In recent years the wellness component of a meeting agenda has come to encompass a great deal more than arranging a block of spa appointments for attendees.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Hawaii, where approaches to healing and well-being are deeply woven into the fabric of local culture and traditions. At resorts throughout the islands, planners will find wellness-related activities limited only by the imagination. 

“Wellness is no longer just a cool trend, it’s now an expectation that touches on every part of the meeting, whether it’s food choices or a CSR activity,” said Ben Premack, director of sales and marketing for the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. “People come to places like Hawaii because of the importance of incorporating wellness into a program. It has become second nature.”

Beyond Spa 

Among resorts that have seen a marked expansion in what meeting groups expect from a wellness experience is Maui’s Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, which includes the 50,000-square-foot Spa Grande, the largest in Hawaii.  According to Rachael McCrory, director of spa and wellness, meeting and incentive groups, while still requesting spa treatments, now require a much wider range of options.

“There was a time when we would be arranging up to 200 treatments a day for incentive groups coming in, but these large-scale blocks are no longer so prevalent,” she said. “Meeting groups, along with leisure guests, want experiences that have to do with lifestyle and that are unique to the location. What we really like to do is get to know the group on a higher level, so we can design a program that fits in with their core company values and culture.”

Group activities at Grand Wailea might include a sunrise yoga session on the beach, preceded by a traditional Hawaiian chant and then followed by a beach walk with a cultural advisor who explains the history and geography of the area. 

At Waikiki’s Halekulani Hotel, offerings at SpaHalekulani include Living Well seminars presented by a lifestyle coach addressing nutrition, stress management, breathing exercises and other issues. Historical and cultural walking tours led by a native Hawaiian member of the spa team are also arranged for groups.

“The psychological and emotional components of wellness also include community, which is especially relevant in Hawaii, where everyone is considered ohana, or extended family,” said Kamala Nayeli, director of SpaHalekulani. “We’re also seeing that groups want something to take away with them, tools for achieving more balance in their life. So we look for exercises and activities that help with this.” 

At the Hyatt Regency Maui, volunteer activities are considered part of an effective wellness program, which can include hiking into the Honokawai Valley in West Maui to help with clearing debris and other restoration efforts at an ancient Hawaiian site. 

“It’s a physical activity where people are also learning and contributing,” Premack said. “Wellness has evolved into what people do in the community. The sense of aloha creates a sense of wellness.” 

Wellness activities for groups are also wide-ranging at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore, where a new Workation Program incorporates such diverse options as Hawaiian-themed culinary teambuilding, canoe racing and Tea & Sound Healing sessions. 

“We are seeing a lot more interest from planners in mixing adventure days with custom relaxation experiences,” said Jon Conching, director of sales and marketing for Turtle Bay. “For example, a day of outdoor activities like surfing lessons or standup paddleboarding might be followed by a massage tent experience in a beautiful outdoor location. Building these types of activities offers a true break before groups head back into work sessions.”

The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on Hawaii’s Big Island also takes a broad approach to wellness-related activities, according to Morgan Suzuki, director of public relations and communications. 

“We’ve had clients build a full workout into the itinerary with group walks, ocean kayaking and canoeing, outdoor yoga or even specialty activities like rock climbing or BOGA, which is floating yoga in the pool,” she said. “We also have an on-site Cultural Center where groups can do activities like hula dancing, nose flute music classes, lauhala mat weaving and more.”

A new option at Hualalai is the Salt Harvesting Experience where participants hike to nearby salt flats with the resort’s National Resource team to harvest fresh sea salt. They then join the executive chef who demonstrates how the salt is dried and used in cooking. An optional Salts of the Ocean body treatment at Hualalai Spa can be included. 

Hawaiian Touches

Traditional Hawaiian approaches to healing and body treatments are very much part of the spa experience at island resorts, including the use of native plants and methods such as lomilomi massage and heated stone therapy. Many properties underscore this sense of place by extending the spa environment to their garden and beachside areas. 

“Hawaiian culture is very tuned into the healing arts,” said Gloria Ah Sam, spa and wellness director for the Kahala Hotel & Resort in Oahu. “Things such as lomilomi, which is the Hawaiian word for massage, and the use of botanicals and warming stones are practices that have been handed down for generations.”

Spa Kahala consulted with an expert on traditional Hawaiian healing methods when designing signature treatments such as Oli Oli Lomilomi, which incorporates a lomi stick massage, mud leg wrap and ’awa scalp soother. As much as possible, the spa takes its offerings to outdoor areas of the resort.

“Planners always ask about outdoor options, so we offer yoga and hula in grassy areas or on our covered lanai, which runs the length of the resort and has an ocean view,” Ah Sam said. 

At Grand Wailea, spa-goers can have treatments in garden huts called hales or take guided botanical walks to gather native plants for use in their own spa treatments, according to McCrory. 

“You can gather traditional ingredients like ’awa root, which can be used as a body scrub or in a drink that has a calming and numbing effect on the body,” she said, adding that the spa is working with local experts to develop additional therapies that incorporate traditional Hawaiian practices. 

Outdoor settings and Hawaiian traditions are key to the spa experience at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, where the 45,000-square-foot Anara Spa’s treatment rooms open out onto private gardens.

Locally grown ingredients are imaginatively worked into the menu of body treatments, which include pineapple-papaya hydration, a warm coconut milk scalp rub, volcanic pumice foot massage and body polishes incorporating passion fruit, hibiscus or ginger. 

Hawaiian-style therapies in an outdoor setting are also a signature offering at Oahu’s Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, which offers Kula Wai, a 5,000-square-foot outdoor hydrotherapy garden with soaking pools, vitality baths, rain-style showers, jet spas and a reflexology path designed to massage the feet and lower legs.

At the garden’s Pulu Bar, guests can concoct their own customized body polish by choosing from an assortment of salts, fragrances, oils and Hawaiian herbs. 

Aulani also offers sunrise fitness programs, including beachside yoga and workouts that can be customized for groups, said Joe Medwetz, senior sales and services director. 

“Hawaiian cultural games and activities on the beautiful Halawai Lawn can also be customized for groups,” he said. “For example, Aulani Hula is an engaging activity for groups of all interests. Hula tells a story and the physical movement is a fun way to exercise the mind, body and spirit.”  

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