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2010: A spa odyssey

Barbara Marquand

At the Spa Atlantis brine room, clients experience the effects of sea air from a brine waterfall while they zone out under a cycle of light illusions designed to promote wellbeing.

A mile up the road at Spa Toscana in the Peppermill Hotel Casino, the Roman bath-inspired Caldarium features an indoor pool, cascading fountain, sundeck and “secret garden.”

Both spas are huge 30,000 square feet and boast state-of-the-art features, from a Rasul Ceremonial Chamber for mud and mineral treatments at Spa Atlantis, to acoustic resonance therapy, in which subtle vibrations from music resonate through massage tables at Spa Toscana.



Sound fancy? Sure, but when it comes to competing in the resort industry, spas are no longer luxuries they’re necessities.

“There’s not a single four-star concept hotel that’s built today without a spa,” says spa industry researcher Carl Boger, associate dean of academic programs at the Conrad N. Hilton College of the University of Houston.



Once the domain of wealthy women, U.S. spas went mainstream with the growth of day spas, which cater to middle-class clients. Spas began to proliferate at hotels in the last five to seven years, Boger says.

Spa Finder, a media company focused on the global spa marketplace, listed luxury spas in casino hotels as one of the top trends in 2009.

“It’s a necessity if you want to position your resort or region as a top marketable destination,” Atlantis spokesman Ben McDonald says.

Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority Spokesperson Jill Stockton says the new high-end spas help the region compete by broadening the amenities it offers, and they support the region’s new tagline, “Reno Tahoe USA … Far from expected.”

Spa Toscana Director Arzu Delp says spas have been part of the European lifestyle for ages. Now a growing number of U.S. consumers are viewing spas as part of maintaining wellness.

Today the U.S. is No. 2 in the world for the number of spa treatments given per year, Boger says, just behind Europe, where spa treatments are covered by medical insurance.

Resort spas aren’t just for hotel guests. Both the Atlantis and Peppermill report about half their business comes from local residents.

Locals are crucial for hotel spas, Boger says, because the industry now views spas as profit centers not mere amenities.

The Peppermill situated its spa entrance and parking specifically so locals could get in and out easily.

“We adore our local clients,” Delp says.

McDonald says the Atlantis also caters to the local market, which includes northern Nevada residents as well as day-trippers from northern California.

“We want our people who live in Reno, Sparks and Tahoe to know we care about them,” he says.

The Peppermill opened the $42 million Spa Toscana in November 2008, and the Atlantis opened its spa in January last year, the culmination of the resort’s $100 million expansion.

The luxury goes right down to the details. The Atlantis boasts having the only certified master mixologist in northern Nevada, for instance, who among other things, concocts infusion drinks for spa guests, each designed with a particular health effect. Pineapple-mint infused water anyone?

The Peppermill, meanwhile, employs a film crew that travels the world year round to capture stunning scenery, which is then shown on the 50-inch plasma screens in the treatment rooms. Guests pick the theme from African safari to underwater sea life, and the choices evolve as new footage becomes available.

Both the Atlantis and Peppermill report healthy response to their spas. Other hotel casinos in northern Nevada also have spas, but not on the grand scale of the region’s newest offerings.

Grand Sierra Resort health club and spa manager Michelle Burns says her spa is definitely feeling competitive pressure from the new spas. The recession has also taken a bite out of business. Guests who used to book treatments along with their hotel rooms are skipping the massages to cut costs. Her spa emphasizes the experience of its therapists and is drumming up business with specials and direct-mail coupons while the economy remains slow, she says.

Across the country, luxury hotel spas have felt the recession’s effect. Revenue per treatment room hour, a common measurement used in the industry, declined from $136.79 in June 2008 to $120.88 in June 2009, according to the latest data from Smith Travel Research, headquartered in Henderson, Tenn. The usage rate of treatment rooms, though, remained almost unchanged. It was unclear whether discounts managed to keep utilization from deteriorating, the research firm said.

Among the challenges for hotel spas in a tough economy is keeping staff, Boger says. Most massage therapists work on commission and will go elsewhere if they can’t make enough money.

What’s next for hotel spas in the U.S.? Boger says overall, spas will become more compact and more focused fewer treatments, but with deeper expertise. Branding will grow more important. Hotels will rely on third-party brands or create their own spa brands, so customers can expect the same experience when they visit a hotel in a particular chain, whether they’re staying in Cleveland or San Francisco.