Reinventing the Spa

31st August 2006 (Last Updated August 31st, 2006 18:30)

The spa revolution of the past decade shows no signs of flagging and guests expect novelty and innovation. Rebecca Burgess takes a dip in the whirlpool.

Reinventing the Spa

In the 21st century, spas are big business and no self-respecting hotel can afford to be without one. Where once a massage was a luxurious treat for women, guests now expect the latest in body and soul enhancement.

The popularity of spas has grown to such an extent that many hotels now focus exclusively on the market to cash in on consumers obsessed with self-improvement. As people work harder and longer, they are more willing to pay to relax from modern stresses and enhance their well-being.

Spas are now among the most important hotel amenities and are credited with increased occupancy and customer spending. According to a 2005 consumer survey by Intelligent Spas, about a third of people visiting spas were travellers, spending an average of $150 an hour.

Vanessa Main of spa provider Per Aquum says spa is the new buzzword in the industry. "Ten years ago, a spa was a simplistic service, now it generates $40bn a year. It is an industry in itself and investors are entering the business because they can see the growth in demand and opportunities."

According to the US-based International Spa Association, the luxury spa sector doubled between 1999 and 2003 and continues to expand.

AN ADDED TWIST

A challenge for hotels is the employment and retention of qualified staff in a labour-intensive field. Recognisable skills are a must at the Fortina Spa Resort in Malta, where inclusive packages include plastic surgery.

The hotel is linked with the St James Private Hospital Group, which offers facelifts, rhinoplasty, abdominoplasty, liposuction, breast augmentation and botox. Packages include a 14-night all-inclusive stay in a luxury Seaview Tower bedroom, including breast enlargement, for £3,999.

“Spas are now among the most important hotel amenities and are credited with increased occupancy and customer spending.”

The promise of anti-ageing is key to many of the treatments on offer in hotel spas. Medical director Dr Paolo Magrassi stops short of cosmetic surgery at The Regina Isabella, on the Italian island of Ischia.

He uses non-invasive plastic dermatology and integrated medicine, with guests undergoing a medical examination before being prescribed a personal programme. Treatments include resonage (radio waves that stimulate the skin), microtherapy (injecting natural products) and dermal fillers (injecting hyaluronic acid as a natural alternative to botox).

Similarly, at La Reserve in Geneva Switzerland, voted one of the best hotel spas in Europe by Condé Nast readers, the emphasis is on youthful regeneration. The spa, set on Lake Geneva, promotes an anti-ageing programme called A Quality of Life.

The five-day programme includes an assessment of a guest’s biological age and claims clients "usually gain a few years back" by the end of their stay.

Warren Kinder, health director at the spa, says: "The spa is a destination in its own right. Everything is personalised – [there is] no factory mentality here – and it’s set in a stunning environment."

Individual service also extends to men, and The Jumeirah Emirates Towers is the first hotel to open H2O – a spa exclusively for men, offering treatments such as the Executive Jet Lag. In the Oxygen bar, men can inhale oxygen while watching a movie with special 3D glasses.

General manager Doris Greif explains: "Our decision to introduce this unique concept was based on the guest mix, which is more than 80% male business travellers."

The Hawk’s Cay Resort in the Florida Keys has gone one step further and opened an Indies spa for teenagers. The treatments are formulated for adolescent skin types and include the Teen Escape Massage, the Jazzy Island manicure and make-up lessons.

The traditional view of one size fits all is being eroded as hotels increasingly adapt to guests’ demands for privacy.

The Westin Grand Berlin unveiled its spa suites in July – created by interior designer Tassilo Bost at a cost of €250,000 each. A relaxation area replaces the living area and bathroom, with a whirlpool bath and a professional massage bed. The decor does not overstimulate guests, and personal trainers and masseuses are on call.

SPA BRANDING

The rise of spas has also created more opportunity for hotels to develop spa branding. Marriott International has launched its Quan range of spas at the JW Marriott, Mumbai, the Sanya Marriott Resort in China and the Renaissance Koh Samui Resort in Thailand.

Spokesman Lee Sutton said the spas reflect their location while still forming part of the brand, which the group intends to develop throughout Asia.

Thalassotherapy, which uses seawater, has also been reinvented for the modern age. The Deep Ocean Spa at the InterContinental Resort and Thalasso Spa Bora Bora will be the first thalasso spa to use deep seawater when it opens this year.

The seawater will be taken from 900m below the surface of the Pacific Ocean and promoted as a unique source of revitalisation. Treatments will include algospa – a weightless marine therapy – with body scrub, body shaping and seaweed wrap, while floating in a cocoon of warm water.

ALCOHOLIC FROLICS

Treatments form an intrinsic part of a spa’s appeal and while the main focus remains water, other ingredients prove excellent marketing tools.

Winespa at the Patios de Cafayate Hotel is in one of the most important wine-producing regions of Argentina. Guests can not only drink the local wine, but experience ‘health and rejuvenation’ by applying it liberally to their body.

Therapists use grape skins to revive the ancestral treatments of the old Calchaqui culture, such as Bath in a Barrel – basking in bubbling Cabernet Sauvignon; Gommage – a grape chunk massage during the harvest; or Romantic Massage – carried out in moonlit vineyards.

In France, Le Meurice, part of The Dorchester Group, opened Espace Bien-Etre in Paris in 2001. Trained staff carry out vinotherapy treatments using products made from crushed grape-seed with antioxidants and polyphenols reputed to be 10,000 times more effective than Vitamin E in blocking free radicals responsible for premature ageing.

More down to earth is the world’s first beer spa, opened by the Chodovar family earlier this year in the Czech Republic. The cellar is filled with huge Victorian baths where visitors can swim in beer and enjoy a pint at the bar.

“The traditional view of one size fits all is being steadily eroded as hotels increasingly adapt to guests’ demands for privacy.”

Owner Jiri Plevka says: "Beer can treat many conditions, particularly skin problems, and the health centre should appeal to men who are put off by ‘posh, traditional spas’."

However, alcohol is not the only gourmet allure for spas. Alain Ducasse’s 33-bedroom L’Andana in Tuscany, Italy, recently opened a spa with a dessert menu to complement the treatments. A bittersweet chocolate mousse follows a life-saving back massage, while a lavender tart is the perfect accompaniment to a holistic face, back and scalp massage with hot stones.

Other spas turn to ancient practices to promote a holistic approach to wellness. The Mardavall Hotel in Mallorca, a member of the Starwood Spa Collection, includes a Centre of Traditional Chinese Medicine run by Dr Zhang Lu, who offers treatments for neurological and neuro-physical disorders, gynaecological complaints, gastro-intestinal disorders and addictions.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Location is also an important factor for guests when choosing a spa, and sites vary from Chinese mountaintops to Caribbean beaches to rainforests.

The Arabella, South Africa’s Western Cape Hotel and Spa, is capitalising on its lush location by introducing an African Rainforest Experience following a £7.5m refit. The experience is made up of 15 steps of therapeutic showers, scrubs and steam treatments. Spokesman Jorg Bockeler says: "The result is truly exceptional and is set to influence world spa trends."

But exotic locations are not everybody’s cup of tea, and The Stoke Park Club, set in 350 acres of landscaped gardens and lakes in the heart of Buckinghamshire, outside London, is the quintessential English getaway. Established as the first country club in Britain in 1908, Stoke Park added its £14m SPA, Health and Racquet Pavilion in 2002.

Named among the top ten British spas, it uses products created by Miucca Prada – an avid opponent of cosmetic surgery. Favourite treatments include the Prada Bio facial and Samunpari massage – a hot Thai massage unchanged since the 14th century, when a hot pack was administered to soldiers returning home with aching muscles and bruises.

Or for something more alternative try the Camelback Inn, a Marriott Resort & Spa set in 125 acres of desert in Scottsdale, Arizona, which has recently undergone an $8m refurbishment. Its treatments are inspired by its desert heritage and include the Healing Drum Circle – a 45-minute outdoor ritual which combines the rhythmic beating of a Native American drum with guided meditation and a smudging ritual with white sage.

But the icing on the cake must be the Ten Hand massage at the Takora Peace Resort in Te Anau, New Zealand. Featured on a menu of more than 40 award-winning massages, it involves five therapists "concentrating on the body’s energy points to revitalise body and soul".

So, if the anxiety of staying on top of the hotel spa market is too much, hospitality executives will have no shortage of places to turn for rest and relaxation.