by Alex Palmer | November 20, 2014
Today's groups are looking for more from their spa experiences.

"It's becoming more important for groups to bond together with colleagues and peers, so they're increasingly looking to network and socialize in spas," says Ivonne van Loveren, the corporate spa and wellness director of Bloom Spa at the Sebastian-Vail -- A Timbers Resort in Vail, CO. "Manicures and pedicures are great examples of bonding sessions." The 84-room ski country resort is a major draw for groups looking for snow-covered excitement, and its luxurious spa is almost as popular for visiting groups as the mountains just outside its windows.

At the same time, it's not just relaxation that visitors seek. As tight budgets continue to be an ongoing concern, organizations are eager to deliver spa experiences that provide a greater value to attendees and the company as a whole.

Boosting Spa Value
Cheryl Grimes, associate director of sales at Spa Oceana at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach, FL, has worked with a number of groups to create what she calls "sparties," or spa parties, that utilize the spa's 16 treatment rooms.

"Instead of the typical 90-minute service, they want something that's relaxing but more social," says Grimes. "It's closer to a 20-minute gathering, with a neck rub, or foot rub, rather than a full-body thing."

Van Loveren agrees that networking has grown into a major reason for groups to book treatments and add to the business value of spa treatments. "The sauna, steam, hot tub, and fitness spaces offer great spots to network for group settings," she says. "These are intimate spaces where people feel comfortable and more relaxed to open up and have great conversations and connect at a higher level."

Shane Allor, director of sales and marketing for the JW Marriott Camelback Inn Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ, points to a recent incentive group that did a buyout of the property. "One of the important factors in the decision was the great spa we have -- the offerings, large number of treatment rooms, and the ability for them to buy out the spa for two days of the program," says Allor. "Spa was a big part of the decision-making process."

The Spa at Camelback Inn includes Finnish saunas, a Turkish steam bath, and a Swiss shower, along with whirlpools, solariums, and a wealth of top-notch amenities. It also offers "Spa Dining" from its on-site restaurant and juice bar, Sprouts. Items include antioxidant smoothies, fresh salads, and sandwiches, as well as a menu of cocktails that incorporate fresh fruit and juice.

The group spa coordinator can also customize spa offerings for the group's needs. "We will also offer chair massages as an option during registration or an opening reception," says Allor. This kind of flexibility -- incorporating the spa into the business side of an incentive program, is growing in popularity.

"Busy professionals expect their spa experiences to be both innovative and progressive," says Shawn Hallum, spa director of the Heavenly Spa by Westin at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa. "The choreography of our treatments must be result-oriented, efficient, and memorable."

Hallum adds that guests today prefer treatments that address their individual concerns and are customizable. The Westin's treatment rooms accommodate up to 16 guests at a time, with traditional treatments like the Hawaiian-style lomi lomi massage and panoramic views of Hawaii's Kaanapali Beach from the spa's oceanfront relaxation lounge. Hallum says that "meaningful downtime for their employees" is a valuable part of an incentive program.

"We have a tapas-style spa menu that [groups] can incorporate into their meetings," says Ann Sutherland Lynch, director of sales and marketing at Bloom Spa. "We set up stations in the pre-function area that incorporate these options into their breaks -- both a.m. and p.m. -- as needed."

Wellness Considerations
In addition to networking opportunities, groups are shifting how they view spa treatments, focusing on the health benefits they provide.

"We invite guests to embrace nature at the spa, as we see a growing trend for healthy retreats," says Robin Dunivin, director of spa at The Resort at Pelican Hill, in Newport Coast, CA. "Pelican Hill offers a variety of classes and activities, such as daily hikes along Crystal Cove's bluff-top trials and Sunrise Boot Camp overlooking the ocean."

Dunivin adds that incentive groups visiting the spa at Pelican Hill are increasingly seeking personalized experiences -- these include detailed menus and treatments as well as customized wellness retreats.

Bloom Spa's van Loveren has seen a shift in incentive groups' priorities when it comes to spa programs. "'Healing' has become a much more important factor for companies to offer their attendees versus 'pampering,'" she says. "As a result, groups are increasingly interested in healing and wellness as opposed to just pampering treatments."

Bloom Spa emphasizes the wellness aspect of its program with a growing menu of health-related treatments, such as the warm compress and stretching of "The Après" treatment, and even a "Flower & Bud" massage developed especially for expectant mothers.

Few properties showcase this wellness aspect of spa benefits as thoroughly as St. Lucia's The BodyHoliday resort, which recently launched a new Corporate Wellness Program. The property's motto of "Give us your body for a week and we'll give you back your mind," captures what attendees can hope to gain from The BodyHoliday's program, which is designed to combat a poor work/life balance.

The five-day program aims to get attendees thinking about their approach to work and leisure in a way that will have an impact on both long after the incentive trip itself has ended. The morning programs include healthy food and tea, and discussions and exercises about life management, understanding stress, and the connection between mind and body.

Attendees then have the afternoons for fun and relaxation, whether visiting St. Lucia's many attractions or exploring the all-inclusive property's 30,000-square-foot wellness center, five food and beverage venues, scuba school, tennis and golf academies, and more.