When Atlantic Mutual Companies in Madison, N.J., took a group of 18 top agents to the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., for a four-day meeting, many attendees opted to use the spa in their one afternoon of leisure.

Spas have become so popular with incentive groups that whenever meeting planners conduct a site visit at Ponte Vedra, the spa is one of the first things they want to tour, says Andy Radovic, vice president of sales and marketing. He adds that it's also one of the major reasons planners select the resort.

The ultra-modern spa, offering more than 100 services and featuring a relaxing garden where daily spa lunches are served, is considered one of north Florida's most luxurious facilities.

“The spa is a very important component of the meeting. Not only is it great for meeting attendees, but also for spouses who are invited on incentive trips,” adds Radovic.

Atlantic Mutual Meeting Planner JoAnn Ryan, who recently joined the commercial insurance company, says trips to spa resorts are indeed popular among both company employees and agents, who like the opportunity to travel to indulge themselves. Many of the Atlantic Mutual meetings, says Ryan, are held at the company's headquarters campus, which has its own conference facilities. This makes spa resort meetings an even bigger treat, she adds.

Spa-tacular Offerings

Atlantic Mutual is certainly not unusual for preferring to take meeting or incentive groups to resorts with spas, and lavish spa facilities have become much easier to find.

“Groups are looking for one-stop shopping,” says Chuck McElligott, spa director at The Diplomat Country Club & Spa in Hallandale, Fla. Golf and tennis are just not enough anymore, he comments.

“For the workaholics of the world and the baby boomer generation, the opportunity to rejuvenate during a meeting is becoming more attractive.”
— Jill Flynn, director of marketing, Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa

In fact, spas are a major component of any resort built these days, according to The International SPA Association's 2000 Spa Industry Study, prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In 1999, the U.S. spa market was a $5 billion business with 5,700 spas. This year, the burgeoning industry is projected to surpass $11 billion with 7,000 spas, according to Spacifically 2001, a trade show company for spas, resorts, and hotels.

Put It on Your Inspection List

When shopping for a resort, a site inspection of the spa is as important as one for the other elements of the property, says McElligott. Planners need to learn about spa services and special programs.

“We all live in this techno-age and are not connected to nature. We spend so many years behind a desk in a gloomy environment. When people come here for a meeting, they also need to relax.”
— Bruce Josephs, spa and recreation director, Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort

“We all live in this techno-age and are not connected to nature,” says Bruce Josephs, spa and recreation director at Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort on Grand Bahama Island. “We spend so many years behind a desk in a gloomy environment. When people come here for a meeting, they also need to relax.”

“For the workaholics of the world and the baby boomer generation, having the opportunity to rejuvenate during a meeting is becoming more attractive,” says Jill Flynn, director of marketing at the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa, which opened in June in Groton, Conn.

The Mystic Marriott features the region's first Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, a major attraction for meeting programs, according to Flynn. “People want to get back in balance with their life, and the spa is very important to groups.”

This was indeed the case when a group of 50 employees from a strategic planning division at American Express traveled to Our Lucaya in May for a meeting.

The group of internal consultants to various departments at American Express had only one free day, and the spa was a highlight of the trip, says Jennifer Alexander, group sales manager, meetings and incentives at American Express One.

Likewise, Simon Flynn, a meeting and event planner at Flynn Management Associates in Glastonbury, Conn., says he always looks for spas when booking venues for his clients. In fact, he came very close to booking a new posh hotel in New York City, but ultimately he decided against it because it didn't offer a spa. “I didn't think it would draw the group,” says Flynn.

Not for Women Only

Spas have grown in popularity because men — as well as women — are seeing the major health benefits of stress reduction. According to research conducted by Health Fitness Dynamics, 41 percent of men want to escape to a place where they are able to relax, rest, and exercise to reduce stress.

That's why Our Lucaya creates a male-friendly atmosphere at its Senses Spa. Some of its treatments include the Athlete's Sense sports massage, which incorporates a strong Swedish massage with stretching techniques, and the Common Sense Facial for Him, which cleanses and hydrates the skin with products made for men.

“Spas are no longer viewed as just a girls' day activity,” says Natalie Sim, spa director at The Four Seasons Las Vegas, which tripled the size of its spa in March due in part to heavy demand from groups.

McElligott has also witnessed an increase in the number of meeting attendees — including both men and women — using the spa. In May, for example, The Diplomat hosted a group of 300 people from PricewaterhouseCoopers. One hundred forty-five people opted for spa services, while only 80 chose to play golf.

Some of the popular spa treatments at The Diplomat — which has 17 treatment rooms and offers spa services in-room, beachside, or under poolside cabanas — include the all-time favorite Swedish massage; the “From the Garden” chamomile body scrub and massage using floral essences; and the resort's signature hydrotherapy treatments. The 25-minute Thalassobath, for example, uses French algae and crystallized seawater.

Well-Rounded Package

A successful meeting at a spa resort should encompass more than spa treatments, says Peter Thoene, director of sales at the Outrigger Waikoloa Beach and Hawaiian Rainforest Spa on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Special programs for groups — including chair massages during meeting breaks, yoga classes on the beach, meditation sessions, and stress management seminars — are just some of the activities in high demand, says Thoene, who often works with planners to put together blocks of time for yoga classes and seminars.

These days the sky's the limit when it comes to special spa programs for groups. For example, The Woodmark Hotel on the east side of Lake Washington in Kirkland, Wash., often incorporates special touches — such as rolling manicure tables outside meeting rooms for quick manicures during breaks, and spa cuisine luncheons — says General Manager Tom Waithe.

The Woodmark typically hosts small groups from area companies. These groups, which come to the 100-room resort for brainstorming sessions and relaxation at the spa, are often looking for something a bit different, and The Woodmark is happy to accommodate them, says Waithe.

To determine whether groups would be interested in special services — such as yoga or fitness classes — Ponte Vedra Inn & Club goes so far as to assign a “spa coordinator” to each meeting planner. The coordinators help arrange classes and schedule appropriate spa treatments for attendees, both in the treatment rooms or outside in the resort's spa garden, says Radovic.

One of the most popular programs is a 15-minute yoga class conducted during coffee breaks at early morning meetings. “After a couple cups of coffee and doughnuts, this can be quite invigorating,” he says.

Darlene Davison, spa director at the Don CeSar Beach Resort & Spa in St. Pete Beach, Fla., says, “Instead of cigarette breaks, people are gravitating toward the massage chairs [for quick 10-minute massages]. We have trouble prying them off the chairs,” says Davison.

The 92-room Sanderling Inn in Duck, N.C., encourages planners to tack an extra “wellness” day onto group itineraries. This day can incorporate an early morning walk on the beach, followed by a yoga stretch class, a meditation break, and a healthy breakfast.

Later on, the group will be invited to take a healthful cooking class. To keep up the momentum, afternoon activities will often highlight seminars on stress management, says spa director Barbara Ballantine.

A checklist of essential questions that will help your meeting run smoothly

  • How many treatment rooms do you have? Can you accommodate a large group in the spa or on the beach, in-room, or elsewhere?

  • How far in advance should treatments for attendees be booked?

  • Will it be possible for attendees to add treatments once they arrive?

  • What is your cancellation policy? If five people schedule treatments and then decide to play golf instead of using the spa, can we get a refund?

  • What other spa programs can you offer? Chair massages during meeting breaks? Yoga classes or meditation sessions on the beach? Nutrition and stress-management seminars?

  • What is the cost of the treatments, and do you offer group discounts or special perks for planners?

Spa Gifts Keep the Healthy Spirit Alive

Resorts with spas offer another terrific amenity: Many can arrange spa prizes to hand out during meetings. For example, a spa treatment or gift certificate can be a great door prize, award for a teambuilding activity, or pillow gift.

Spa gift baskets for group attendees are also becoming increasingly popular, according to spa directors. Meeting planners often ask them to create welcome-present baskets or final-day trip mementos. These might include aromatherapy massage oils, bath crystals, face masks, body exfoliation scrubs, spa cuisine cookbooks, or even a luxurious robe, says Andy Radovic, vice president of sales and marketing at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, Ponte Vedra, Fla.

Resorts can also help planners create personalized spa sampler gift packages, such as the “Deutsch Telecom Spa Sampler,” which might include lotions, oils, and other spa amenities, says Nancy DeMond, director of sales and marketing at The Woodmark.

Do Your Research

A spa is much more than a physical location. Each resort might have a different healthy living philosophy and spa treatment menu — key things to check out during a site visit, says Mary Bemis, editor in chief of American Spa.

Also, each company has different goals, and this could affect where you decide to hold your spa meeting. For example, an intimate incentive group of 15 — including spouses — might be more comfortable at a smaller resort, such as The Woodmark, La Posada, or The Sanderling.

On the other hand, the all-inclusive, 792-room Spa Palace, which opens in October in Cancun, might be just the spot for a large corporate meeting of up to 400 people. In the Mayan Riviera an hour south of Cancun, Mexico, Spa Palace will feature 103 treatment rooms — 28 under oceanview palapas. The resort also offers whirlpools, steam and sauna rooms, and hydro-reflexology services. Fitness facilities include a gym with an outdoor free-weight area, lap pool, meditation pond, climbing tower, and and aerobics room.

Also in the Caribbean, SuperClubs' Grand Lido properties (Grand Lido Sans Souci, Grand Lido Negril, and Grand Lido Braco, all in Jamaica) have spa facilities that include manicures and pedicures in the package price (one per person). The Grand Lido Sans Souci is the only one that includes spa treatments as a part of its regular package, says Camille Prince, lead group sales associate. Spa treatments for groups, minimum of 20 persons, can be negotiated for 5 percent to 15 percent off the regular rates.

Grand Lido Sans Souci includes the following spa treatments as part of its regular package: massage, reflexology, body scrub, facial, manicure and pedicure, yoga, meditation, and rites to rejuvenation. “Grand Lido Sans Souci is a very special property with several mineral springs that run all over the property,” says Prince.

In Tampa, Fla., the Saddlebrook Resort offers both a spa and a wellness center, developed by Nick Hall, PhD, MD, a speaker and consultant. In addition to personal beauty services of skin, hair, and nail care, the spa offers massage therapy, hydrotherapy, herbal and seaweed body wraps, Moor mud treatments, and aromatherapy. Among the private treatment rooms is one for couples with a soaking tub.

Knowing what to ask can certainly go a long way. For example, The Outrigger Waikoloa Beach Resort will offer group discounts of up to 20 percent.

The Sanderling, which hosts many corporate retreats, board meetings, and small incentive trips, offers meeting planners free spa treatments if they book all the spa services for the group. If a planner has the resort do all the leg work — which entails calling each attendee to educate them about various spa services and booking treatments — The Sanderling will offer the company a group spa discount, says spa director Barbara Ballantine.

Help Your Group Relax and Set Goals

Over the past few years, spa resorts have become increasingly popular among groups because they offer overworked, stressed employees the opportunity to escape to a completely new environment. Instead of the “cramped, closed, and brightly lighted walls of the office,” spas offer a soothing place to meet, says Mary Bemis, a spa expert and editor-in-chief of American Spa.

Here are some of the many advantages meeting planners should keep in mind when considering a spa meeting, according to Bemis and Spa Finder, a leading spa Web site:

  • “A spa environment helps employees get out of a mental and/or physical rut,” says Bemis.

  • Teaching new fitness techniques and proper nutrition habits helps to increase energy and improve attendees' health long after the meeting. “What corporation doesn't value a healthy employee?” asks Bemis.

  • Spa treatments, such as massage and reflexology — an ancient Chinese technique using pressure-point massage on the feet to help release energy throughout the body and relieve stress — do wonders for reducing tension, which in turn can lead to more productive meetings.

  • Special mind and body programs, such as yoga classes, help teach meeting attendees important stress-relieving breathing techniques. According to a recent report, 15 million people make yoga a part of their fitness regimen — double the number from five years ago, according to Bemis.

  • Better decisions are made when your group is relaxed. Spas, which help relieve tension, can invigorate employees and nurture working relationships.