September 01, 2000
Meetings & Conventions - Site Inspecting a Spa - September 2000 Current Issue
September 2000

Site Inspecting a Spa

Sample a treatment, then check for cleanliness, safety and qualified staff before booking a facility

By Marilee Crocker

The good news for those planning a meeting at a spa resort: It is highly recommended you sample the spa services yourself.

Of course, inspecting a spa involves more than submitting to a body rub. If attendees are going to partake, a thorough inspection of the spa is as essential as any other aspect of a site visit. In some cases, it’s even more important, says Carolyn Carpenter, regional customer relations manager for Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., in Irvine, Calif. "If guests had a nice, relaxing time at the spa, that is almost always one of the things people remember," she says.

Talk of spa treatments proved so compelling at a recent recognition trip for top-producing Toyota dealers and their spouses that it dominated dinner conversation on both nights of a two-night stay at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Carpenter recalls. Because that component of the experience is so important to winners, it’s also on top of Carpenter’s priority list.

Even planners who aren’t looking for a spa resort may find themselves inspecting a property with a spa. "The consumer demand for spas is such that there are almost no resorts now being built or updated without a spa component," says a spokesperson for International Spa Association in Lexington, Ky. And chances are, if it’s there, attendees will go.

But there’s a big difference between having a luxurious, full-service spa and putting a few massage tables in an empty room and calling it a spa. Here’s what to look for when inspecting a spa facility.

The essentials
Of the various factors planners must consider when inspecting a spa, three elements are of overriding importance: cleanliness, the level of service and the ambience. This is where the opportunity to have a treatment yourself comes into play. While you should meet with a spa director or sales manager for a tour of the facility and a discussion of your group’s needs, sampling a treatment will provide a feel for the atmosphere of the spa, how readily therapists put guests at ease and the overall level of service.

Even if you don’t have time to sample a spa service firsthand, walk through the process of a typical treatment, advises Kathryn Tuckwiller, spa director at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. "Put yourself in the arrival pattern of the guest, and sashay through so you can see what the guest would experience," she advises. That includes changing facilities, waiting areas, treatment rooms and any post-treatment relaxation areas. Some details to look for:

  • Is there an attractive lounge or a meditation room where guests can relax if they arrive early?
  • Is food available at the spa a restaurant or café, or perhaps platters of complimentary fresh fruit?
  • Is there a retail boutique that sells spa products?
  • What types of products are used during treatments? Are they commercial products, or are they more exclusive? "If they have higher-end products that are unique, it says there’s a creative component there," according to Tuckwiller.
  • Examine the equipment. At the Greenbrier, "We’ll sometimes pull apart one of our massage tables so they can see how the equipment works and the layering we do with the linen. We do two or three layers. We think that’s important because it’s about guest comfort."
  • Is the setup of the locker rooms convenient and comfortable? Consider the overall layout: Where is the spa relative to guest rooms or other facilities?
  • How is the atmosphere? Barbara Quick, event planner for the Charlotte (N.C.) Pipe and Foundry Company, suggests planners observe the total ambience of a spa. "There should be a feeling of comfort and relaxation nothing intimidating. Also, it shouldn’t be crowded or busy or noisy. There should be a feeling of having space."
  • White-glove test
    A spa that doesn’t pass the cleanliness test will be an immediate turnoff and should be an immediate red flag for planners. Spa facilities should be nothing short of immaculate. Cleanliness is exceptionally important in a spa because "when people take their clothes off they become very vulnerable," says Tuckwiller. Nothing should go uninspected.
  • Are the towels in good condition, or do they look like they’ve been there too long? Are they hospital-grade clean?
  • Are garbage cans emptied regularly and kept clean?
  • Look under tables and behind doors. If dust and dirt are collecting, consider it a sign that the cleaning staff could do a more thorough job.
  • Look carefully at the showers, baths and pool areas. As one spa director puts it, "Walking into a dirty shower is disgusting."
  • Service first
    The quality of any facility, no matter how stunning, will pale dramatically in the face of poor guest service. "You can have the most beautiful spa in the world, but if you have service issues if your massage therapist couldn’t care less the massage is not going to be that great," says Christina Remmling, spa sales and programs manager at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif.

    "The spa experience is not just receiving a treatment," Tuckwiller adds. "It’s the people you come in contact with, the manner in which they respond to you, how they treat you. They should be nurturing and soft and kind. At most spas, regardless of the treatments, the priority is for pampering and relaxation, so see if you can feel that." Some telltale clues:

  • Do staff members use your name?
  • Do they make eye contact with you?
  • Are they helpful and forthcoming with information?
  • Do they make you feel comfortable if this is your first time in a spa?
  • Does it seem like staff members are glad to be working there, or do you hear or sense grumbling in the background?
  • Do you see or hear staff members making personal phone calls?
  • Are there enough people staffing the front desk to handle the flow of traffic with ease?
  • How does the front desk staff behave? Do they drop whatever they’re doing to warmly welcome new arrivals? Do they offer assistance enthusiastically, or does it seem like they are waiting for the day to be over?
  • Beyond certification
    Another consideration is the level of expertise and training of spa staff. It’s not enough to know, for example, that massage therapists are certified, because regulations vary widely from city to city and state to state. Planners should inquire about local licensing requirements and whether a spa limits hiring to massage therapists whose experience exceeds licensing requirements.

    Other questions to ask:

  • How much extra training does the spa provide for its staff?
  • How many staffers are CPR-certified?
  • Are CPR-trained staff always available during spa hours?
  • Are all staff trained to deal with medical emergencies? (See "Safety Check," page 56.) Tuckwiller explains why this is especially important at a spa: "People’s medical and physical situations will be exaggerated in the spa. Because of hydrotherapy and the changes that go on in the body, it’s common for sugar levels to drop, for blood pressure to drop, for them to get queasy or pass out. Knowing how a property is going to respond to that is very important. I let [planners] know we have a doctor on call 24 hours a day."
  • What is the average staff tenure at the facility? Staff tenure is just as important as formal training, says Tuckwiller. "I’m much more impressed with my 40-year employee than with some of my younger people who have gone to lots of school. The older staff understand service and true hospitality, which you can’t always learn at school."
  • Are spa associates employed by the spa, or do they work on a contract basis? While contract workers may be just as experienced or talented as staff therapists, facilities that rely on fully employed associates might provide a higher consistency of service and typically enjoy greater stability and loyalty among spa workers. This will be important to organizations that plan to return to the same property year after year.
  • Special offerings
    While the vast majority of first-time spa users sign up for massages and facials, most spas offer a range of treatments and various styles of services.

    "If the planner is interested in offering a couple of services, the choice isn’t going to matter. But if the group has a yearly meeting at a spa resort, they’re going to want something different every year. That’s something a high-end spa can do," says Jacqueline Stein, spa sales manager for the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa.

    Other questions:

  • Will the spa vary programming to meet a group’s particular needs?
  • What kind of customized offerings can be arranged?
  • What classes are offered (yoga, exercise, meditation)?
  • Are there guided aerobic walks, hiking excursions, team-building exercises and other life-enhancing group activities?
  • Can demonstrations on healthy cooking be arranged, or talks on wellness topics such as stress reduction?
  • Does the spa offer theme or signature treatments or services that reflect its environs? For example, the Arizona Biltmore’s spa incorporates local plants and herbs into treatments.
  • Does the spa have a particular niche? Some focus on inner health or provide a European spa experience, for example (see "Special Treatments).
  • Smooth scheduling
    Another key consideration is spa capacity. Find out how many treatment rooms the facility has, how many services the spa can provide every hour and the spa’s hours of operation. Also investigate:
  • How flexible is the spa regarding scheduling?
  • Will the spa block a group of appointments ahead of time?
  • Does the facility require planners to pre-book appointments before the meeting, or can guests sign up on-site?
  • What spa facilities can guests use without paying extra? Some consider steam rooms, sauna, whirlpool and fitness equipment complimentary for all guests, while others charge a daily fee.
  • Good connections
    Finally, planners should find out whether the individual who shows them the spa and works with them on scheduling and billing matters is the same person who will oversee a group’s time at the spa.
  • "Ask if he is involved in the operational part of the spa or if he is going to turn you over to somebody who doesn’t know anything about the group," the Biltmore’s Stein suggests.
  • Establish a rapport with your key contact at the spa, stresses Lynne Mrachek, vice president of sales for R.R. Donnelly Group in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “What’s important to me is whether the director of the spa, or whomever is overseeing [the facility], is somebody I can really depend on. If I don’t have someone at a high level taking care of it, I wouldn’t go with that location."
  • Keep in close contact before the event. Toyota’s Carpenter says when she brought her group to the Biltmore earlier this year, the spa’s sales manager “kept in touch with me to make sure I was comfortable that everything was taking place as planned. Prior to us arriving, we had lots of phone calls. She was very accommodating, very helpful. It made the entire process effortless."

    The International SPA Association in Lexington, Ky., this year issued a series of standards and practices for members. Among items planners should consider when inspecting a facility:

    Is a first aid kit properly stocked and readily available at all times?

    imageIs a written emergency plan posted in plain view at all staff locations?

    Is there visible signagealerting and educating guests about possible risks and appropriate practices in exercise studios, pools, wet areas, saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools, etc.?

    Are floor surfaces designed and constructed to accommodate the intended activities in each area? For example, is there tile flooring in wet areas and wooden floors in exercise areas?

    Does an ongoing monitoring system ensure appropriate control of temperatures in saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools and exercise rooms?

    Does the facility comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act as well as with other federal, state, local and international regulations?

    Are spa associates available to provide assistance and instruction in the use of fitness and weight-training equipment?

    Are procedures for cleaning and maintenance in accordance with international, federal, state and local regulations as well as with manufacturers’ guidelines?


    Well before the group arrives at a spa resort, consider the following details.

    tippingWho’s paying? Generally, the host organization pays for one or two spa services per participant, or for one service daily. Planners might want to limit the choice of services to three of roughly equal value, such as a massage, a facial or a manicure/pedicure. Another approach is to give each participant a spa credit of, say, $100.

    What about tipping? Some spas add a service charge or gratuity of 15 to 20 percent; others leave it to the discretion of spa guests. If your organization is covering spa fees, you might want to pay gratuities as well.

    How will billing be handled? If your organization is picking up the tab for all spa services, the facility can simply bill expenses to the master account. For all other arrangements, clarify billing procedures in advance with spa staff.

    How will spa services be scheduled? Do you want to control the appointment-making process, leave it to attendees or let the spa take charge? Whatever the decision, be sure your group will be accommodated.


    Back to Current Issue index
    M&C Home Page
    Current Issue | Events Calendar | Newsline | Incentive News | Meetings Market Report
    Editorial Libraries | CVB Links | Reader Survey | Hot Dates | Contact M&C