Destination Spas Come of Age

WHEN MIRAVAL, A LUXURY DESTINATION SPA in Tucson, Ariz., opened nine years ago, “we had no idea corporate group business was going to take off like it did,” says conference services manager Mary Monaghan. Now, she says, corporate retreats account for 30 percent to 40 percent of Miraval's total revenue.

The evolution of “fat farms” into destination spas happened more than a decade ago, but only in the past few years have they become hot tickets for upscale corporate retreats. Unlike conventional resorts, destination spas focus exclusively on lifestyle improvement and health enhancement. Programs and facilities vary, but all include fitness activities, wellness education, healthful spa cuisine, and a spectrum of spa treatments. The largest and most highly rated places, such as Miraval and Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Ariz., and Lenox, Mass., provide five-star service as well.

The new popularity of spa retreats and incentives is due in part to corporate awareness that healthy employees are productive employees. At Miraval, where financial services firms are among the “household name” companies that have taken over the 106-room property for groups of up to 160 people, “you can see [attendee] morale skyrocket” when groups are in-house, says Monaghan. There are about four corporate buyouts a year, she says.

Even small destination spas are seeing an uptick in corporate retreats. Cal-a-Vie, a deluxe destination spa in Vista, Calif., that can host groups of up to 25 people, is opening a new facility this month that features 2,500 square feet of meeting space with high-speed Internet access, plus 2,800 square feet for teambuilding and breakout sessions. “We've built the new meeting facilities partially in response to an increase in RFPs from corporations and meeting planners interested in holding retreats at Cal-a-Vie,” says Maria Sternlicht, director of sales and marketing.

Destination spas tailor activities for groups, and some offer a menu of corporate programs. Canyon Ranch formalized its corporate retreats program about three years ago, says Laura Orley, sales manager, who adds that “corporate group business has become more important over the past few years, and both [Canyon Ranch] properties are looking to grow this part of our business.” Favorite Canyon Ranch group activities include a teambuilding ropes program, sessions with behavioral therapists and nutritionists, and private breakfasts in a demonstration kitchen. Guided group hikes to a mountaintop meeting place are also popular, says Orley.

At Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah, a 174-room and luxury villa property nestled at the foot of Snow Canyon State Park and known for its hiking program, three themed meeting packages — Creativity, Balance in Life, and Peak Performance — combine targeted physical activities with atmospheric aids such as aromatherapy scents. The Balance in Life program, for instance, might begin with a spirit hike or a sunrise yoga class. The Inner Game of Balance that follows is conducted in a room where calming geranium and stress-relieving sandalwood and lavender oils are diffused into the meeting room.


Making Hotel Spas Distinctive

STARWOOD IS THE LATEST hotel chain to get on the spa branding bandwagon. The Starwood Spa Collection consists of 30 elite spas around the globe, ranging from the Spa Gaucin at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, Calif., to the AltiraSpa at the Mardavall Hotel & Spa in Mallorca, Spain.

Each Starwood Spa meets a lengthy list of membership criteria that include such factors as overall spa size, the number of treatment rooms, and the kinds of services offered. So far, “the feedback has been good, and the brand has become recognizable,” says Elaine Fernard, Starwood vice president of spa development. Another eight spas will join the collection in 2005, she says.

Marc Pujalet, president of Noble House Hotels and Resorts, owners and managers of 12 luxury properties in the United States, says that its SpaTerre brand provides a way of “really breaking away from the generic spa.” SpaTerre, launched two years ago, are currently in five Noble House properties; another three are scheduled to open at the end of the year. The spas, Pujalet says, have become “extraordinarily profitable,” and the brand has become so distinctive that Noble House has received requests from large destination resorts asking about licensing the name.


Bring the Spa to the Meeting

EVEN THE BEST MEETING can reach a point at which energy begins to flag, attention wanes, and stress begins to build. What better way to handle those challenges than with a spa break? More and more planners are bringing the spa to the meeting by incorporating everything from 10-minute chair massages to yoga stretches during the breaks.

“I don't think it's just a fad,” says Norma Probst, marketing director for the Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club in Lenox, Mass. Probst estimates that up to a quarter of the resort's group clientele experience some kind of spa break.

Maria Sawyer, director of sales and marketing at the Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian in Las Vegas, says that spa breaks have become popular in part because companies are becoming more interested in the health of their employees. “It's definitely a growing trend,” she says. “It's certainly more popular now than when we opened five years ago.” She also points out that meeting planners often contact her about spa breaks before she has a chance to contact the planners.

The spa break isn't confined to U.S. resorts. In London, the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre offers a Bliss Break, during which planners can arrange for attendees to receive Indian head massages, foot massages, and other treatments.

Fitness breaks are coming into vogue as well. At the Four Seasons Hotel Miami, a choice of Fit Breaks includes resistance stretching with elastic bands and “hand jive games.”

For spa-less resorts and other venues, planners can contract out. Spa Chicks On-the-Go, a mobile spa company in New York, has been in business less than a year but has already built up an extensive corporate business, sometimes in the most unlikely of venues. “We can turn tents into virtual spa rooms,” says Marie Scalogna, president.

Bliss doesn't come cheap, however. Narda Henry, spa group coordinator for the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami, reports that chair massage stations in hospitality suites, outside meeting rooms, and even on the golf course are popular. But at $160 per chair per hour, things can get pricey. “You can't have just one chair massage for 100 people,” Henry says.

On Location: Canyon Ranch

WHAT'S AMAZING about the Canyon Ranch experience is how much you learn about your health. When I visited the Lenox, Mass., destination spa this summer (there's also one in Tucson, Ariz.,), I was blown away by the level of attention and expertise from the in-house medical personnel. For example, guests fill out a detailed health questionnaire that they discuss with a registered nurse. This is the kind of hourlong talk you wish your doctor had time for. It not only helps you to choose from the hundreds of fitness activities and therapeutic services, but it gives you a road map for maintaining good health when you return to the real world.

This spa is becoming popular for corporate retreats, and the 3-to-1 staff/guest ratio provides the level of service that execs and top-tier producers expect. Or celebs — during my visit, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were in residence. Lest you think the Ranch is for women only, John Travolta and his buddies have been guests as well.

Croatia: World-Class Wellness

Within a few hours' ride of Zagreb are three hotels with world-class wellness spas in the heart of Istria, a region long known for its exceptional tourist attractions and pleasant climate. In the town of Umag, The Hotel Sol Koralj and Hotel Sol Umag, both lovely four-star properties, sit on acres of peaceful tranquility in close proximity to Italy. Porec, a city in Istria, is a UNESCO site and a popular tourist resort. There, the Hotel Diamant is known for its fitness facilities and extensive menu of spa and wellness treatments.

All three properties feature state-of-the-art Beauty & Health wellness centers, with enchanting whirlpools, stress reducing health facilities, and the fragrant scent of lavender in the air. For more on health tourism in Croatia, visit