In an increasingly regulated business world, finance and insurance company meeting professionals constantly walk the line between optics and appropriately rewarding and valuing employees with the destination events they plan. Golf resorts are often off the menu not only for perception reasons but also because the sport doesn’t resonate with changing demographics, and planned leisure activities are increasingly cut from schedules as meetings become shorter and more business-focused.
Ever creative, pushing boundaries and creating new experiences for attendees, financial and insurance planners today are increasingly turning to spa resorts to kill two birds with one stone: a refined atmosphere mixed with ways for employees to restore and rejuvenate themselves to do their jobs better when they get home.
In the same way that farm-to-table cuisine, green meetings and indoor-outdoor events have been in vogue for long enough now to be more than a trend, meetings and events with active, health-conscious elements are both a hit with attendees and create positive brand perception. It’s a new type of luxury, and one that has clear ROI. What better place to tie all these elements together than a hotel or resort dedicated to a healthful lifestyle? According to the 2014 Spafinder Wellness 365 Trends Report, “Last year we explored how, after a century of hotel experiences synonymous with bacchanalian excess, more properties were on a new health kick and branding and re-branding around wellness. But the most powerful trends, such as ‘healthful hotels,’ are more than passing news and become mega trends because they fulfill profound human needs. Report after report reveals how runaway corporate health care costs are devouring corporate profits. More businesses (and their road warriors) are demanding healthier business travel and meetings, a key galvanizer of the healthy hotel trend. Because everyone, everywhere, now more than ever, needs travel that restores.”
While the terms “healthful” and “wellness,” particularly in a hospitality context, typically denote exercise and diet or spa cuisine, health-conscious hotels today are embracing the pampering and restorative aspects of wellness in ways that create a perfect environment for high-end meetings and incentive trips where attendees have the option to pick the best spa resort elements for themselves.
The 2014 Spafinder report predicts a rise in destination spas or wellness retreats that provide immersive wellness programs ideal for an incentive, if not a pick-me-up in breaks during a long meeting. “This trend is about new growth in, and new directions for, those unique properties where the serious business of intensive fitness, healthy food and other mind-body programming typically gets mixed with serious pleasure — and warm support,” it says.
“In 2014 (and beyond), we will see more all-new destination spa properties, like the just-opened Vana in India’s Himalayan foothills,” it continues. “We’ll see revered brands go on an expansion march, whether Miraval from the U.S. or Lanserhof from Austria. We’ll see more headline-grabbing, hit-all-angles, big wellness ‘campus-palaces,’ but we’ll see even more smaller wellness retreats at more (affordable) price points, and usually with more targeted angles: whether no-nonsense weight-loss boot camps or rustic yoga retreats.”
The amenities and atmosphere that come with spa resorts seem to be bigger draws for meeting planners than the spa services themselves, which only a portion of attendees take advantage of. Terry Maniscola, vice president of shared services with London, England-based Aon Affinity says, “To be honest with you, what our group does within Aon are higher-end hotels, and they all have spas attached to them. We don’t look specifically for spa places, because we don’t specifically use the spa as our meetings are more business than pleasure. Over the years it has changed. I used to book time for ladies to go to the spa, but now it’s more of an individual option during free time.
“We also don’t typically include golf, and haven’t for the last 15 years. In the 27 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen it become strictly business. We talk budgets and how to reach our goals when our leaders get together three or four times a year, and we have travelers from all over the world fly in when they can. They go all day from 7:30 in the morning to 5 o’clock in the evening, and the last day they meet until noon and then people are free to fly home. We give them free time when they come in and before they go home, but this is a long meeting.”
Maniscola recently held her annual leadership meeting at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, a waterfront replica of the Italian coastal town of the same name. With a breezy ocean vibe that runs from the décor of the light-filled hotel rooms through the 42,000 sf of meeting space to the East-meets-West spa, the Loews Portofino Bay feels a world away from Orlando’s top attractions.
Its Mandara Spa, a zen-centric, Asian-inspired brand, combines exotic elements such as Balinese flower body polish, seaweed wraps, hot stone massage and coconut milk baths with the latest high-tech spa facelift, enzyme peels and cellulite therapies to create a spa menu that has something for any event attendee, no matter their wellness needs.
Sandy Sinclair, payroll coordinator for St. Louis, Missouri-based The Daniel and Henry Co. and director of the Midwest Regional Payroll Conference, agrees that some of the best perks of spa resorts can be tangential, less directly related to the spa itself than parts of the spa resort experience. “We’re drawn to spa resorts for our meetings due to a number of reasons,” she says. “Firstly, they tend to have a very luxurious atmosphere, which is very calming and makes the conference feel like a nice getaway in addition to the learning opportunities we provide, and secondly, these types of locations usually have over-the-top customer service.”
Customer service at spa resorts today goes far beyond typical concierge services with a host of highly trained health specialists in areas that benefit even those who aren’t typical spa enthusiasts. One of the newest trends is a sleep concierge who works with attendees not only to select the best pillow and mattress for their needs — a health practice increasingly common in upmarket hotels — but also to perform a sleep assessment and receive recommendations based on the latest sleep science on how the individual can sleep better not only at the hotel, but also at home.
Yvonna Hansen, vice president of Topeka, Kansas-based Community Bankers of Kansas and organizer of its events, relies on spa resorts for their varied amenities. “We most recently chose Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center for our annual convention and trade show. Because it’s our annual event, we’re looking for that family atmosphere with an upscale location, and Chateau on the Lake was great because it had the spa and access to the lake and marina. The resort gave us a 10 percent discount for spa services and a good 25 percent of attendees took advantage of them.”
Located in Branson, Missouri, Chateau on the Lake’s 14,000-sf spa incorporates both local resources and traditional European practices into its spa offerings. Upon entering, the experience begins with a crystal chandelier in the 30-foot spa lobby, setting the scene for a day of luxurious pampering ideally wrapped up in the outdoor Roman-style baths overlooking the lake. Frequent spa-goers may enjoy the lakeview yoga studio, but the barber spa, offering haircuts, scalp massage and other services for men, makes spa-going an attractive experience for both sexes. The spa has 10 treatment rooms, so it’s best to allow attendees to schedule their own time as the space is limited.
Does the increase in spa usage among finance and insurance companies mean men are choosing the spa over golf? Planners don’t report seeing a clear trend here, because their spa retreats signify an equally if not more important shift: the growing foothold of women in these industries.
On both the 2012 and 2014 Forbes 30 Under 30 in Finance lists, women have held an increasing foothold, including a special feature in the 2012 list on Jennifer Fan, 29-year-old founder of Arbalet Capital. Previous lists of this ilk barely, if at all, mentioned women. In the 2010 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners, women held 14.4 percent of Executive Officer positions at Fortune 500 companies and 7.6 percent of top earner positions, whereas in the 2013 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners, which counts the number of women in upper management in Fortune 500 companies, women were 17.6 percent of executive officers in the finance and insurance industries, a significant increase from Fortune 500 companies overall.
“A good 25 percent of attendees took advantage of the spa during our event at Chateau on the Lake, but with our group, the spa-goers are still primarily female,” says Hansen. “We have had requests to include the spa element, and every year that we have an event out of state, which is every other year, a spa resort is something I look for.” Though golf is still part of Hansen’s events, she says, “we’re branching out and trying to add another event like the fishing tournament we did this year.”
“We have had requests to include the spa element, and every year that we have an event out of state, which is every other year, a spa resort is something I look for.” — Yvonna Hansen
Sinclair agrees that the spa is the way to go for female attendees, who make up the majority of her group. “Our meeting planners have never focused on golf,” she says. “We have a large percentage of female conference attendees, so the spa atmosphere has been prevalent with us, and it’s primarily women using the spa, primarily taking advantage of the spa treatments.”
California, long a leader domestically for health-conscious culture and green meetings, is home to two recently unveiled resort spas leading the pack in creating a destination spa experience that excels whether in the bedrooms, meeting rooms or spa treatment spaces.
Winner of the 2013 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, the Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, California, features a 42,000-sf oceanfront spa that offers traditional Eastern and Western spa treatments along with several special California twists, such as the Gaviota herbal therapy, based on herbs from the Gaviota coastal region where the resort is located, and the sea breeze rooftop massage, incorporating natural ocean sounds, sights and smells into the healing experience. Treatments, such as the citrus avocado polish, lavender lift, orange honey peel and rooftop self-applied mud bar all bring elements of the surrounding Santa Barbara countryside into the spa.
Beyond the traditional wellness spaces, the garden paths and hiking trails offer opportunities for attendees to head out together on a group wellness activity. With 36 treatment rooms, the spa is large enough to book out for a few hours to accommodate all attendees of smaller groups in a set time block.
Named as one of the most popular meeting resorts by Cvent, Bacara’s more than 70,000 sf of function space includes the high-tech Executive Conference and Technology Center, which offers planners a variety of indoor-outdoor spaces, including a 211-seat screening room, 11,300-sf ballroom and breakout rooms equipped with the latest audio-visual conferencing technology.
Associated Luxury Hotels International has also recently added the resort to its portfolio. “The new Bacara Resort & Spa is special,” said Associated Luxury Hotels International CEO David Gabri in a statement. “It features an extraordinary oceanfront setting, wonderful meeting and event space, and first-class facilities and service all the way, and we are very proud to add the resort into the ALHI portfolio. Planners considering a meeting or program in California should definitely speak with their ALHI Global Sales professional about this incredible resort, and consider it in their rotations.”
Meanwhile, in Dana Point California, The Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa is taking its new spa in an eco-luxury direction with “greenovation.” For its redesign, the spa has incorporated repurposed and upcycled elements such as reclaimed wood art installations and mosaic glass lighting sconces to create a holistic health environment that brings the outdoors into the spa in a way designed to make guests feel connected to nature yet pampered at the same time. The “Do Organic, Be Organic, and Live Organic” program offers guests an option to have a completely natural experience from treatments to cuisine.
Reflections Spa at Blue Harbor Resort and Spa, Sheboygan, Wisconsin was voted one of the best boutique spas in the state by Milwaukee Magazine. The spa menu includes a variety of services from manicures and pedicures to body wraps, facials and massage. Attendees will retreat into peaceful tranquility, and dissolve their stress away under the care of skilled professional staff trained in the latest spa therapies.
The Spa, designed with earth-tone colors, offers a quiet retreat with soft music, aromatherapy candles and a feng shui balanced atmosphere including five luxurious treatment rooms, and a manicure/pedicure room.
The Red Lane Spa at Sandals Emerald Bay, Great Exuma, Bahamas, combines classic European rituals with a Caribbean flair. New services include Raindrop Dreams, a 90-minute treatment, which harnesses the healing power of aromatherapy and is followed by a full-body and foot massage. Also, the Red Lane Signature West Indian is a relaxing treatment combining muscle stretching, compression and manipulating techniques.
M Resort Spa Casino in Henderson, Nevada, features Spa Mio — a 23,000-sf world-class spa with 16 treatment rooms, sauna, steam and jacuzzi wet areas, full-service salon and barbershop, luxury locker rooms and state-of-the-art fitness center.
Before or after a visit to Spa Mio, attendees with extra time can find more options for relaxation at the M Resort’s more than 100,000 sf of pool and entertainment space. The main pool area features two heated, infinity-edge pools and two large jacuzzis surrounded by fire torches. The intimate DayDream Pool features cabanas, daybeds, lounging areas, an ice-railed bar, disc jockey booth, hot tub, and an infinity-edge pool and spa.
The Spa at Pelican Hill in Newport Coast was recently voted “No. 1 Spa in California” by Condé Nast Traveler magazine and a Forbes Five Star recipient for the fifth consecutive year since it opened in 2008. Attendees also may visit The Spa at Island Hotel in Newport Beach, a five-diamond property near Fashion Island, which features nine treatment rooms as well as separate male and female locker rooms. Each spa option is a member of the Irvine Company Resorts family.
SRI International’s 2013 Global Wellness Tourism Economy report found that wellness tourism already captures 14 percent of global tourism expenditures to the tune of $439 billion. And while that’s largely due to the leisure market, group business is building as perceptions shift: As it grows harder to justify pampering for the sake of pampering, planners are turning to spa resorts more for their restorative environments and amenities than expressly for their luxury. Tying the more sumptuous elements of destination meetings into a healthful living initiative is a win-win for planners looking for meaningful ways to reward attendees without a big spend or perception of excess. I&FMM