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One of the Nation's Largest Hotels Spas - Orlando's Ritz-Carlton
 Grande Lakes Resort Offers 40,000 Square Feet, 145 Employees
By Christopher Boyd, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 4, 2007 - Travelers who once expected little more than attentive concierges and comfortable beds are now demanding much more from their hotels.

Today, they want to know whether they can end the day with an Asian massage or a martini pedicure.

Health spas are no longer only exotic destinations with bubbling mineral springs. Spas with luxurious baths, tearooms and treatment rooms are opening across the country, taking the lodging industry into the personal-pampering business.

"Spas are here to stay," said Meg Prendergast, senior vice president with Gettys, a Chicago hotel-design company. "They are definitely a requirement for luxury hotels. If you are in the luxury market, you realize that. Guests want spas in their hotels, even if they don't use them."

These aren't the architectural afterthoughts that began appearing in hotels 20 years ago. Spas now fill tens of thousands of square feet with scores of fitness rooms and big staffs of trainers, clinicians and nutrition advisers.

Spa staffs offer fitness and wellness classes that include workouts followed by aromatherapy sessions and tips about skin care and healthy eating. One of the nation's largest spas at Orlando's Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes resort offers dozens of programs, 145 employees and a big menu of prices and options.

"We have all the holistic treatments you would expect and much more," said Suzanne Holbrook, the spa's executive director. "There's teeth-whitening, Vichy water treatment, facials and massages. We are rolling out a sleep-treatment program soon. Do you realize how many people are sleep-deprived?"

The Ritz-Carlton's treatment rooms fill two floors and appeal to many preferences. One massage room has what looks like a small set of parallel bars about five feet above the table. Holbrook explained that the masseuse holds on to the bars while using her feet to work on the client's back.

Other rooms are designed for hydrotherapy and aroma treatments.

All this doesn't come cheap. A Swedish massage that uses warm cinnamon apple pie oil costs $120. An East Indian lime scalp- and body-massage treatment for men that includes a "macho, macho pedicure" goes for $320.

Clients not all guests

Like many spas, the Ritz-Carlton has reached beyond its hotel clientele for business. Holbrook said about half of the spa's customers aren't guests, and many live in Central Florida. To cater to locals, the spa offers two classes of monthly memberships as well as one-day packages, some costing thousands of dollars.

Brian and Frances Giessuebel of Orlando recently became Ritz-Carlton members. They said the spa's wide array of offerings makes it more appealing than a conventional fitness center.

"They always have a water bottle and a towel waiting for you in the fitness room," Frances Giessuebel said. "It's a very clean place that doesn't feel like a gym. But what I really love are the massages. I'm a massage fanatic, and I've never had a bad one there."

Giessuebel said she and her husband consider the spa a vacation spot that doesn't require traveling.

"We can pretend we are on vacation and go home at the end of the day," she said.

The Ritz-Carlton shares its 40,000-square-foot spa with Grande Lakes' other hotel, the JW Marriott. When it opened four years ago, it immediately attracted wide attention and helped accelerate the spa movement.

As the popularity of spas grows, they are beginning to function more like businesses within businesses than hotel amenities. Hotels are turning to specialty companies to design their spas, creating spaces that are very different from their surroundings.

The Swan and Dolphin hotels at Walt Disney World share a spa designed to conjure the South Pacific. It includes a meditation garden and 13 treatment rooms.

Peter Kacheris, the hotels' general manager, said the spa has resonated with group-travel planners.

Like the Ritz-Carlton, the Swan and Dolphin are taking advantage of their spa's marketing potential. They sell products used in the spas as retail items, creating another revenue source.

"We will add spa items in our guest rooms," Kacheris said. "The usual shampoos won't do anymore."

Travelers expect more

Kacheris said the spa explosion is having a big impact on the lodging industry.

"In the past, people wanted to be able to have their hair done at the hotel," Kacheris said. "Now they want more. I see a day when hotels will need to have a spa if they want to operate at a certain level, and it will have to be a spa-treatment center that is nice, well-thought-out and well-designed."

Oviedo spa designer Lori Rapport drew plans for the Swan and Dolphin spa.

"Four- and five-star hotels must now offer a spa as part of their menus," Rapport said. "Spas have become thematically driven, becoming retreats within hotels where guests can go to rejuvenate. We try to create places that give guests a lift the moment they walk through the door."

Rapport said men who once avoided spas now embrace them, a change that has had an impact on design.

"Ten years ago, spa services were segregated; there were men's floors and women's floors," she said. "Now we have a lot of couples coming in looking for couple's suites where they can receive treatments together."

Keith Salwoski, spokesman for the Gaylord Palms hotel near Walt Disney World, said the growing popularity of spas in Orlando was unforeseen.

"Traditionally, Orlando hotels were a bit short on amenities because there was a feeling that most people would spend their time at theme parks during the day," Salwoski said.

Salwoski said Gaylord's spa, which is affiliated with the Canyon Ranch Spa Club, has been very popular with guests.

The lodging industry is confident that popularity will continue as the free-spending baby-boom generation retires.

"People who were once more concerned about buying cars and real estate are now trying to connect with their families and their bodies," Salwoski said. "Spas are good places for both. Healthy living is the most important thing, and spas are about health and well-being."

TFrances Giessuebel of Orlando said she and her husband consider the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes spa a vacation spot that doesn't require traveling.

Christopher Boyd can be reached at cboyd@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5723.

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To see more of The Orlando Sentinel -- including its homes, jobs, cars and other classified listings -- or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.OrlandoSentinel.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

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