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Chicago Hotels Partnering with Spa Companies to Create Destination
 Sites Attracting Not Only Guests but Locals as Well
By Glenn Jeffers, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Apr. 12, 2007 - The 20th floor pool at The Peninsula Chicago, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and bright, southern view of Michigan Avenue, remains an aesthetic gem. But it may face some competition from its next-door neighbor.

That neighbor is the revamped spa at the downtown luxury hotel, now known as The Peninsula Spa by ESPA. The whites and green pastels have disappeared, replaced with wood and brick and earth tones. The smell of eucalyptus and mint wafts from strategically placed candles. The juice bar is gone, replaced by a post-treatment relaxation lounge with a quartet of remote-controlled beds and a crackling gas fireplace.

"You feel like you're taking a little mini-getaway," spa director Tiffany Craig says.

That's the idea as more hotels begin to partner with spa companies, creating the kind of destination sites that attract not only guests, but local, non-guest patrons as well. The Peninsula has paired with the United Kingdom-based ESPA, which has converted several of the hotel chain's spas into ESPA facilities. The 15,000-sqaure-foot spa at The Peninsula Chicago, currently in a soft launch, is ESPA's first in the United States.

Some services, such as the 135-minute Sanctuary for the Senses treatment, are gone. The spa now offers such exotic services as Balinese massages; back, face and scalp massages with volcanic stones, and chakra balancing. (Just remember: If you're not a guest, you can only book between Monday and Thursday.)

Other hotels are realizing the benefits of partnering with spas. The James Hotel recently reopened its spa after partnering with local company Asha SalonSpa. Local fashion designer-turned-wellness guru Tiffani Kim partnered with the Park Hyatt in 2000, opening her second Tiffani Kim Institute inside the hotel.

Spas and hotels go well together, says Robyn Fishelson, "publissity" manager for New York-based Bliss spas. She cited Bliss's experience after the W's parent, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, bought the spa company in January 2004.

Since then, Bliss has opened spas inside the W's San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles locations. The W Chicago Lakeshore houses the 9,600-square-foot Bliss Chicago, a spa with 16 treatment rooms, nail stations, oxygen facials and a bevy of other therapeutic services.

With affection, hotel officials blame the spagoers for pressuring hotels to evolve. Customers are savvier than ever, the officials say, and expect more from hotel spas than the typical menu of manis and pedis, Swedish massages and facials. They want more personalized service. They want to try new techniques and treatments.

"They're driving the [hotel spa] business," The Peninsula's Craig says of the customers.

Other hotels in the Chicago area simply prefer to keep their operations in-house, making tweaks as they see fit. The Four Seasons Chicago routinely updates its services. Currently, the hotel is offering seven new treatments created to repair skin and relax muscles following a cold winter. Happy with its set-up, the hotel has no plans to partner with an outside spa company, spokeswoman Terri Hickey says.

But those hotels that do partner get the benefit of experienced spa companies taking over their treatment rooms, while the spas develop new services to fit within the hotel model.

The James Hotel adapted Asha's Caribbean shower therapy for use in guest rooms. The shower itself, a cleansing wash followed by an exfoliating scrub, is still a popular treatment at Asha's other locations.

But at the James, the shower makes up a portion of the in-room experience. As guests undergo the shower ritual, technicians light candles, heat beds and fill the room with the scent of flowers. The room becomes a tranquil mini-spa instead of merely a hotel room with a massage table in it.

"Today it's not only about the experience but the ritual in the experience, what memory are you going to take [home] with you," says Kathleen Bucci Bergeron, managing partner at Asha SalonSpa.

But the in-room amenities don't detract from the new 1,100-square-foot Spa by Asha at the James, the hotel's new facility. Along with a new reception facility, the spa's three treatment rooms have been redesigned with wood floors, custom cabinetry and plush seating.

ESPA at The Peninsula Chicago has gone one step further. Now each treatment begins with an "intuitive" intake, where technicians talk to clients and assess what changes in treatment need to be made.

Craig, the Peninsula's spa director, says she is happy with the new spa. Her staff is learning new techniques. The guests are pleased. Even the pool area is getting new dining and lounge furniture.

"They really tailored our service," she says of ESPA.

Destination spas

The Peninsula Spa by ESPA
108 E. Superior St.; 312-573-6860,
chicago.peninsula.com
Hours: 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.- 9:30 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Sun.

The Spa by Asha at The James
55 E. Ontario St.; 312-337-1000,
www.jameshotels.com/Chicago
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.

Bliss Chicago
W Chicago Lakeshore
644 N. Lake Shore Drive; 312-266-9216
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.

The Tiffani Kim Institute Spa
Park Hyatt Chicago
800 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-335-1234
Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Tue., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.

gjeffers@tribune.com

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Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune

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