With free time at meetings often in short supply these days, many resorts are getting creative in the ways that planners can weave spa and wellness activities into even the most packed agendas. Along with bringing spa services into the meeting room, resorts are devising sports, fitness, therapeutic and cultural experiences designed to help attendees banish stress and find renewal.
In doing so, resorts are responding to increasing demand from meeting groups for wellness activities with lasting value, according to Leslie Johnson, spa director at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., a 600-room resort known for its award-winning spa and the Chopra Center, a research facility that offers yoga, meditation and fitness sessions.
“Companies of all sizes are now seeking extraordinary ways to unveil new dimensions and innovation during conferences and incentive trips,” she said. “They are investing in their employees’ health and wellness and want them to leave with something intangible they can incorporate into their everyday lives.”
While golf and spa treatments remain popular resort options, many organizations and their attendees are looking for a broader approach to recreation and wellness, said Jennifer Edwards, spa group sales manager at the Lake Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wis.
“People are coming to us because they want something new to offer their team when there’s a couple of hours of free time,” she said. “It could be skiing or mountain biking, even something like a basketball or volleyball component.”
Spa in the Meeting Room
When free time for attendees is limited, properties such as Destination Kohler, a resort complex that includes the 241-room American Club and Kohler Waters Spa in Kohler, Wis., bring spa and fitness activities to the meeting room.
“Some groups just don’t have the time to properly attend the spa or have a tranquil experience, so we take the spa to them with things like chair massages in the breakout rooms where people can rotate through during the meeting,” said Justin Gephart, director of sales and conference services at the property.
Kohler recently extended this concept by bringing certified trainers from its fitness facility to conduct sessions for groups meeting at the American Club. The trainers conduct morning “Rise and Grind” exercise classes in the hotel meeting rooms with music and build-your-own breakfast parfaits
“We found that attendance at classes held at the fitness center was only so-so, but it really jumped when we brought the classes to the hotel,” Gephart said. “It gets people revved up in the morning and doesn’t cut into the meeting sessions. Organizations want to promote healthy eating and fitness, but they usually can’t spend half a day on it.”
Take a Breath
Sessions to promote better breathing and relaxation are part of the extensive wellness offerings for groups at Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa in Stowe, Vt., where spa director Surinda Oberai Cavanaugh leads breathing sessions, healthy cooking classes and walks in the resort’s labyrinthine meditation garden planted with herbs and berries.
“We offer simple breathing exercises that people can do everyday—it’s a takeaway where they feel the benefit right away,” Cavanaugh said. “It’s something that can easily be done during a five-minute break during the meeting.”
Stoweflake also takes advantage of its spectacular mountain setting to offer seasonal activities that enable groups to unwind in a pristine environment, said Scott Baraw, vice president of sales.
“We can do things like an evening snowshoe tour with a bonfire at the edge of the woods,” he said. “A lot of groups are looking for stress reduction and we can offer them solutions that don’t take a lot of time.”
At the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa, a wellness agenda can begin at the registration desk with an aromatherapy bar stocked with jars of various herbs and spices such as lavender and chamomile, said Marissa Bernal, spa manager at the resort.
“People can smell the different aromas, some of which promote better sleep, and create sachets for takeaway gifts,” she said. “You can stock the sachet in your pillow to enjoy the aromatherapy while you sleep. Other herbs are good for keeping you calm or making you alert—they all have different uses.”
The aromatherapy bar can also be part of spa-themed events held at the Hashani Spa, with other mini stations that include chair massages, yoga stretches and customized herbal teas created by a tea sommelier.
“It’s a nice way to introduce attendees to what we offer—kind of like speed dating for the spa,” Bernal said.
Among other options is the Yoga Hike, a guided hike at sunrise or sunset through the saguaros of Tucson National Park to the Bowen House for a meditation or yoga session among the stone ruins of a 1930s homestead. Another unique group choice is participation in the Mitakuye Oyasin Morning Ritual, a Native American ceremony where burning sage bundles creates a cleansing atmosphere for the body and spirit.
Taking the Waters
Billing itself as America’s first resort, the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., has been attracting guests to its thermal waters since 1766. The 436-room resort with 72,000 square feet of meeting space is still known for its extensive spa and wellness features, which include an Aqua Thermal Suite for water therapy and a Serenity Garden where the Octagon Pool is fed by two hot springs rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium.
“The Serenity Garden is a nice area for groups where we can arrange for water yoga sessions in the pool and a chef-prepared lunch,” said Joyce Owens, the resort’s spa director.
Wellness activities take on a uniquely Hawaiian twist at Maui’s Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria Resort, where a new offering is Kiakahi, a workout session held outdoors that involves the use of conch shells, banana plants, coconuts, spears and other island elements.
“It’s a blend of Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures and the programs are different every time, but always fun,” said Michael Taylor, assistant director of Spa Grande, the resort’s 50,000-square-foot spa, parts of which can be rented out for private events.
“A unique aspect of our spa is what we call the Healing Waters of Maui, an extensive water feature that has different specialty baths with salts and essential oils, a Roman tub, a Japanese-style bathing area and waterfalls,” he said. “We can rent out the entire hydrotherapy area for groups with food and special treatments.”
A wide variety of spa services and fitness classes can also take place in the meeting rooms and other areas outside of the spa, Taylor added.
“For instance, we can have a spa coordinator come to the group check-in or breakout areas and provide a skin analysis, let people sample our skincare products and teach attendees about skincare,” he said.