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Las Vegas Casino Investment in Spas Very Bullish

By Bill Ordine, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jun. 27, 2005 - HIGH-END SPAS MAKE LAS VEGAS SAY 'AAAHH': Using accoutrements ranging from Australian desert salt to Tibetan bowls and techniques both ancient and New Age, Las Vegas' swankiest resorts have devised almost as many ways to soothe achy muscles and jangled nerves as they have to separate a gambler from his bankroll.

Vegas resorts have long had fancy workout and body treatment facilities, but when Tucson-based Canyon Ranch opened a branch of its world-famous spa at the Venetian a few years ago, the ante was raised.

The spa competition was evident when the Mobil Travel Guide -- which rates travel and dining experiences -- handed out accolades for hotel and resort spas, and four in Las Vegas were awarded four stars on a list of fewer than 50 in North America. Just one resort spa, at Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, Calif., received five stars.

The four Las Vegas 2005 four-star recipients were the Canyon Ranch spa at the Venetian and the spas at the Bellagio, the Four Seasons hotel in the Mandalay Bay complex, and the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas, about 17 miles southeast of the Strip. In Atlantic City, the Borgata's spa, which offers on its menu a Yo Rock facial for men for $125, earned three stars.

Casino investment in spas has been bullish. The Bellagio recently more than doubled the size of its spa to 65,000 square feet, which is larger than what most casinos were 20 years ago. And Mandalay Bay has a new spa in its recently opened suites tower, THEhotel, and that became the third spa on the property overall, joining one in the original hotel and the four-star winner at the Four Seasons. Financial figures suggest that Vegas' enthusiasm for the spa market is warranted. According to an industry survey, more than 36 million visits were made to resort-hotel spas in 2003, accounting for $4.6 billion in revenue that year.

To get a piece of that sizable pie, spas continually devise inventive ways to lighten the burden on the customer's body and spirit -- and wallet.

Among the more unusual spa offerings in Las Vegas is the Australian Dream Ritual at the MGM Grand's spa. This millennia-old technique relies on kodo massage. "It's a specific choreography, specific strokes that are combined with products derived from herbal and floral sources that have been used medicinally in Australia by 'aboriginal' elders," said spa director Rachel Knapp. The two-hour ritual begins with a smudging ceremony that includes burning an indigenous herb, like incense, along with playing aboriginal music. Meanwhile, the client's feet are soaked in flowers to encourage relaxation.

That's followed by an exfoliation using desert salt and then an application of several types of mud, each with its own beneficial property -- to detoxify, nourish and moisturize -- and all imported from Australia. The client is then wrapped in blankets and receives a vigorous scalp massage. After a shower comes the main massage and finally, a reentry to the 21st century with lemon myrtle tea. The price: $285 per person, $530 per couple.

At Canyon Ranch, the ancient culture is different but the goal is the same. Vibrating crystal bowls, mimicking those made and used by Tibetan monks, are tapped with a mallet. The deep resonant tones of the bowls are meant to effect a "vibrational healing" and restore balance to the body, which responds in kind to the harmonious vibes, according to massage manager Shawn Smith. This is accompanied by an application of oils, reiki energy work, inhalation therapy, and jin shin jyutsu, an ancient Japanese relaxation technique that encourages the body to accept those bowl vibrations, along with other therapy. A 50-minute session is $135 weekdays, $145 weekends.

At the Ritz-Carlton's Spa Vita di Lago, one of the featured attractions is the culla, Italian for cradle. Clients are babied on a treatment bed that has holes for drainage -- eliminating the need to get up and shower during the treatment -- and a bonnet overhead that allows steam to pass around the body. The customer even gets to customize the room by choosing the color of the backlighting, music and fragrance. The 105-minute facial, massage, body scrub and wrap is $280. The Ritz-Carlton's location next to the man-made Lake Las Vegas also allows it to offer something special even for Vegas -- an outdoor massage by a waterfall on a sandy beach.

The Four Seasons, which occupies several floors of the Mandalay Bay tower, has its own spa offering a Desert Oasis Body Treatment, which has a variation for each season. The treatment includes exfoliation with sea salt suspended in oil, an aloe body wrap, and an application of body butter. The summer scent is prickly pear. The full 80-minute treatment is $190; the shorter 50-minute version, sans wrap, is $150.

Given the harshness of Las Vegas summers, it's not surprising that there are therapy treatments to prepare you for the sun, and others in case you have too much of it. At the Bellagio, a portion of the rambling, manicured pool area is reserved for spa clients. During the outdoor Revitalizing Sun Massage treatment, soothing marble stones are placed at strategic points to cool the body. A deep-tissue massage is followed by a liberal application of sunscreen so the client can more safely enjoy being poolside. The 55-minute session is $200. Meanwhile, at THEhotel's Bathhouse in the Mandalay Bay complex, there is the Sun Rescue treatment, which addresses harmful aftereffects of sun exposure. The full 50-minute treatment includes the application of lotions that contain Vitamin C, green tea extract, and peppermint, and a linen wrap. Cost: $135.

A less expensive way to deal with the Vegas sun might be in the Bathhouse's misting tan booth. For $35, the client is bronzed in 30 seconds -- but it's just good for looks. The faux tan doesn't protect you from the sun and the usual SPF precautions are required for sun exposure.

Bill Ordine:


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