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Who Are the New Spagoers?

by Bernard Burt , August 2007

After tracking trends for two decades, I am constantly amazed at the pace of change in the spa industry. Rapid expansion of resort spas, proliferation of day spas, and the rise of branding dominate the news. Competition may be the mother of invention, but spa designers stick to the tried and true. Now spa developers are going green, appealing to consumers who are sensitive to environmental issues. 

Steve Case, AOL co-founder and ex-chairman of Time-Warner, launched a new concept of integrated spa living by a company called Revolution. Founded by Case in 2005 with $500 million of his own money, Revolution subsidiaries include Revolution Health – a consumer-oriented healthcare company, and Revolution Living – a lifestyle business whose holdings include the Miraval resort in Arizona, and a soon-to-open condominium residence in New York City. 

Announcing his destination resort division, Revolution Places, Case said they will seek to redefine the luxury resort category by making environmental preservation and cultural authenticity priorities at every property it develops. The first, scheduled to open in 2010, is a 650-acre development on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, a country not known for environmental concerns. Pledging to make the new resort – which will be called Cacique – an environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive destination, Revolution says its 270 guest rooms and 300 private homes will be set among existing rain forest and wildlife preserves.

However, any development within a complex ecosystem like a rain forest will always make a significant impact, said Daniel Williams, author of “Sustainable Design: Ecology, Architecture and Planning.” Interviewed by The Washington Post, Williams commented “If you’re going to tear something down and change the ecological value of it, you have to replace an equal amount of rain forest, which is virtually impossible.”

Ecotourism continues to gain popularity as consumers become more sensitive to the environmental impact of their spending decisions, said James Angel of Georgetown University. “For someone who made money in the high-tech boom, they may have some ecological guilt about a high-consumption lifestyle.” Like Revolution’s other ventures, Revolution Places caters to a new generation of consumer. In the past, high-end vacations were equated with pristine hotels and fine dining, said Donn Davis, chief executive of Revolution Places at corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Today’s affluent tourists prefer swimming with dolphins and swinging down zip lines. They want to eat authentic local food. And they want to take their kids,” he said. 

“It’s a whole new definition of luxury,” commented Davis.

The Cacique project brings together several high-end travel brands: One & Only Resorts will operate the beachfront hotel; Exclusive Resorts, a time-share business owned by Revolution, will build and market 30 of the resort’s residences; and Miraval is scheduled to operate a spa facility with 120 rooms and 60 villas. Eco-friendly design is promised; delivering services that meet Miraval standards could be a challenge in this isolated region.

Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the famous underwater explorer, will serve as Revolution Places’ special adviser on environmental issues, and develop activities at the resort. Once a remote destination favored by backpackers and surfers, the northwest Pacific corner of Costa Rica has experienced a recent surge of resort development – including one operated by Four Seasons – and more are being planned, possibly including Canyon Ranch. Yet the infrastructure of Costa Rica’s roads and bridges lags behind some third world countries. Arriving by private jet may be preferred by Revolutionistas, but the nearest airport, 25 miles from the resort, is in the town of Liberia.

Meanwhile, a revolution of sorts is taking place at the original Miraval resort in Arizona. The appointment of Michael Tompkins as General Manager is the first step in enhancing the resort’s branded Miraval, Life in Balance® program. Famed interior designer Clodagh is upgrading the resort spa, and a Center for Life in Balance created with Dr. Andrew Weil, states John Vanderslice, CEO Miraval. Addition of 30 guest suites, plus full-ownership homes, is under construction at the 400-acre Sonoran Desert resort between Tucson and Phoenix.

Tompkins completed the much-lauded Skana Spa at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in New York State prior to joining Miraval. Named the state’s 2007 Hospitality and Tourism Executive of the Year, he brings over 11 years’ experience to the Revolution team. Previous positions included Director Health and Healing and Associate Managing Director at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires, and Assistant Director of Nursing at the Sharon Health Care Center, NY. 

Addressing his own transformation at Miraval, Steve Case told the Spa Finder Global Spa Summit he wants to create a lifestyle brand. “Wellness must go beyond just the facial and the massage,” he said. Then added to a New Yorker magazine columnist “ We don’t really use the word spa; it conjures up pampering.”

- Bernard Burt, Senior editor, Spa Management Journal 


North Pacific Management, Inc.
1905 SE 10th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97214
Phone: 503-425-1500

Also See: Revolution LLC, Created by AOL Co-founder Steve Case, Building a One&Only Resort and Tom Doak 18-hole golf course at Cacique on the Northwest Coast of Guanacaste, Costa Rica / August 2007
John Vanderslice, Former Executive with Club Med, Named CEO of Miraval, the Tucson Wellness Resort Company / June 2006


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