Spas with Roots

Meeting Planning

Sponsored by Westin Mission Hills

Beyond the boardrooms and convention halls, spa experiences and wellness-oriented breaks are no longer just welcome perks for attendees—they are among the most anticipated and rewarding elements of a conference agenda. Meeting planners are finding that today’s historic and culturally authentic spas offer not only pampering and relaxation but healing and deeply satisfying experiences. Nonwestern tribal practices, centuries-old homeopathic remedies, timeless natural mineral waters and exposure to ancient wisdom are resonating with busy, 21st-century professionals.

According to Lynne McNees, president of the International Spa Association, “Today’s spa-goers are looking for authentic experiences and spa treatments incorporating cultural elements that help preserve traditions and rituals specific to a region, from Chinese acupressure and ayurvedic treatments from India to Native American tribal ceremonies. At many spas, indigenous natural ingredients make the experience memorable, too, and often heal frazzled nerves. In fact, 23% of spas in the U.S. have a local or indigenous treatment on their menu.”

Inspired by Ancient Cultures

Attuned to their Mexican and Central American heritage, Mayans of the Yucatan have a strong influence on resort spas along the Caribbean coastline Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, Mexico.

Within the luxury enclave of Mayakoba, which includes the Fairmont Mayakoba and the Banyan Tree Mayakoba, the Rosewood Mayakoba looks to local shamans and herbalists to enhance its spa offerings. One of its unique team-building rituals is a gathering in the Mayan-style temazcal, a domed structure that encloses a small group in the warmth of hot stones and steam infused with herbs, producing a shared healing and inspirational experience, guided by a temazcalero. In this aromatic, nonintimidating environment, brainstorming and mutual acceptance comes naturally.

Located on the edge of a jungle lagoon, on a private island accessed by footbridge, the 17,000-square-foot Sense, A Rosewood Spa, is designed around a cenote, a sacred Mayan well. Sense spas at all of the Rosewood resorts are based on a “sense of place” that reflects the local culture and environment, and incorporates indigenous natural elements.

Small, canopied boats ferry arriving guests to 128 private one- and two-bedroom suites laid along the meandering, mangrove- and palm-fringed saltwater channel and the beach. Meetings and events are held in 2,615 sq. ft. of indoor venues. Planners have a variety of ways to integrate Mayan history and tradition into the daily agenda. A popular meeting break is a blessing performed by the resident Mayan shaman, who uses smoking, pine-scented copal incense to purify the ambient energy.

Heavenly Hammams

Bringing glam and flash to a historic downtown neighborhood within walking distance of SoHo, Greenwich Village and TriBeCa, the 46-story glass tower that is Trump SoHo New York opened last April, flush with Fendi Casa furnishings and urban-chic decor influenced by Ivanka Trump. Catering to corporate travelers, the 391 units are flooded with natural light and sweeping cityscapes. The 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space is topped by SoHi, a gleaming glass cube with unobstructed views of Manhattan, the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty.

The only downtown ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows, the 3,900-square-foot SoHo Ballroom handles up to 400 guests, while the private dining room and bar at Quattro Gastronomia Italiana accommodates 40.

Inspired by Ms. Trump’s travels in Istanbul, the Spa at Trump SoHo is a Middle Eastern dream enhanced by a golden marble fountain and glimmering mosaics and mesh chandeliers. Besides choosing from traditional spa treatments, guests can take part in the authentic social and cultural bathing rituals of Turkey and Morocco, in what is said to be the first luxury hammam in New York City.

Perhaps after channeling their inner Donald by shouting “You’re fired!” in the Trump Executive Boardroom, conference attendees may calm down by heading to the Turkish hammam to lie on the warm marble “belly stone” and enjoy a kessa mitt scrub, an argan rub, voluminous water immersions and traditional rose-water spray. Mint tea, stuffed olives and halvah complete the revitalizing adventure.

Much like the Turkish hammam, the Moroccan ritual at Trump SoHo involves the belly stone and a black soap made from olive oil and crushed olives and eucalyptus, used to lather the body, exfoliate and soften the skin, followed by an application of mineral-rich clay from the mountains near Istanbul.

Another brand-new hotel with a traditional Middle Eastern hammam, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas hotel-casino opened in December. In a 50-story, multitower complex in the heart of the Vegas Strip, 2,995 guest rooms range from 730-5,400 sq. ft., each with a large private terrace. The hotel also has three-story bungalow-style suites that are perfect for board meetings and receptions. Its 150,000 sq. ft. of high-tech convention and meeting space accommodates groups of up to 5,000.

To calm their senses from the electric, 24/7 thrills of the city, conventioneers turn to the Cosmo’s Sahra Spa & Hammam, entering through a narrow corridor of natural sandstone into a desert-themed oasis. Evoking dreams of starry nights in the desert, silvery ceilings sparkle with a moon and stars, while falling water soothes over-stimulated nerve endings, and a hazy micromist cools the heat of the day. Giving in to the nurture of the hammam, guests lie on the massive, warm “motherstone” for traditional Turkish soaping and a percussion massage. The Moroccan Steam involves a full-body oil rub, exfoliation and aromatic steam bath, as well as a cooling bath and moisturizer. Another North African-derived treatment, the Kahina Giving Beauty Facial uses Argan oil from Morocco; 10% of the proceeds from the facial go to the Berber women who harvest it.

Calming Fusion

The Spa at Encore blends many traditions to create a calming oasis inside of the palatial Encore at Wynn Las Vegas. “The Spa draws influence from many Eastern cultures, but was heavily inspired by Morocco. This includes elements from traditional Swedish, therapeutic deep tissue, shiatsu, Thai, lomi-lomi, reflexology, aromatherapy and Ayurvedic,” says Ella Stimpson, executive director of spa operations for Wynn | Encore.


   Encore at Wynn Las Vegas.

The spa’s globe-trotting menu is showcased in services such as the Moroccan Mud Wrap and the Encore Escape, the spa’s signature treatment. The 105-minute Encore Escape is a melange of the world’s best massage techniques, Stimpson explains. The massage includes herbal-infused Thai poultice bags for detoxification, Thai stretches, hot stones and lomi-lomi and concludes with a hydrating, warm cocooning wrap and a scalp massage with Indian Shirodhara oils.

The Spa at Encore has 37 treatment rooms, 14 naturally-lit garden suites and four oversized couples’ suites for massage, body treatments and facials. At 61,000 sq. ft., the spa also features separate women’s and men’s facilities with showers, steam room, sauna, hot and cold plunges and experience showers. Pre- and post-spa groups are well taken care of in the resort’s chic 2,034 guest rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Historic Hot Springs

One of the oldest hot springs resorts in the United States, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., has been welcoming health-seekers who come to immerse themselves in sulphur-rich spring waters since 1778. Surrounded by magical views of the Allegheny Mountains, it has 682 guest rooms, including 33 suites and 96 guest and estate houses, more than 40 meeting rooms and a conference center. Maintaining its Old World elegance and atmosphere, the resort has morphed into a major conference and entertainment mecca with a new Casino Club, shops and restaurants.

The Greenbrier also attracts meeting groups, including the West Virginia Coal Association. “The spa is always a big draw for our group,” says Sandi Davison, assistant to the president of the West Virginia Coal Association. Davison has been the chief planner for the organization’s annual conference at the Greenbrier for more than three decades.

“Our members and their families come from around the state and the country—more than 400 people—and we keep them all busy with activities and special events. We’ve had the spa therapists set up their massage chairs around the pool and everyone loves that. Besides the conference sessions, we had golf, tennis and bowling competitions, and, of course, many of the attendees head for the spa at the end of each day.”

With daily, nonstop air service from Atlanta, LaGuardia and Cleveland, The Greenbrier is an easy-access destination for conferences. The hotel’s 85,000 sq. ft. of meeting space on three levels includes 30 breakout rooms and a 16,500-square-foot exhibit hall. Among team-building outings are golf on four legendary courses, stream fishing, off-road expeditions and whitewater rafting. Returning from outdoor recreation and meetings, attendees can relax at the spa in mineral baths, sulphur soaks, aromatherapy and color-therapy baths.


   Rosewood Mayakoba, Riviera Maya, Mexico.

Another famous American mineral springs resort, French Lick Resort in southern Indiana has undergone a $500-million redevelopment that included the restoration of its two turn-of-the-century grand hotels, each with a spa—the West Baden Springs Hotel and the French Lick Springs Hotel. A National Historic Landmark originally constructed in 1902, the luxurious West Baden Springs reopened in 2007. It is topped by a domed atrium spanning 200 feet, enclosed by six tiers of balconied guest rooms. Within a two-level “natatorium” with 12 treatment rooms, The Spa at West Baden lures tuckered conventioneers with the Sprudel Baths— lingering soaks in sunken bathtubs filled with those world-famous natural, hot mineral spring waters.

Signature experiences at The Spa at French Lick are the Pluto mineral baths in old-fashioned claw-foot tubs and the organic hot springs facials. Located about a two-hour drive from Indianapolis, French Lick Resort has rocketed into the 21st century with a new Vegas-style casino, 45 holes of golf, and meeting and event spaces totaling 115,000 sq. ft., plus formal gardens for outdoor parties.

Historic Sites

Just 10 miles from the entertainment capital of Branson, Mo., the sprawling vacation resort of Big Cedar has been helping families and conventioneers make memories for nearly a century. Tucked up against wooded hillsides of the Ozark Mountains along the shores of Table Rock Lake, Big Cedar Lodge, a Bass Pro Shop property, consists of cozy cottages and log cabins, Adirondack-style lodges and quaint stone buildings, all clustered in 300 acres of gardens and woodlands.

An impressive stone and log building with forest and lake views from the reception loggia and terraces, the new Grandview Conference Center accommodates about 1,000 conference attendees. Among a wide variety of meeting venues is a pine-paneled library boardroom with hand-carved woodwork, a carved wooden conference table, oversized chairs, a massive limestone fireplace and a corner bar.

Set amidst a garden sanctuary in the historic heart of Big Cedar, the original caretaker’s cottage known as the Carriage House contains the property’s spa, with a second location at the Lakeside Spa. For meeting breaks and spouse activities, a new offering is a spa class that can be set up at the conference center or elsewhere, with massage chairs and a therapist who teaches guests how to make bath salts and lotions. Offered to groups at an appealing discount are spa treatment incentives, spa-oriented meeting breaks and spa product gift baskets.

Native American Ways

A guide in her Pima community, Belen Stoneman is the lead culture keeper at Aji Spa at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, a Native American-owned and operated property in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix. Walking softly through Aji in traditional dress and bare feet, she says, “When people come to the spa, they want to leave here what they bring, whether it’s stress, anxiety or worry. To help clear their burdens and our own, we smudge the spa with sage or shegoi [creosote] three times a day. And in the treatment rooms, we have what we call burden baskets where guests can abandon their cares, at least for a little while.”

Stoneman personally designed several of the spa treatments, including Thoachta, which starts with a private consultation. She says, “I focus on clearing emotional patterns, changing blockages to release energy flow. When I lay my hands on someone, I feel as if I’m talking to their DNA.”
Using oil infused with shegoi, considered to be a plant with sacred spirit, Stoneman then combines traditional massage with ancient Pima healing techniques, completing the experience by sharing with the guest what the body and spirit have communicated to her.

Said to be the only authentic, Four-Star Native American-owned spa in Arizona, Aji Spa is a haven for meeting groups at the resort. Larkin Mott, event coordinator for The Premier Companies, planned a three-day conference here for about 170 vendors, dealers and spouses from across the country, with meetings, awards events and a trade show. “Beforehand, I e-mailed tidbits of Native American history, to set the scene. We used the Aji Spa logo in our signage, and to kick-off our conference, we had a moving sage blessing and storytelling by Ginger Sunbird Martin, the Cultural Concierge,” Mott says. “Another of the highlights was the evening when we were transported by wagon to the equestrian center. Sunset over the mountains was sensational; there was a traditional pig roast barbecue and a beautiful hoop dance.


   West Baden Springs Hotel, Indiana.

“We kept the Native American theme throughout, with a hands-on cooking class, and various bonding and team-building activities with each other and with local children. We met with kids from the Indian community who created beaded lanyards for each of us, and together we also loaded backpacks with school supplies and presented them to a group of very appreciative children.”

Sheraton Wild Horse has one of the largest conference complexes in the region—180,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor function space. Three ballrooms, 19 breakout rooms and a wide reception foyer overlooking acres of desert garden patios are done up in subtle Native American themes showcasing Sonoran Desert animals and flora, basketry, pottery and the dramatic mountain range setting.

European- style Hydrotherapy

Reflecting today’s attention to healthy lifestyles, American Spa magazine notes that spas have become sources of wellness, rather than just places to be pampered. With their historic focus on hydrotherapy, heat and cold to stimulate healing, cleansing and whole-body revitalization, European spas have been centuries ahead of North Americans’—until now, with the opening of Sparkling Hill Resort in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

Perched on the edge of a granite ridge overlooking the Monashee Mountains and Lake Okanagan, this 152-room destination property began operations a year ago and includes the 40,000-square-foot European-style KurSpa, with 48 treatment rooms, indoor and outdoor saltwater infinity swimming pools, a 30-person whirlpool and seven aromatherapy saunas and steam rooms­­. More than 100 treatments involve pure thermal water, Dead Sea salts, volcanic dust and essential oils.

Naomi Keller, business event planner for a large Canadian company, organized a business operations team meeting at the resort. “Everyone loved the hotel, as it provides a sense of calmness and serenity no matter where you are. There is a sense of ‘feeling safe’ here, as well…maybe because you are perched on top of the mountain! The views from the boardroom, the guest rooms and even the spa treatment rooms are magnificent,” she says.

“The group tried all the saunas and steams the first night, as well as the relaxation rooms where you can sip herbal teas and relax on those chaise lounges that overlook the mountains and the valley below. We also enjoyed a full afternoon of spa services. Our managers have high hopes that the relaxed, tranquil mood will be carried forward.”

Specializing in intimate gatherings, Sparkling Hill has 10,700 sq. ft. of event space, including a  boardroom with a private lounge and lakeview patio. From ceilings to chandeliers and walkways to fire features, the entire property sparkles with 1.9-million Swarovski Austrian crystals.

European Grandeur in Canada

The European spa tradition abides at the baronial, Scottish-style castle that is the Four-Diamond-rated Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, which was built in the 1880s by the Canadian Pacific Railway company in the Canadian Rockies. The massive hotel lies within Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Decorated in Scottish Highland plaid and English floral fabrics, most guest rooms, public spaces and meeting venues have stunning views of the Bow River valley below and the ever-changing mountain panorama.

At the Willow Stream Spa, the rejuvenating effects of the mountain air, pulsating waterfall whirlpools and natural springs-sourced mineral pools combine to revive the mind and body. Thalasso Kur algae baths and Turkish scrubs are on the spa menu, along with such treatments as Rockies Rehydration, where mineral elements and botanicals indigenous to the Rockies are blended with pure algae and essential oils in a moisturizing wrap.

Popular spa breaks may include stretching exercises, aromatherapy and/or chair massage. And, outdoor recreation is year-round, from golf to skiing, hiking and river rafting.

Twenty-three meeting rooms and halls total 76,000 sq. ft. of function and exhibit space, much of it with views of snow-capped mountain peaks.
Whether it involves Native American treatments, a soak in mineral spring waters at a historic spa resort or traditional European-style hydrotherapy, a spa-with-roots experience will continue to provide planners with something unique to attract attendees to their meetings.