Waiting to exhale

Meeting Planning

Spa-themed activities, meeting breaks and incentives are no longer just welcome perks for attendees––they have become among the most anticipated and rewarding elements of a meeting or conference agenda. Planners are upping the wow factor (and the aaaahhhh factor) by bringing the spa to the meeting in a variety of ways.  

From five-minute “stand up and stretch” breaks to mini-skin analyses, yoga on the beach, après-meeting massage, and group gatherings in the spa itself, relaxing spa experiences inspire people to be productive and positive. Beyond the traditional Swedish massage of previous decades, today’s signature spa treatments are complex, magical recipes of human touch, aroma, sound and even colored light. From misty rainforest showers to heart-pounding Shiatsu, from calming Ayurveda to a bracing salt glow, it’s not your grandpa’s back rub.

“Our guests are decision-makers and they come to us so we can better prepare them to go back out into the world and positively influence the world we live in,” says Tracy Lee, vice president of spa development for the luxury chain of Auberge Resorts. “At our new property, Encantado, which opens this summer near Santa Fe, incorporating spa activities into a meeting program creates open minds, breaks down barriers and allows a flow of meaningful and creative ideas.”


Among 2008 spa trends as announced by SpaFinder.com and the International SPA Association are wellness, luxury branding and hydro/thermal experiences. And, of particular interest to planners are the increase in spa visits by men, and the fitness focus by Baby Boomers and “metrosexual” urbanites. “One in four American adults have been to a spa and know what they want from a quality spa experience. The trends are being driven by educated spa-goers who actually see them as expectations,” says ISPA President Lynne Walker McNees.

Reflecting 21st century attention to health and lifestyle, American Spa magazine notes that spas are now seen as sources of wellness, rather than only as places to be pampered. Add to this the wide variety of custom-tailored, spa- and health-oriented meeting breaks available at most meeting properties, and planners are adding both relaxing and invigorating activities to their itineraries.


Inspired by the European tradition of hydrotherapy (water treatments), American spas are expanding beyond the ubiquitous steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi. The terms laconium, tepidarium, hammam, Vichy shower and thalassotherapy are now on spa menus.
South of Cancun on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the spa at the new all-inclusive Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda is built around an elaborate “Labyrinth of Sensations” consisting of hydro reflexology (pressure footbath), Scottish showers, a plunge pool, a warm, jetted thermal pool, fountains and waterfalls. Guests would be smart to give themselves an extra hour to sink into the open-air whirlpool overlooking the white-sand beach, and to reap the benefits of a seaweed and seawater hydro-massage. Opened in December 2007, the 984-room resort near the town of Playa del Carmen adds to the rapidly developing Riviera Maya coastline a 6,000-square-foot convention center and an outdoor theater.  

A saltwater spa recently opened at Casa Dorada Los Cabos, Resort and Spa on Playa Médano, about 30 minutes from San José del Cabo International Airport. The theme here is saltwater treatments for pain relief and purging of toxins by immersion in Vichy showers and soaking tubs accompanied by steam and signature experiences such as Couleur de Vie, which combines color therapy, aromatherapy and thalassotherapy.

For groups of up to about 200 people, a toes-in-the-sand feeling is easy to produce for client parties and executive retreats at Casa Dorada, where the private beach club and pool deck, and the wide, sandy beach itself, comprise idyllic event sites, along with the terrace at 12 Tribes Restaurant. On the brand-new property are 185 deluxe one, two and three-bedroom suites and penthouses, ranging from 920 to 4,500 sq. ft.  

Natural mineral water flows from 1,100 feet beneath The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa at 135 degrees, into soaking pools, whirlpools and the swimming pool. The resort is famous for its Bathing Ritual, an hour-long experience featuring an exfoliating shower, immersion in a 96 to 98-degree mineral bath and a 102-degree jetted bath; plus herbal steam, dry sauna, rehydrating drinks and cool-down showers. Those who still have room for absorption retire to the warm outdoor mineral pools.


Planners can depend on the consistency of brand identity when it comes to choosing a meeting site that offers the spa advantage. Bliss spas in several W hotels, including those in San Francisco and Los Angeles, are as whimsical, cool and contemporary as the properties in which they stand. Rhythm-and-blues tunes set a laid-back tone as spa guests nibble on brownies while their toes are sugar-scrubbed and hot chocolate soaked. Planners ask W San Francisco for the Sensory Set Up, a meeting package that promises to stimulate the five senses with mood music, aromatherapy scents, thought-provoking place cards, retro candies and inspiring games. In L.A., W guests get “BIP” treatment during their poolside Blissages.

Luxurious retreats at 10 Fairmont hotels and resorts are the Willow Stream Spas, characterized by signature spa experiences such as the Thalasso Kur at The Fairmont Banff Springs. Part of a $32-million makeover of the hotel, the Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Newport Beach has “U” rooms, wherein guests hide away in privacy enjoying their own steam showers and whirlpool tubs, choosing their own music, scents and personalized, guided “Spa Journeys.”

The perfect face of Hollywood star Catherine Zeta-Jones represents the impeccable pedigree of the Elizabeth Arden cosmetic giant, which owns Red Door spas around the world. Primarily stand-alone day spas, Red Doors are also found in six select hotels and resorts in the U.S. Seeking the year-round sunshine of Arizona, conference groups are attracted to the Red Door at the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa in Tucson and the Wigwam Golf Resort and Spa, located about 25 minutes from downtown Phoenix. A brand-new facility at Wigwam, the spa caters to groups by integrating treatments and spa café meals into meeting schedules. “We have one insurance company from the Midwest that has returned to us three times, now. They have breakfast at the spa, spa treatments, lunch at the spa and then more spa treatments!” Spa Director, Cassie Hernandez recounts.

Just opened also at the Wigwam at a cost of nearly a million dollars, the Mohave Ballroom completes a meeting complex of two more ballrooms and 25 meeting rooms, plus hospitality casita suites throughout the sprawling, adobe-style campus.

According to Mel Zuckerman, the founder of the original Canyon Ranch health resort in Tucson, “Our mission is to create an environment in which you can make a direct, emotional connection between your good intentions and what you actually do every day.” A compact version of the ranch experience—a 69,000-square-foot citadel of body enhancement—Canyon Ranch SpaClub at The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas is one of the largest spas on The Strip, bustling with high rollers, conference attendees, wedding parties, beautiful bodies and mere mortals looking for a rest from the sensory overload of Sin City. The spa staff offers on-site chair massages before, during and after exhibitions and conferences, and speakers are available to make wellness and lifestyle presentations.


According to the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a market research and business consulting firm focused on health, wellness and sustainability, men’s personal care is the fastest-growing segment of the bath/body-care marketplace. Members of the youthful metrosexual community are investing as never before in fitness and personal appearance, while a flood of male Baby Boomers are fending off the physical effects of advancing age.

An ISPA survey says that 31 percent of spa-goers are men looking for experiences designed specifically for males. Spas are catering to the man who takes time for skin-, hand- and foot-grooming, which he perceives to have a positive impact on his business and personal life.

“Men are the new women,” says David Erlich, director of spa operations at The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s newly expanded 43,000-square-foot spa. “We are witnessing the renaissance of the metro man––the growth of our male clientele is exponential. Many of our guests come in post-workout for sports massage and for deep tissue, Swedish or Japanese Shiatsu massages, which warm and loosen specific muscle groups and help to release toxins from joints and muscles. For players who come in from our golf course, and for runners and cyclists, massage that involves friction, compression and pressure-point work is ideal.”

A favorite Rocky Mountain meetings destination, The Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo. recently upgraded their outpost of the world-famous Golden Door spas, to the tune of $2 million in renovations and the addition of large-sized workout venues. Now with a whopping 44 treatment rooms, the spa has an indoor lap pool, fitness equipment with the latest individual theater packages, squash and racquetball courts, and an indoor climbing wall. Among men’s spa services are the Homme Facial, where techniques and products are used for deep cleansing, hydration and refreshing of a man’s tired, altitude-dried, stressed-out face and neck.

Of the 5,200 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor meeting space at The Peaks, the most popular is Legends Terrace, with heart-stopping views of the 14,000-foot-high peaks of the Rockies.

Conference attendees at The Peaks can check their pooch––yes, their dog—into the Doggie Spa, for grooming, playtime and hikes, or for the four-hour “Leader Of The Pack” including all of the above plus a “pawdicure,” blow dry, brushing, massage and gourmet lunch.

Macho dudes who wouldn’t be caught dead in robes and slippers in a co-ed relaxation lounge are loving the MVP (Most Valuable Player) Room at the Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. In a private, spacious room, guys change, clap on wireless headsets and enjoy their massages, manicures and facials while watching news or the game on a large, plasma screen. Business journals and sports magazines are laid out, too, in a masculine, wood-and-leather environment.


Planners take care to leave time on busy conference schedules for attendees to accomplish their fitness goals. Tuckered meeting-goers at one of the largest resort and convention complexes in the southwestern United States, Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort and Spa in Palm Desert, Calif. are keeping up their workout regimens at the new fitness center and spa, reopened in mid-2007 after a $30-million expansion and redesign of the resort. Strength and cardio salons with Body Master stations, a light-filled yoga studio overlooking the golf course and a bevy of fitness classes such as Fitball and Body Sculpting are energizing choices.

Pre-meeting groups get together for Sunrise Walks around the lush, tropical grounds, and for “energy breaks” with personal trainers who lead exercises guaranteed to get the blood flowing.

The newly opened Anara Spa at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa arranges group rates for customized Executive Group Fitness classes—such as kickboxing, abs and buns firming and water aerobics—led by the CEO (Chief Exercise Officer), and for oceanside tai chi and yoga on Shipwreck Beach. With 45,000 sq. ft. of tropical splendor, this is the second-largest spa in Hawaii, a complex of indoor/outdoor venues from thatched roof hales (bungalows), lava rock showers and steam grottos to open-air workout venues overlooking Keoneloa Bay.
Within the new $5-million spa at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa on Kaanapali Beach, the WestinWORKOUT fitness center is open 24/7 and outfitted with LifeFitness and Precor cardio equipment. Most Westin hotels and resorts have a Reebok Core Training Zone, designed to help improve strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic conditioning. Daily classes at the Westin Maui include “ABS, Booties and Legs,” “Hula Hips” and traditional spinning, yoga and Pilates. And, guests can request Reebok workout equipment to be set up in their rooms.

Among customized group fitness activities at the Maui resort are moonlight yoga sessions on Kaanapali Beach, private corporate wellness analysis and the services of a ReadySetRun running concierge. Refurbishment of the Beach Tower guest rooms and all of the meeting venues was completed in late 2007.

Guests at major downtown Portland hotels, including RiverPlace Hotel on the Willamette River waterfront, are granted access to RiverPlace Athletic Club, which incorporates the Pointe Spa. More than 60 group fitness classes are available each week, and on-site services include a chiropractor and seven-day-a-week personal trainers. On-site at the Athletic Club is a conference center seating 60 people and, nearby, the Riverview Courtyard, a unique second floor terrace accommodating up to 150 people, overlooks the marina and the river, with snow-capped Mt. Hood looming in the distance.  


SpaFinder.com heralds a shift from a traditional pampering focus in many spas to health and wellness. A Northwest-based chain, Vida Wellness Spa just opened at the sleek new Pan Pacific Seattle hotel in downtown Seattle. According to Allison Hegedus, president of Vida, the entire spa can be rented for meetings, filmings, product launches and other events. For example, a local law firm arranged an employee and VIP client-recognition evening, taking over the spa for several hours of mini-treatments, plus cocktails and tapas, topped off with parting gifts that incorporated the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda and Western healing philosophies.

“With the privacy, personal service and discretion we offer, our clients simply cannot put a price tag on the networking and healing elements they gain,” Hegedus says.

The CEO of Joie de Vivre Hotels, a boutique hotel chain serving small- to medium-sized groups in the West, Chip Conley, says, “We endeavor to provide what we call ‘fast peace for a fast-paced world,’ the opportunity to regain the rhythm that is thrown off by traveling.”

A new addition to San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront, Joie de Vivre’s urban-chic Hotel Vitale hides a rooftop oasis, the Spa Vitale, a three-treatment-room retreat where guests indulge in The Bathing Ritual, lingering in deep, infinity-edge tubs filled with tangerine milk bath on a bamboo-enclosed terrace. Parties and meetings for up to 50 people are held in the penthouse suite on a terrace overlooking the Ferry Building and San Francisco Bay.

At FireSky Resort and Spa, a new Kimpton property in Old Town Scottsdale, the spa, guest rooms and meeting and public spaces are designed around four elements of nature—fire, water, earth, and air––as expressed in soothing, earth-toned environments, transparent curtains floating in the breeze and numerous pools and waterfalls. In the spa, guests go for Travelers’ Tonic Baths in copper soaking tubs, while on the pool terrace, soaring fire columns are vibrant backdrops for evening events.

The ultimate in spa-licious meetings are held at the Pan Pacific Hotel Vancouver in the elegant, private board room within Spa Utopia. According to Utopia Director Sherri Abu Ulba, “Companies choose to use our board room over a hotel board room because of the tranquil environment. More often than not, they combine spa treatments with lunch and a meeting. Often, it’s an incentive reward, or they are just looking for something a bit different. It’s great because everyone is in robes, relaxed and in a good frame of mind.”

Relaxed and in a good frame of mind—just what every meeting planner hopes for every attendee.

The author of The 100 Best Golf Resorts of the World, Karen Misuraca is a freelance golf and travel writer, and the founder of www.BestGolfResortsofTheWorld.com.

Just when attendees start to slump, an invigorating spa break or a brief, healthy interlude will restart their engines. At Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego, a team of therapists brings portable tables to the meeting sites, offering invigorating Table Thai manipulation lasting three to five minutes per person.

JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix offers refreshing short yoga stretch sessions followed by fresh-squeezed fruit and organic vegetable juices in test tube shot glasses poured from giant beakers.  

Vida Wellness Spa at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver delivers “stress break” boxes to guests at check-in. Inside are a muscle ease balm to relieve the neck and shoulders of travel weariness; a roll-on immunity oil blend to stave off illness and aromatherapy-infused Epsom salts for soothing après-meeting baths.

Kimpton Hotels in Arizona, California, British Columbia, Oregon, Utah and Colorado offer a menu of “Elements of Wellness” meeting refreshers that may include aromatherapy scents and mood music, table settings of hand massagers and stress balls; guided meditation, “desk aerobics” and pick-up-the-pace energizers such as brief dance sessions and power walks.

 “Speed Meets Spa” is the Sonoma Mission Inn’s unique and popular package that combines enrollment at the Jim Russell Racing Schools’ driving course at Infineon Raceway, just minutes from the inn, with accommodations, spa treatments, dinner and wine tasting.

In the Berkeley Hills above San Francisco Bay, the Claremont Resort and Spa lays out choices of over a dozen meeting breaks, from Desk Drumming––coordinated finger drumming to bring out your inner child; Energizing Stretch and Breathing; Perfecting Your Posture; Neck and Shoulder De-Stressors; and Desk Yoga.

Located near Palm Springs, Miramonte Resort and Spa in Indian Wells puts on a Spa Fair for groups, consisting of skin analysis, chair massage, mini hand treatments with wax dips, and image consultations. And, attendees at the resort don’t need to line up for neck and shoulder chair massages; Miramonte therapists quietly administer them during meetings.

La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California, offers Deepak Chopra-designed Wellness Breaks, including Awakening Sounds, which enhance concentration and wake up the life force by vocalizing specific sounds.



Blue Bay Grand Esmeralda   

Casa Dorada Los Cabos Resort
and Spa

Canyon Ranch SpaClub   

Claremont Resort & Spa   

Desert Springs JW Marriott
Resort and Spa

The Fairmont Banff Springs    

The Fairmont Newport Beach    

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

FireSky Resort and Spa   

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa

Hotel Vitale   

JW Marriott Desert Ridge

Kimpton Hotels   

La Costa Resort and Spa

La Quinta Resort & Club

Miramonte Resort & Spa

Pan Pacific Vancouver

Pan Pacific Seattle   

Paradise Point Resort & Spa

Pointe Spa   

Red Door Spa

RiverPlace Athletic Club    

Riverview Courtyard   

RiverPlace Hotel   

Spa Utopia   

The Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa

The Westin Bear Mountain Victoria Golf Resort & Spa

W San Francisco   

Westin Maui Resort and Spa   

Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa

The Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa   

Willow Stream Spas   

The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino

Vida Wellness Spa