It's not news that spa services now rival golf as a must-have activity for high-end meetings. The question is: Are popular treatments such as massages, facials, and pedicures negotiable? And if not, can you negotiate added value for the spa-goers in your group? First and foremost, say meeting planners, you should negotiate early for spa services — and get it in writing. As a contract concession, Nikki Cloutier, senior planner with Allianz Life Insurance Co. in Minneapolis, has in some cases successfully negotiated complimentary spa treatments for VIPs based on volume of group business committed to the spa, a concession that is easier to negotiate if the spa is owned or operated by the resort, she says.

Advance planning can also reap other benefits. In arranging spa services for a conference recently, Cloutier secured a preliminary block of treatments eight months out, with the understanding that she could decrease the block by any amount as long as it fell between the signing of the contract and two weeks prior to the first scheduled appointment. This meant she was able to get the most-requested treatment times, mid- to late afternoon, which otherwise would have been booked to capacity.

Having a written agreement with the spa that spells out the discount and the cancellation timetable to avoid any financial penalties is all-important, Cloutier stresses. The agreed-upon percentage of gratuities and taxes, which usually run between 18 and 20 percent and are much less negotiable items, should be spelled out as well.

Research the Spa

Do some research to help get the best deals. For example, if the spa has a big local customer base, there may not be much wiggle room for negotiating.

Patty Sabo, senior buyer, strategic travel and event procurement, for Carlson Marketing Group, based in Plymouth, Minn., advises, “Know the value of the package you are taking to the property, and what it will mean to them. When you do that, it's powerful, and you can leverage your spend.”

Sabo notes that if the spa is independently owned, it will be harder to negotiate spa fees. “If there's an outside contractor you've done enough business with at other properties, you've got leverage to negotiate a discount or some extra value. Don't hesitate to push the hotel to help you negotiate discounts or complimentary spa passes.”

What's Negotiable?

In one particularly successful negotiation for a program of 100 couples that was a near-buyout of a resort, Sabo was able to provide two complimentary spa treatments for each meeting participant. They chose from a mini-list of 50-minute treatments. This was negotiated on the front end when booking the program and was specified in the contract, says Sabo.

However, many suppliers contend that there's very little room to negotiate spa prices. Lori Holland, spokesperson for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which has its own spa brand called Willow Stream, says services can't be discounted very much because there are too many fixed costs — but there are opportunities for planners to get added value. “Planners are always in a better negotiating position when they have actually contracted spa treatments for their programs,” Holland says. “We can then negotiate to add value, such as upgrading to deluxe treatment rooms that might have an outside patio, upgrading treatments, or even theming treatments to reflect the group's program.”

John Kossenynas, spa director at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, in Naples, Fla., agrees that it's hard to offer discounts because spas are such a labor-intensive business and have low profit margins. He contacts planners immediately after they book with the hotel because the spa fills up quickly, and he can offer a 5 percent discount if they are booking 100 spa visits or more. The spa at the new Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grand Lakes, offers the same 5 percent discount if 100 appointments are guaranteed.

Planners who book group spa treatments at the MGM Grand also qualify for the executive spa service. Once the number, type, and timeframe of treatments has been decided, the spa e-mails a sign-up grid to the planner. After that is completed and sent back, the spa sets up an expedited check-in process, with appointment cards that can be mailed out to participants and included in the event registration packet. When participants arrive at the spa, they receive a small gift such as a small aromatherapy candle or a sample skin-care kit.

Sometimes planners can reduce the length of services to cut costs, but it might negatively impact the experience. At time-challenged meetings, however, shorter treatments may be the only way that attendees can enjoy spa services. “We actually have a separate spa menu, with shortened services for conferences, because we found that often participants didn't have time to take advantage of the full services,” says Geraldine Hoffman, director of the spa at The Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine. These services are usually 20-minute sessions done wherever the business meetings are held within the hotel, sometimes between breakout sessions.

Eileen Kennedy is business editor at The Telegraph, the daily newspaper in Nashua, N.H.

The Price of Pampering

Popular men's treatments:

  • sports massages and hot stone massages, $90 to $110
  • scalp treatments, $50
  • pedicures, $50

Popular women's treatments:

  • Swedish or deep-tissue massages, $90 to $110
  • facials, $90 to $100
  • body scrubs, $70 and up

Source: Spa Finder,