Every year, Gen-Probe Inc. takes its CEO, vice president of sales, national sales manager, and top six sales representatives and their spouses on a trip to someplace special, someplace where they can feel pampered — someplace with a spa.

“I look for different things when planning an incentive trip for 15 people than when planning a national sales meeting for 100,” says Debra Luff, former national sales manager at the San Diego — based manufacturer of medical diagnostics products.

Luff is now a sales manager at ViroLogic, a company that specializes in drug-resistance testing for HIV patients. But during her 14 years at Gen-Probe, she was responsible for planning dozens of meetings, including yearly incentive trips.

“The trips were only four days long, and I wanted to take my reps someplace different. My goal was not just to thank my reps but also their spouses, who had supported them during a difficult year,” she says.

A rejuvenating trip to La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa in June 2000 was particularly memorable, according to Luff.

The exclusive boutique resort in Santa Fe features an exquisite spa steeped in Southwestern tradition. For example, signature treatments include an adobe mud wrap. Gen-Probe attendees were allotted $150 to $200 to spend on spa treatments, which were booked ahead of time and confirmed upon arrival, but once there, many chose to add more services.

Each night, attendees were surprised with imaginative gifts in their hotel rooms, one of which was a basket of spa accessories.

And such pampering is not just for corporate attendees. 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.

“Spas hit on the trend for busy people to take time out to take care of themselves.”
— Simon Flynn

Flynn recently booked a meeting for the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association in February 2002 at the Mystic Marriott. The meeting of about 300 veterinarians has education as its focus. Yet Flynn will also schedule spa treatments for the attendees so they can relax during their free time. “Spas hit on the trend for busy people to take time out to take care of themselves,” he says.

Women Are Not Alone

Besides offering groups a more relaxed setting, spas have grown in popularity because men — as well as women — are seeing the major health benefits of stress reduction. Ac-cording to research conducted by Health Fitness Dynamics, 41 percent of men want to escape to a place where they can relax, rest, and exercise to reduce stress.

That's why Our Lucaya in the Bahamas creates a male-friendly atmosphere at its Senses Spa. Some of its male-oriented spa 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 at The Diplomat in Hollywood, Fla., has also witnessed an increase in the amount of meeting attendees using the spa — both men and women. Some of the more popular spa treatments at The Diplomat — which has 17 treatment rooms and also 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 Thalas-sobath, for example, uses algae and seawater to nourish the body.

A Little Yoga with Your Coffee

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 on fitness and nutrition.

The Woodmark Hotel on Lake Washington in Kirkland, Wash., for example, 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.

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

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.

“My goal was not just to thank my reps but also their spouses, who had supported them during a difficult year.”
— Debra Luff

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

At the 92-room Sanderling Inn in Duck, N.C., planners are encouraged to tack on an extra “wellness” day to group itineraries.

The wellness 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 members will be invited to take a healthful cooking class. Afternoon activities will often highlight seminars on stress management, says spa director Barbara Ballantine.

Your Spa Meeting Checklist

When planning your spa meeting, ask your resort contact these questions:

  • How many treatment rooms do you have, and 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 extra treatments once they arrive?

  • What is your cancellation policy? For example, 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? For example, will you do chair massages during meeting breaks? Conduct yoga classes or meditation sessions on the beach? Coordinate nutrition and stress management seminars?

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

From Prizes to Pillow Gifts — Spa-tacular Mementos

Resorts with spas offer another terrific amenity for incentive and meeting groups: Many can arrange spa prizes to give 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, for example, will often ask spa directors to create baskets to give out as either a welcome present or on the last day of a meeting as a trip memento. 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, using your company name, such as “Gen-Probe Spa Sampler,” which might include lotions, oils, and other spa amenities, says Nancy DeMond, director of sales and marketing at The Woodmark.