Originally created 08/21/05

Spa trends: Local ingredients, exotic influences



NEW YORK - Now that day spas are turning up in airports, malls and beauty salons, destination spas are increasingly offering unique services and products to differentiate themselves from mainstream purveyors of massages and facials.

New services include unusual Asian healing practices and rituals inspired by American Indian traditions. Cleansers and creams are being made from local ingredients like blueberries, seashells or desert sage to identify spas with their locales. And packages are being aimed at niche markets - couples, teenagers, pregnant women.

The number of men going to spas is on the rise too. And thanks to the girlfriends' getaway phenomenon, even the most exclusive spas - places like Canyon Ranch and Miraval - are offering discounts for groups as small as six or eight people.

All these trends were in evidence among representatives of 22 destination spas at an industry event held in New York on July 28 by the International Spa Association.

Here's more on what's new.

NICHE MARKETING: Spas are attracting more and more couples, teens, pregnant women and men.

Packages for pregnant women typically include gentle yoga, massage, facial and pedicure. Now the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in California's "Mommy-to-be" package has added another option - "belly casts," in which a plaster gauze mask is applied to the woman's belly to create a life-size replica of her pregnant form. It costs $159. The resulting sculpture can be displayed and decorated.

At the Sea Spa at Loews Coronado Bay resort in California, "you wouldn't believe how many teenagers have spa parties," said spokeswoman Anne Stephany. The spa is opening a room later this month just for teens that will have a colorful, fun Southern California theme instead of the serene white walls found in most spas. Designed by PBteen, the teen brand of Pottery Barn, the room will have surf boards, tropical flowers and shaggy rugs.

Men now make up 29 percent of spa clients across the industry, up from 24 percent three years ago, according to the International Spa Association. Because of the trend, "sports massages" and "executive men's facials" are now regularly offered on spa menus.

"Most men are introduced to spas by a girlfriend or spouse and they go in kicking and screaming," said Lynne Walker McNees, president of the organization. But once they try it, they like it and come back on their own, she said.

Couples are using spa weekends both to relax and to reconnect with each other, and many spas have treatment rooms where couples can get massages side by side.

"One of our guests came here with his wife three or four times last year and told me, 'This is where I touch base with my wife, because we're so busy the rest of the time," said Valerie Clarke Simpson, spa manager at the Sanibel Harbour resort in Fort Myers, Fla.

ASIAN AND INDIAN INFLUENCES: Yoga, tai chi, shiatsu, Thai massage and other Asian practices involving relaxation, exercise, breathing and meditation have long been spa staples.

Now destination spas are going increasingly exotic, offering less well-known Asian treatments and creating rituals with roots in American Indian culture.

At the Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, guests can get an acupuncture-derived "Manaka tapping treatment," where pressure points are gently tapped with a wooden hammer and peg.

The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, New York, is offering shirobhyanga, a 20-minute head massage from India designed to reduce tension and increase circulation.

A "watsu" massage pool, where shiatsu massage is performed in 98-degree water, is offered at the Loews' Sea Spa.

Miraval in Catalina, Ariz., is known for its spiritual approach to the spa experience (its full trademarked name is "Miraval, Life in Balance"). The spa's "Restore Your Heart" treatment has two components - stone massage, in which heated black basalt stones and cool white marble stones are applied to the body; and a "smudging" ceremony, in which dried herbs like sage and sweetgrass are burned. The fragrant smoke is waved into corners with a feather.

Guests are also sent home with an abalone shell from the Sea of Cortez, which the spa says will "repel negativity," and a "third eye stone," a talisman of "clarity, vision and self-power."

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has just launched a boutique spa called Sasura, where clients can take part in a "sasura ritual" described as a "Japanese-inspired process of renewal," complete with a gong, the scent of lotus blossoms, and a green-tea wrap. The Sasura spas will also specialize in services for travelers seeking short getaways or single treatments.

Sasura is "a balance of harmony and purity," said spokeswoman Lorraine Park. "People are into the Asian arts and things that are ritualistic."

LOCAL INGREDIENTS: "Spas are so mainstream now that local ingredients and local products are being used to create niches," said Kate Mearns, chairman of the International Spa Association.

The Cliff House Resort & Spa in Ogunquit, Maine, puts organic Maine blueberries in its body wraps and facial masks. At the Sanibel Harbour spa, scrubs are made with pulverized seashells and sand, while masks contain sea water, seaweed, sea salt and algae.

At the just-opened spa at Mohonk Mountain House resort in New Paltz, N.Y., bath oil is made from a local witch hazel plant bearing red flowers instead of the usual yellow. Exfoliants contain "Shawangunk grit," made from local stone. "We're bringing elements of nature into the spa with indigenous products," said spa director Hollis Beckwith.

If You Go...

INTERNATIONAL SPA ASSOCIATION: www.experienceispa.com, (888) 651-4772.

CANYON RANCH: Tucson, Ariz., and Lenox, Mass., www.canyonranch.com, (800) 742-9000.

CLIFF HOUSE: Ogunquit, Maine, www.cliffhousemaine.com, (207) 361-1000.

FAIRMONT SONOMA: Sonoma, Calif., www.fairmont.com, (707) 938-9000.

SASURA: Wyndham Sasura Spas are opening at the Wyndham Buttes in Tempe, Ariz., on Aug. 26, and at the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, Texas, in March 2006, (800) 996-3426.

LAKE AUSTIN: Austin, Texas, www.lakeaustin.com, (800) 847-5637.

MANDARIN ORIENTAL, NEW YORK: Manhattan, www.mandarinoriental.com, (212) 805-8880.

MIRAVAL: Catalina, Ariz., www.miravalresort.com, (800) 232-3969.

MOHONK MOUNTAIN HOUSE: New Paltz, N.Y., www.mohonk.com, (877) 877-2664.

SANIBEL HARBOUR: Fort Myers, Fla., www.sanibel-resort.com, (800) 767-7777.

SEA SPA: Loews Coronado Bay Resort, Coronado, Calif., www.loewshotels.com, (619) 424-4000, ext. 6270.

PRICES: Spa rates vary tremendously. But even the fanciest resorts offer discounts. Here are some ways to economize:

-Go offseason - that means summer in Arizona, early spring in New England, and November to April in places like Sonoma Valley, Calif.

-Get shorter treatments - 30 minutes instead of 60 - and ask destination spas if they have day spa packages.

-Go midweek. Most spas list midweek packages on their Web sites.

-For group discounts of up to 30 percent, get a few friends together. Six qualifies for the group rate at Lake Austin, and eight qualifies for a discount at Canyon Ranch or Miraval.