Who among us doesn't crave a little relaxation on the road these days? As life — and travel — have become increasingly stressful, we need to step back and nourish ourselves to get motivated for the next round — and no one needs this more than the top producers who have worked 24/7 to achieve their goals.

“We wouldn't consider a resort for our incentive programs or our large client meetings that doesn't have a spa on property or very nearby,” says Rebecca Rosensweig, group director of strategic programs and events, Fidelity Investments, Boston.

Spas aren't just for women anymore, either. “We've seen a significant increase in spa treatments among male attendees,” says Rosensweig, who often blocks the entire spa for afternoon activities. During a recent 300-person client meeting, for example, attendees booked 200 spa treatments. At Fidelity meetings, spa treatments are so popular that the planning department asks attendees to book them on its online registration forms.

For an update on the spa scene, read on.

Best of the Best

Over the past year, I've visited many new spas across the country. They all had outstanding facilities and services, but they excelled in different areas. The following reviews, based on my experience, just skim the surface of the burgeoning inventory of fabulous new hotel and resort spas. For more information on new spas, see the “new and notable” section on page 84.

  • Best yoga: Golden Door Spa at The Boulders, Carefree, Ariz. Yoga classes were among the best I've experienced, with top-notch instructors. The circular studio ringed with mirrors and capped by a ceiling painted with a skyscape mural was both serene and highly functional.

  • Best scenery: Few views anywhere can top the mesa-like red rock cliffs of Sedona, Ariz. Mii amo, a destination spa at Enchantment Resort is nestled in this dramatic setting. It was designed to bring the outdoors in: Even the treatment rooms have drop-dead views. It's easy to see why this spot is sacred to the Apache Indians.

  • Best small spa: The Spa at Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne (Fla.). The atmosphere is bright, modern, and tropical, and the quality of the treatments is up there with the big guys.

  • Best design: Willow Stream at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The elegant three-level space, linked with a waterfall, was inspired by Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon and designed to take visitors on a journey through earth, air, fire, water, and wood (representing the strength of the willow tree). Rooms are bathed in a golden light; tactile stone treatments evoke the Arizona landscape.

  • Best spa cuisine: Mii amo. Okay, it's trendy, but the complimentary dish of warm endamame (soy) beans were unbelievably fresh and tasty.

  • Best spa treatment: A watsu massage at Golden Door Spa at the Boulders. A watsu is similar to shiatsu in the water: you're cradled, stretched, and given pressure-point acupressure in a special warm-water pool. The effect is both relaxing and invigorating.

  • Best indoor pool: The Spa at Pinehurst, N.C. As a swimmer I appreciated this tranquil indoor pool that's long enough for laps.

  • Best fitness facility: The Sports Club/LA at the Four Seasons San Francisco. Everything $50 million can buy, including a 10,000-square-foot weight training gym and a cardiovascular center with 150 pieces of equipment that feature personal TV monitors.

Spa Planning 101

How should planners go about finding the right hotel spa? First, make sure it's not a glorified fitness room. “A true spa offers a holistic experience, not just some exercise machines and a pool,” says Brian Richardson, vice president of brand marketing for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, operators of Willow Stream spas.

Nancy Soccorso, spa director at the Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne (Fla.), suggests that planners check out the possibility of offering attendees customized classes in yoga or meditation to add a wellness component to the spa experience.

Pay attention to the details, says Alexandra Tucker, spa sales manager for the Spa Palazzo at the Boca Raton (Fla.) Resort and Club, “The architecture, the cleanliness, the outdoor surroundings, and even soothing sounds like waterfalls in the spa are important factors to consider,” she says. Tucker's other tips for planners:

  • Look for a large selection of treatment rooms and water elements, with a variety of treatments offered.

  • An inhalation room is a nice perk for travel-weary attendees. It's similar to a sauna, but less hot, with herb-suffused air that helps clear up jet lag and reduce tension.

  • Make sure all spa personnel, including aestheticians and massage therapists, are well-trained and experienced.

  • Book the spa immediately after the hotel contract has been signed, and provide all the details as to what day the spa will be needed, what hours, and how many attendees are to be accommodated.
    Bill Gillette

On Location: Signature Treatments

They're all the rage: signature spa treatments that bring pampering to new heights. These special massages, baths, and wraps typically last 90 minutes to 2 hours, and are developed by individual spa directors to reflect the local culture or surroundings. They're great rewards for top incentive winners.

Chocolate Nirvana

Downing chocolate works wonders for the psyche, but who among us have imagined that melting in it would take our cares away? The signature treatments at Hotel Hershey (Pa.), in its 17,000-square-foot spa, do just that.

First, you're gently exfoliated from neck to toes with bits of chocolate, cocoa bean husks, and walnut shells. With the sweet smell of chocolate wafting about, it feels as if you're being prepared for some kind of esoteric chocolate-god ritual. After a warm rinse, you're ready for the Chocolate Fondue Wrap. Painted in warm “moor mud” that has been infused with the essence of cocoa, you are then wrapped in a space blanket and set to bake in your body heat for the next 20 minutes or so. Just as you reach complete meltdown, feeling too relaxed to lift a muscle, the technician appears and you are loofah-scrubbed and rinsed in warm water. With your skin gorgeously soft and smelling faintly of cocoa butter, you just might become a born-again chocolate lover.
Regina McGee

Arizona Odyssey

At Willow Stream, The Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale, an incredibly relaxing experience called the Havasupai Body Oasis, inspired by Arizona's Grand Canyon, begins with a waterfall shower, followed by a warm eucalyptus footbath, and gentle facial cleansing with a lavender-infused cloth. Stress melts away. Then you're led to a spacious treatment room and given a head-to-toe chamomile exfoliation treatment that's an invigorating wake-up call for your skin. A bubbly jet bath in a very deep bathtub follows, while thin slices of cucumber sooth the eyes. It's heaven. You're already jelly when you move back to the massage table for a massage and an aromatherapy wrap. At the end, your skin feels like silk and your mind feels renewed. The Grand Canyon was never like this.

Mellow Yellow

The Amarillo Infusion signature treatment at Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne envelops you in a cocoon of yellow, which represents the energy of the Florida sun and the inner balance of the third chakra. They say it is an uplifting color, and you feel both energized and relaxed when it's over. The sequence of stress-releasing treatments includes a massage with yellow oil, a tingly sea salt exfoliation, a chamomile bath infused with yellow flowers, and a loose body wrap with a foot, hand, and scalp massage. Afterwards, it's nice to take some quiet time in the spa's blue and yellow relaxation room while savoring an overall feeling of well-being.

What's In a Name?

Both Wyndham International and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts are banking on the appeal of a spa brand — separate from the hotel — to build name recognition. Wyndham's Golden Door is a well-known name, while Fairmont is starting from scratch with Willow Stream. Both brands are characterized by big, luxurious facilities equipped for state-of-the-art fitness and pampering. They are being aggressively marketed to corporate groups.

Wyndham acquired the rights to the Golden Door spa brand when it purchased the Golden Door destination spa in Escondido, Calif., in 1998. Since then Wyndham has added Golden Door spas at The Boulders, in Carefree, Ariz.; Las Casitas Village, in Puerto Rico; and the Wyndham Peaks Resort in Telluride, Colo.

The Willow Stream name was launched in 2001, and soon six Fairmont properties will carry the brand — in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Banff Springs, Alberta; Vancouver and Victoria, B.C.; Bermuda; and a new Willow Stream due to open in Acapulco this fall. “There's definitely an emerging market looking for the spa experience,” says Fairmont VP of brand marketing Brian Richardson.

Golf Muscles

Thinking about investing in a new golf club to improve your game? There's a better way. “If you want to drive the ball further, you need to work on yourself,” says Steve Phillips, a personal trainer and exercise physiologist who directs several golf fitness programs at the new Spa at Pinehurst in North Carolina. These range from a one-hour golf conditioning workout to a four-hour golf biomechanics program that assesses each joint from head to toe.

Like Pinehurst, many resort spas offer fitness programs and massage therapies to help keep people limber on the links. They're a great motivator for incentive attendees who are dedicated golfers. I was lucky to have my own golf conditioning workout with Phillips at Pinehurst, and came away convinced that golf fitness can make a big difference to your game.

Phillips says that golf fitness should be developed with four consecutive steps: flexibility, stability, strength training, and power training. “You can't get stronger without first becoming flexible,” he says. “Golfers who aren't flexible don't have a good range of motion in their swing, they get fatigued earlier in the round, and then they change their swing plane on the last few holes and throw their ball flight off. That's when they get hurt.” Any level of golfer — even those with physical limitations such as heart problems or bad hips — can improve their game with the right golf exercise program, Phillips adds.

His top fitness tip for any golfer: Stretch the neck and hamstrings regularly. “Once those golf muscles are in shape, you're able to hit the ball well with any kind of club.”

Bring the Spa to the Meeting

Not every hotel has a spa (not yet, anyway), and not every meeting has time for attendees to get lengthy spa treatments. But there are plenty of ways to bring a spa experience to the meeting, from 10-minute chair massages or partner yoga during breaks to hands-on seminars on health and wellness topics.

Christie Young, meeting and events coordinator for Virginia Farm Bureau Insurance, Richmond, Va., uses Virginia properties for all of her company's meetings, including three incentive programs yearly. Since there are only four hotels in the state that have on-site spa facilities, Young says she has learned to work with off-site spas located close to the meeting hotel. “It takes a lot of planning, at least 60 days in advance, to set up schedules, but I've found many independent spas are happy to make their facilities available,” she says. For large incentive groups, she takes over the entire spa for a day.

Only two of the seven resorts at Walt Disney World in Orlando have on-site spas, but that doesn't stop them from offering spa services. For a 200-person meeting at Disney's Grand Floridian in Orlando, guest rooms on one of the concierge floors were converted into temporary treatment rooms so attendees could enjoy a day of spa treatments.

“At Disney we've seen an increasing number of planners booking spa services for more traditional corporate meetings,” says George Aguel, senior vice president for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
Bill Gillette

New and Notable

  • The understated interior design of Mii amo, a destination spa at Enchantment Resort, Sedona, Ariz., allows the spectacular red-rock view to dominate. The 24,000-square-foot, two-level spa includes a circular Crystal Grotto meditation room and an indoor pool surrounded by built-in window benches. A short stroll from Enchantment Resort, Mii amo also has 14 spa guest rooms and two suites. www.miiamo.com
  • The 300-room, all-inclusive Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., has opened its $1.5 million Journeys Spa and changed its name to Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa. The two-level, 10,000-square-foot facility is the first spa in the U.S.V.I to offer hydrotherapy treatments, and also has full massage and body services, a complete fitness center, and a styling salon. www.wyndham.com

  • The 35,000-square-foot Spa at Cranwell Resort, Spa, & Golf Club in Lenox, Mass., has a 60-foot indoor pool, a 5,000-square-foot fitness center, a salon, and a spa café. There is a choice of 35 massage and body treatments as well as seasonal outdoor adventure fitness activities. www.cranwell.com

  • The 23,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Southampton Princess in Bermuda has 15 massage and hydro-therapy rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness center. There are three lounges: one for couples, one for women, and one for men. Several “for men only” treatments include a Gentlemen's Barber Facial. Among the facilities at the 44,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale, Ariz., are 25 treatment rooms that border the Canyon Oasis garden and a co-ed waterfall treatment pool. www.fairmont.com

  • A renovation of the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wis., has added a 10,000-square-foot sport and activity center and doubled the massage and salon treatment areas from 22 to 44. www.grandgeneva.com

  • The 33,000-square-foot Golden Door Spa at the Boulders in Carefree, Ariz., blends with the resort's signature boulder monument and combines Southwest and Asian design esthetics. The West Wing houses a 4,000-square-foot fitness center and movement studios, while facilities in the contemplative East Wing include treatment rooms, a salon, and a circular tea room. There are also specialty areas such as a watsu pool and shiatsu room. www.wyndham.com

  • The opulent, 50,000-square-foot Spa Palazzo at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, Fla., features 22 treatment suites and an extensive wet room with aromatic mineral baths, a whirlpool, Swiss and waterfall showers, and steam, sauna, and inhalation rooms. In addition, there is 10,000 square feet of gardens with waterfall whirlpools and a spa pool with underwater music. www.bocaresort.com

  • The immaculate, 10,000-square-foot Spa at Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne (Fla.) has a full complement of massage and body treatments, a fitness facility, and a full-service salon. www.sonesta.com

  • The 35,000-square-foot Sage Springs Club and Spa at Sunriver Resort, Sunriver, Ore. has 10 treatment rooms, a strength and cardiovascular conditioning center, a movement studio, lap pool, and three indoor tennis courts. Signature treatments feature indigenous ingredients such as sage, juniper, and pine. www.sunriver-resort.com

  • The 31,000-square-foot Spa at Pinehurst, N.C., is housed in a free-standing building that reflects the same gracious architectural style as the resort's Carolina Vista. The $12 million facility has an indoor lap pool, a full-service salon, and offers a wide range of spa treatments using indigenous botanicals. www.pinehurst.com

  • The Salus Heart and Wellness Spa at the Rancho Bernardo Inn offers wellness programs administered by medical professionals along with traditional spa treatments. Educational seminars on topics like heart health can be custom-tailored for corporate groups. www.salusheart.com

  • The 10,000-square-foot Aria Spa at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa has 14 treatment rooms, a couple's suite, and five manicure/pedicure stations. It is housed in the resort's 68,000-square-foot athletic club. www.vailcascade.com