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Competition Sends Spas Back to Roots

The indigenous theme enables spas to differentiate themselves from competitors.

NEW YORK — The growing trend of using indigenous-inspired spa products and treatments punctuated the 11th annual International Spa Association media event in New York July 28. The indigenous theme enables spas to differentiate themselves from competitors.

“Because spas have become so mainstream, the consumer has become very savvy as to what to expect at a spa,” said Lynne Walker McNees, executive director of ISPA.

As the fourth-largest leisure activity, going to spas was a $11.2 billion industry in 2004, attributing success to a whopping 140 spa visits per year for the loyal spa goer.

With 12,000 spas in the country, “spas are having to differentiate themselves from [others] down the street. They are really having to use their local environment as an attraction, whether that means sea salt from the sea or cactus flower from [the desert] or grape seeds [from the vineyards],” McNees said.

Kate Mearns, ISPA chairman, added that group events, such as teen-related programs and family- or female-oriented spa trips have increased in popularity with the rise of the spa industry, as well.

Out of the 22 spas and destination resorts that were present at the ISPA show at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, many showcased new treatments and products to reflect current trends.

The Cliff House Resort and Spa situated on the coastal town of Ogunquit, Maine, cornered an area of the Sheraton ballroom with their Anarondak bright yellow chairs and two spa technicians who applied a signature Blueberry Body Wrap, made with blueberries native to the area.

According to one aesthetician from the spa, “The wrap rejuvenates the body with antioxidant powers [from the blueberries], while calming spa goers’ spirit with aromatherapy.”

Miraval Resort and Spa in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona performed stone therapy treatments inspired by Native American tradition. Restore Your Heart, the newest addition to launch this fall, mingles incense, stones and light massage techniques.

While many spas are incorporating features indigenous to their region, they’re also recognizing that it’s just as important to go back to the basics.

“Instead of reinventing the wheel, we’re going back to what works, back to the basics,” said Denise Vitiello, spa director of Spa at Mandarin Oriental in New York.

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A new treatment makes its debut there in October called Oriental Harmony, a two-hour, four-handed treatment that uses the spa’s signature products. Oriental Harmony begins with a foot bath followed by a body scrub and massage, and ends with a head- to-toe volcanic stone massage.

Ann Brown, spa director of Spa Shiki at the Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Mo., seems to agree with Vitiello as she explained there needs to be a level of consistency in the spa industry.

“The [business] is going back to core treatments and back to education,” she said. Spa Shiki is one of two American Spa Therapy Education and Certification Council training institutes in the world. The other is in West Palm Beach at the Bramham Institute & Spa.

Other trends featured at the event were teen-inspired and female-oriented. Loews Hotels plans to bring Healthy Kids, a program designed to keep kids active while traveling, to the Sea Spa at Loews Coronado Bay Resort in California and Ocean Spa at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. The program highlights healthy menus, fitness boot camps and spa treatments. At the Sea Spa location, Loews has teamed with PB Teen, the teen brand of Pottery Barn, to create a “teen oasis,” establishing a more youthful environment for their teen clientele. Redesigned treatment rooms will be completed in August.

This September the latest addition to the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in California will be a “girlfriend getaway” designed for women to participate in group activities, such as art classes, horseback riding and spa treatments. The program is based upon the understanding that “women want to share a special occasion with each other and are looking for a much more meaningful experience than going for a massage, a body treatment and a facial,” a spa rep said.

However, the spa industry is no longer only governed by women. There is a rising trend of men visiting spas, and subsequently many spas are catering to them. The first men’s-only MVP room launches this fall at Willow Stream spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona. The signature room is designed for privacy and customization and features a Verona Royale massage bed that allows therapists to perform pedicures, manicures and massages without having to change rooms. The MVP room will include a flat-screen television, a wireless headset, sports magazines, business journals and designer robes. Willow Stream will also unveil its new men’s Post Game Facial treatment this fall. The 60-minute treatment includes a double cleansing, a toning, a skin analysis and exfoliation, as well as a warm-towel barber wrap and sports masque application. In addition, a head, neck, shoulder, legs, hand and foot massage is administered to relax a client’s muscles.

And new spas continue to open. The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, N.Y., opens its doors to guests this month. The 30,000-square-foot full-service spa features 16 treatment rooms, a fitness center, an indoor heated pool, an outdoor heated mineral pool, a sauna, steam rooms and a beauty salon.

Despite the challenge ever-changing trends present and the efforts of spas to differentiate themselves from the others, there is a universal reason for the existence of spas — and many clients return for that simple service.

“The number-one reason why people go to the spa is for relaxation,” said McNees, adding that the number-one requested treatment is the basic massage.