands and ears) to restore the flow of energy throughout the body.

Reiki: Meaning "universal life-force energy," a scientific method of activating and balancing the life-force energy present in all living things. Techniques are applied to the entire body, channeling energy to organs and glands, and aligning the chakras (energy centers).

The Venetian Resort
Las Vegas
Hotel: (702) 733-5000; SpaClub: (702) 414-3600
3,036 guest rooms
37 treatment rooms
250,000 square feet of meeting space
Spa director: Charlotte Bowdle

Known for its destination spa resorts in Tucson, Ariz., and Lenox, Mass., Canyon Ranch is branching out to a region rarely associated with wellness and spiritual healing: Las Vegas. The 63,000-square-foot, two-level Canyon Ranch SpaClub opened in June at the Venetian, which could be described as a tastefully opulent rendition of an Italian palazzo, complete with frescoed ceilings and gondola rides throughout the property's maze of canals.

Guests can choose from 120 different spa services including more than a dozen types of massage or dip into the spa's therapeutic Watsu pools. The 63,000-square-foot facility even has a 40-foot climbing wall.

Signature treatments: Rasul Ceremony originated in the Middle East and involves the self-application of medicinal mud. Once muddied up, spa-goers enter a steam chamber so skin pores open; then they shower off and are coated with a blend of oils.

Group programs: Group biking and hiking, team-building using the rock-climbing wall, fitness classes, lectures on nutrition and life-balance strategies.

The Resort at Summerlin
Las Vegas
(877) 869-8777
541 guest rooms in both the Grand Spa Hotel and Grand Palms Hotel
36 treatment rooms
21,000 square feet of meeting space
Spa director: Mindy A. Terry

Part of what is known as the largest master-planned community in the United States, Summerlin seems light-years from the gambling mecca eight miles away. Summerlin is near the National Red Rock Conservation Area, which offers plenty of hiking and rock-climbing opportunities. The 40,000-square-foot Aquae Sulis Spa focuses on water as its theme. (Its name is Latin for "waters of the sun" and is taken from the ancient Roman town of Bath, England, considered the home of the world's first spa.) Guests are encouraged to experience a variety of hydrotherapies free of charge before indulging in one of the 90 face and body treatments, as a means of preparing the body before a facial or scrub. Spa-goers can try the thalasso whirlpool, steam and sauna rooms, hot and cold plunge pools or the 12-chamber hydrotherapy pool.

Signature treatments: Ingredients have been imported from India to treat guests to Siddha Vaidya, an ancient form of therapy once reserved for Indian royalty that uses herbs and oils to relax and calm the body. The Ela Kirzhi treatment, for instance, uses pouches of herbs warmed in oils that are gently swept across the body. Heat helps the skin to absorb these nutrients, which are used to remove toxins. Another unusual feature of the spa is the cavitosonic chamber, a negative ionization room that uses sound to relax or energize the body.

Group programs: Spa staff can lead off-site activities like a sunrise tai-chi and yoga hike in the Red Rock Canyon or teach classes on health and wellness cuisine and aromatherapy. Or, they can visit the meeting room to knead weary attendees' muscles during a break.

Monterey Plaza Hotel
Monterey, Calif.
289 guest rooms
4 spa suites
Treatment rooms: 9
16,000 square feet of meeting space
(831) 646-1700
Spa director: Robin Evans

A project that began with the building of two Jacuzzis on the hotel's plaza has grown into the construction of a 10,000-square-foot spa. With spectacular views of Monterey Bay, the spa looks more like a wing of some luxury home than part of a hotel. Eschewing the ubiquitous pastel tones, treatment rooms are decorated with mahogany cabinetry and chandeliers.

Signature treatments: On the shores of an extensive kelp forest, the spa highlights its indigenous plant in several treatments. One is the Detox Kelp Body Mask, where guests are covered in kelp, wrapped in blankets and sheets and left for 25 minutes while the plant extracts bodily toxins.

Group programs: Spa staffers can develop a mind-body program for groups that may include hiking in Carmel Valley or kayaking through the kelp forest. Classes in yoga, meditation and stress reduction are also available.

Le Merigot Santa Monica Beach Hotel
Santa Monica, Calif.
(310) 395-9700
175 guest rooms
4 treatment rooms
12,000 square feet of meeting space
Spa director: Kimberley Simms

The beachfront property was set to debut last month with a 5,000-square-foot spa. Built on a terrace with ocean views, the spa allows guests to enjoy therapies indoors, or to have treatments done in one of three poolside cabanas.

Signature treatments: Passive energy forces are used in reiki, where a therapist gently rests his or her hands on various parts of the body to relieve stress and chronic and acute health problems. Another specialty is a hot-stone massage, where heated stones are stroked on oiled skin and then rested or pressed in certain locations of the body to relieve stress and energize the body.

Group programs: Exercise classes such as yoga, Pilates and cardio kickboxing are available, as are group hikes and visits by massage therapists to the meeting rooms.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
Ojai, Calif.
(805) 646-5511
206 guest rooms, including one spa penthouse, with four adjoining rooms
28 treatment rooms
12,000 square feet of meeting space
Spa director: Paige Megna

Two hours north of Los Angeles, situated amid the orange groves and greenery of the Topa Topa Mountains, is the 75-year-old Ojai Valley Inn. The 220-acre resort focused primarily on golf and tennis until a 31,000-square-foot spa was added in late 1997. The Spanish Colonial-style structure has 15 fireplaces, decorative tile and hand-stenciled walls throughout. A 16,000-square-foot fitness center, herb garden, hiking trails and art studio are also on property.

Signature treatments: Taken from the Chumash Native American tribe, the Kuyam treatment is basically a communal mud bath. Groups of eight men or women apply to themselves a mixture of clays and herbs while inside the Kuyam, a sauna-like room that gently bakes the clay on the skin and then softens it with an infusion of steam. The group is led through relaxation and meditation exercises with the help of a spa specialist. Then the clay is removed and participants are wrapped in linen.

Group programs: Attendees can participate in hikes, bird-watching walks, and yoga and meditation classes.

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