by By Jennifer Nicole Dienst | April 01, 2009

Tubac Golf SpaThe idea of a spa meeting might seem anathema at a time when just the perception of extravagance is enough to set off alarm bells in corporate procurement departments. That needn't be so. Here are ways to incorporate affordable spa elements into an agenda that will please attendees and finance alike.

Book express group treatments vs. full-length individual treatments.
Many would relish a 90-minute massage, but for groups on a time and cost budget, a good option is to set up massage chairs in the boardroom during a lunch break, where attendees can get their shoulders artfully squeezed in 15-minute increments.

"Typically, chair massages run $1 to $2 a minute vs. a 90-minute treatment that costs $150, depending on the resort," says Terry O'Brien, regional vice president for the Chicago-based Hospitality Performance Network, which offers site selection, contract negotiation and destination management services. O'Brien notes chair massages also allow attendees to remain clothed and able to socialize during the breaks.

Take advantage of the buyer's market.
"The resorts I work with are offering spa treatments as an incentive to book a meeting," says O'Brien. "You might not get a $250 treatment, but you often can get an express facial or a manicure for each room booked."

There's also more give-and-take today in negotiations, sources agree. "We're going to work closely with a group's budget and keep our prices low because we want them to come back," says Bill Di Stanisloa, spa director at Amelia Island Plantation in Amelia Island, Fla. The property will drop the price of treatments to just above cost, depending on group size and room nights, he adds.

In addition, "depending on the time of year, groups that book on Sundays can get discounted treatments, because Sundays are typically slower," notes Terrie Sanders, regional sales manager for the Amelia Island Plantation.

Customize, customize, customize.
Many facilities will create custom treatments or shorten or combine treatments to work with a group's schedule and budget. The Exhale Mind Body Spa at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, Calif., lets planners shorten treatments for their groups or tack on a yoga class for free. In addition, the property offers customized spa gift bags for attendees at a discount.

Jill Heyerdahl, CMP, president of Dallas-based JH Travel Incentives Inc., recently planned a spa retreat for the female executives of a Fortune 500 firm at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Conference Center's Relâche Spa and Fitness Center in Grapevine, Texas, near Dallas. "Since many of our 20 attendees were not able to spend the entire afternoon there, we shortened our treatment times, which reduced our costs and allowed our guests to enjoy the spa without the commitment of an all-day package."

Offer a spa breakout.
Plenty of resort and hotel spas offer spa-themed breakout sessions that can be cost-effective for groups. The mySpa at the Fairmont Chicago offers multiple options, including a 30-minute break with two therapists on hand for up to 15 chair massages plus a take-home spa gift, all for $300 plus a 20 percent service fee.  "When we put together the program, the goal was to increase guests' productivity by recharging and de-stressing," says Karen Hott, the hotel's spa director, who notes that more therapists can be added for an additional cost depending on the group's size.

The Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., offers a BlackBerry Relief session where therapists give hand and arm massages to relieve tension from continual typing or writing. The treatment, available for groups of up to 20, includes blackberry vodka cocktails.

Run a spa social hour.
Combining spa time and cocktail time also can help relax a budget. Lori Lynch, spa director at the Trump International Beach Resort, works with planners to create a spa happy hour on the beach that lets guests jump from cabana to cabana to get mojito scrubs and mini martini facials.

"You can have four people get mini treatments for the price of one full treatment," says Lynch, who adds that a bar set up nearby allows guests to mingle between sessions. "The intention is to get people networking," she says.