As the popularity of spas has skyrocketed at financial and insurance meetings, planners have started to carefully manage the process of site selection, booking, and contract negotiations. “If we're going to a big spa destination, such as the Grand Wailea [Resort Hotel and Spa on Maui], we grab our blocks early,” says Marla Hannigan, senior meeting planner for Mutual of Omaha in Omaha, Neb. “It's the same kind of rule that applies to golf.”

How early? Typically, Nikki Cloutier, senior planner with Allianz Life Insurance Co., Minneapolis, sets up her spa blocks nine to 12 months prior to an incentive program “to ensure I get preferred rates, times, and treatments.”

Visiting the spa has become an essential part of the site inspection for many planners. Hannigan, for example, looks at the size of the spa, the number of treatment rooms available, and its willingness to work with groups.

Melissa Cohill, event coordinator for Fusion Financial Group of Austin, Texas, notes that “because spas have become such an integral part of meetings, it is very important to know about the type of facility, the cleanliness, the spa rating, the technicians, and the type of products [used for treatments].” She also advises that planners make sure there is a contract addendum that includes the details of the spa block.

When it comes to rates, Cloutier says she negotiates with either her hotel or spa sales contact: If the spa is independently owned, she'll deal directly with a spa representative. Says Cloutier, “I've had success in negotiating 5 to 10 percent off the published rates.”

Spa Trends

The spa-building craze that began several years ago shows no signs of abating. “A new hotel or resort, or the renovation of an existing one will, without question, include the construction or expansion of spa facilities,” says Diane Freeland, vice president of corporate sales for Spafinder, a New York — based spa travel and marketing company. Spafinder predicts several trends that could impact incentive programs and meetings. The high end of the spa market, for example, is expected to become even more luxurious, with new services like four-hour massages and three-therapist treatments. Look for increasing numbers of resort spas to offer ever-more-exotic body treatments and specialty regional massage therapies, such as Thai, Shiatsu, and Ayurveda.

Freeland points to the increasing availability of mobile spas — complete with therapists, massage tables, and pedicure carts — that give planners the option of bringing spa services directly to the meeting. She also observes a trend that planners have already discovered — men enjoy the spa.

“Spas have become non-gender-specific,” Cohill says. “Men are enjoying massages and facials, as well as sauna and steam room options.” She says that if spa services are available to meeting attendees, they'll find a way to fit them into their schedules without having to compromise on other kinds of activities like golf.

What Do Spa Guests Want?

A survey of 1,000 frequent travelers by Small Luxury Hotels of the World, released in April, suggests that spa treatments have become a major focus of guests at top tier hotels. Thirty-six percent of the respondents said they spend more on spa therapies than they do on fine dining, and typically book up to three spa treatments during a weeklong hotel stay.

The most commonly booked spa services of the travelers surveyed are, in order, aromatherapy massages, facials, local “signature” therapies, manicures, “creative” treatments, Ayurvedic massages, reflexology, body wraps, and hydrotherapy programs.

Survey respondents also were asked what they disliked about spa experiences. Their replies included:

  • Having to be naked for treatments

  • Hard-sell tactics to buy spa products

  • Any sign of uncleanliness or lack of hygiene

  • Being rushed out of a spa room once a treatment is completed

  • Having to make small talk with over-familiar staff