by Tom Isler | April 01, 2007

Sea Island Resort


Newly renovated Cloister
at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort

Evidence of the escalating spa craze in the United States lies not only in the number of hotels and resorts constructing oases of wellness, but in the size of the facilities as well.

Twenty-seven percent of existing “luxury or upper-upscale hotels” in the United States now have spas, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers and Smith Travel Research, and four in 10 hotels being developed in this category include plans for spas. But even more telling is the fact that a hotel spa encompassing 25,000 square feet and/or offering at least 25 treatment rooms is no longer a rarity.

A rash of resorts that once contained boutique spas with a handful of treatment rooms are supersizing their facilities, while other hotel spas that were large to begin with are finding that customer demand can support even more expansive facilities.

This expansion trend reflects and encourages a change in spa behavior, which is good news for groups that embrace the spa lifestyle.

“I think spas are becoming a little more social,” explains Jeremy McCarthy, director of spa operations and development for White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. “It’s not just a place for quiet time by yourself.”

Both the International Spa Association (ISPA), based in Lexington, Ky., and Spa Finder, a spa research, marketing and publishing company based in New York City, note the increasing social atmosphere at spas as a key trend for this year.

As spas add more treatment rooms, they’re also expanding lobbies and creating more relaxation rooms, spaces where small groups -- birthday parties, bachelorette bashes, friends on a weekend getaway or meeting attendees -- can enjoy a shared experience.

Because lobbies and relaxation rooms aren’t purpose-built to generate revenue, sales directors are always looking for creative (and profitable) ways for the spaces to be used. That’s where groups come in. The public spaces at large spas are prime venues for after-hours receptions, ready-made with alluring decor. For receptions, spas can whip up a menu of healthy hors d’oeuvres and juices for guests, or set up spa stations for quick sample treatments.

The most obvious advantage of facilities with more treatment rooms is their ability to handle more people in a shorter period of time. “Groups have a fixed agenda or time schedule and want to put 100 or 200 people through the spa, but they don’t want to start at six in the morning, and they don’t want to go at nine at night because they have other things to do,” says Jim Root, general manager of spa operations at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort and ISPA chairman. Large facilities, while not inherently better than smaller spas, accommodate larger groups more easily, he adds.

Groups also embrace spas as venues for team building, because the spa ambience encourages co-workers to look beyond titles and business cards and relate to each other as equals, not as bosses or subordinates. According to Andy Radovic, vice president of sales and marketing for the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., dressing guests in robes and having them interact in the spa environment is a recipe for “a leveling kind of afternoon.”

Following are seven new -- and huge -- resort spas that are especially group-friendly.

Park Hyatt


Soothing site:
Allegria Spa at the
Park Hyatt Beaver Creek
Resort in Colorado


Allegria Spa at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort
Beaver Creek, Colo.
(970) 949-1234;

The new Allegria Spa at the 190-room Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort is nearly twice the size of the resort’s former spa of the same name, at 30,000 square feet, but it has just two additional treatment rooms, for a total of 23, including four couples’ suites. In other words, much of the expansion has been dedicated to new public spaces.

“The old spa was beautiful,” says spa general manager Gaye Steinke. “We just felt we needed more room.”

The grand-opening party for Allegria this past January demonstrated what the expanded facility offers groups. At the gala, 150 guests entered through the two-story reception area, with its grand floating staircase, and sampled smoothie cocktails, wine and champagne. After milling around the first floor, guests moved upstairs to indulge (fully clothed) in 10-minute facials; foot, hand and neck massages; and other short treatments.

Steinke says the atmosphere, which could be re-created for groups after hours, was relaxed because guests were not asked to do anything that made them uncomfortable.

Groups staying at the resort, which has 17,000 square feet of meeting space, tend to use the spa for individual treatments, but “suddenly we have much more space for social group events that we just couldn’t do before,” Steinke says.

A key feature of the new spa is 6,000 square feet of new pools, tubs and showers, which together constitute the so-called Aqua Sanitas (“water health”), a ritual guests are invited to undergo before treatments. The treatment includes pools of different temperatures, containing special salts, and also an other-worldly steam room with a ceiling that looks the way the night sky does from atop Beaver Creek Mountain on a cloudless night.