by Jonathan Vatner | November 01, 2005

plunge pool

A plunge pool at The Spa
at Mandarin Oriental, New York

Spas in city hotels certainly have changed over the past two decades. “The old urban spa was a 10-by-14-foot room not much better than a closet, adjacent to the gym,” says Craig Reid, who serves as general manager of the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas and oversees the chain’s spas. “As you were getting your massage, you’d hear the guys on the treadmill.”
    Today, urban spas are more dignified affairs, and not just because they’re soundproof. The resort spa boom of recent years proved that a must-try facility could attract transient travel and meetings alike. As city life grows more hectic, downtown properties have begun to understand a sumptuous hotel spa can likewise be a draw.
    On the following pages, M&C reports on some market leaders and the impact they’ll have on the way business meetings are held.
    Four Seasons Toronto-based Four Seasons started focusing on building spas in all its resorts five years ago. More recently, however, the mission to pamper has broadened to the urban landscape. Craig Reid says vacation lengths are decreasing, leading travelers to favor cities over resorts and splurge on the spa.
    “We’re looking for quick recharge,” Reid notes. “People will pay a richer premium for a more luxurious and unique experience.”
    In terms of design, Four Seasons spas vary widely; however, the general trend veers away from the stately and toward the casual. For example, at the Four Seasons Dallas, a recent renovation changed the look of the spa from the marble-and-gold standard to a textured look, with pebbles and limestone. “It reflects the modern palate for luxury, which has become deformalized,” Reid explains. “The symbol of luxury of yesteryear was the Rolls-Royce; today it’s the Mercedes or Lexus elegant but understated. The same is true with hotels.”
    Four Seasons opened spas most recently in Miami and San Francisco. The Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto (Calif.) will have a spa when it opens in early 2006, and spas are in planning stages at the chain’s properties in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Hyatt Hotels and Resorts has just seven urban spas in North America (and 15 internationally), but facilities are planned in 29 of 35 upcoming urban hotels, and existing hotels have begun to investigate the feasibility of adding spas. Locations with a strong local market have been getting the green light.
    Gordon Tareta, director of spa operations for the Chicago-based chain, says meeting planners favor city hotels with spas over those without, even though most meetings in urban settings do not include an afternoon at the spa.
    “If all the amenities are there to choose from, it’s certainly a decision-making factor when choosing the hotel,” says Tareta.
    The Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego has had a spa since it opened; however, in March 2004, a new, neoclassically decorated facility with eight treatment rooms, a second pool deck and a fitness center debuted at the property.
    “What we have to offer is comparable to a half-day excursion,” says Jennie Breister, spa director. “We consider ourselves an urban escape.”