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Hotel Spas: Luxury Faces Adversity

2008 Hotel Trends

by Kelly Hartog

One of the Spa Cabanas at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
One of the Spa Cabanas at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua

The Dow Jones average is plummeting, Wall Street brokerage houses are going bankrupt or fighting for survival, but new luxury hotel spas are being built in New York, while another new one in an Atlantic City casino is offering a $5,000 massage. Airfares to Hawaii are up, and the number of visitors is down, but there’s still plenty of traffic in the 15 treatment rooms at the new spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapulua. How can businesses close and unemployment continue to increase, yet luxury hotel spas keep opening and expanding? Can hotels sustain their increasingly large and luxurious spas when everyone else is tightening their belts?

The hospitality industry is relying on well-heeled guests who don’t consider massages, manicures and facials a luxury, and aren’t particularly sensitive to price. In addition, more and more people are visiting their local hotel spas as part of a money-saving "stay-cation." Those two markedly different types of clients explain why the costly development of hotel spas continues despite the world’s current economic situation.

Waldorf=Astoria's Guerlain Spa
Waldorf=Astoria's Guerlain Spa

New York heralds the opening of the 14,000-square-foot Guerlain Spa at The Waldorf=Astoria as well as The Plaza's 8,000-square-foot The Caudalié Vinotherapie spa, the first of its kind in the United States. Here, guests can indulge in everything from a crushed Cabernet scrub to a fresh grape massage. The Peninsula New York is renovating their spa as well. While these top-of-the-line hotels cater to affluent travelers, ordinary New Yorkers can plan a spa visit as a treat without having to spring for a hotel room, which could run into the thousands of dollars per night.

On the other side of the country, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Maui underwent a $180 million renovation in 2007 and opened its 17,500-square-foot spa in 2008, complete with saunas, hot tubs, and a lava stone grotto. "Hawaii in general is suffering a decline in business right now," said Ritz-Carlton PR corporate vice president Vivian Deuschl. "To date, the spa has yet to see any downturn in business. So far we’ve found the need to unwind and relax has been an equalizer for spa revenue,” Deuschl said, "but where we go a few months from now is hard to tell. In the meantime, we’re aggressively marketing our spas."

The spa at Canyon Ranch Miami Beach
The Canyon Ranch Miami Beach spa

One of the country's best-known luxury spas, Canyon Ranch, opened a new resort in Miami Beach in 2008, boasting a 70,000-square-foot wellness spa along with a fitness center, beauty salon and four outdoor pools. (In comparison, a football field is only 57,600 square feet.) Will this massive investment pay off? A Canyon Ranch representative said she did not have any concerns about the success of the spa. "The original Canyon Ranch opened in Tucson in 1979 and that spa has 80,000 square-feet," she noted. "Any new property has to be equivalent to our original ranch experience. People come to the ranch and expect a certain quality of treatment and we don’t want to skimp on that.”

Other hotels that have either undertaken smaller-scale spa renovations this year or plan to do so appear to be keeping their heads above water, at least for now. L'Auberge Del Mar in San Diego, which currently offers a myriad of treatments including the Chardonnay Vitalite body scrub, wrap and massage, already has a new 4,100-square-foot freestanding spa currently under construction, tentatively slated to open in March 2009. Public relations representative Christopher Scott of Wills Communications says business is still running smoothly at the current spa and plans are not being changed for the new spa, "…and we haven’t seen any downturn due to the economic rockiness."

A couple enjoys a treatment at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel-Casino
A couple enjoys a treatment at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel-Casino

The spa at The Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa in Dallas, Texas, opened its full-service 2,500-square-foot luxury spa just eight months ago, following a $36 million renovation. Executive spa director Terri Beckham said that despite the economic slump, or perhaps because of it, more and more people are taking "stay-cations.” "We’re in a populated area and people are now forfeiting their vacations to Bora Bora and taking vacations in their own backyard.” As such, she said, this has in fact opened up more opportunities for the spa.

Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino in New Jersey opened its $15-million, 16,000-square-foot Qua Baths & Spa in June, where signature treatments include a 10-hand massage that goes for $5,000. Less bank-breaking rituals including a 50-minute banana leaf body wrap for $170. Nonetheless, public relations coordinator Christopher Jonick says there has also not been much of a drop off in clientele recently. However, he does point out that given that the hotel is a casino spa, the spa is really an amenity, not the main attraction. "But we did open this spa due to demand from our hotel guests who are willing to spend the money for these treatments.” Will the gamble pay off?

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