I stood under the deluge shower at the Claremont Resort & Spa
in Berkeley, Calif., and pressed the start button. Slowly and then
faster, warm water at the pace of 30 gallons per minute poured over
my head, neck and shoulders, giving me a delicious massage with the
perfect amount of pressure. As the water swirled down the drain, so
did the stress, fatigue and anxiety that led me to seek out a spa
vacation in the first place. I felt pampered and deeply rejuvenated
and quite reluctant to leave my temporary paradise to face the
Like me, more and more people leading hectic lives yearn to slow
down, simplify and feel connected and they are finding spa
vacations to be just the right refuge: According to the
International Spa Association (ISPA), we are currently witnessing
an unprecedented boom in destination spas: In 2001, 500,000 visits
were made; climbing to 2.4 million visits in 2003. In 2001,
destination spas accounted for $158 million in revenues, just two
years later, they more than doubled to $399 million. And as of June
2004, there were 191 destination spas in the U.S. up from 70 in
Why the shift? Americans are starting to see spa vacations as an
integral part of staying healthy and reducing stress over the long
“While there are still those who view spa experiences as an
unnecessary indulgence, others quickly interpret it as much-needed
relief from a stressful and time-famined life...,” said a 2004 ISPA
report on spa trends.
In response to the skyrocketing interest, today’s destination
spas aren’t just offering hotel meals, your basic massage and nice
scenery, instead, they are hiring the finest chefs, adding eclectic
treatments from around the world and opening in some of the most
stunning natural landscapes in the West.
All of this growth means that the spa market can provide a
bottom-line boost to any travel agency. But with so many new spas
opening and new treatments being added, how does an agent stay on
top of this industry? Which are the spas in the West the region
where health-and-wellness is a way of life after all that are
must-have bookmarks on your computer or in your Rolodex? To help
you answer these questions, I whittled down a large list of spas
that offer commissions and came up with 12 of the most luxurious,
innovative and reputable spas in the West. And although they differ
in ambiance, one thing is clear: The following places offer the
finest accommodations, employ the best therapists and incorporate
the most cutting-edge treatments. These are the ultimate
destinations for clients who spend their vacation time trying out
new spa offerings as well as for first-timers interested in testing
The Wellness Belt: California and Arizona
The 215-room luxury Miramonte Resort & Spa, which offers fine
Italian dining, horseback riding, tennis and golf, is typical of
the best of today’s Western destination spas. This Indian Wells,
Calif., resort introduced its state-of-the-art spa, The Well, in
“We are a boutique spa with15 treatment rooms in a Tuscan
villa,” said spa director Jennifer DiFrancesco. “It feels like you
are walking into a home.”
The spa area includes outdoor treatment cabanas, two river
benches with cascading waterfalls and private outdoor balconies.
DiFrancesco said The Well caters to couples on a romantic getaway
with services like a warm mud wrap for two or an instructional
watsu (water shiatsu) session.
“I think for couples who want to reacquaint themselves with one
another, it provides a really great service. It’s not just your
run-of-the mill experience,” DiFrancesco said.
Farther upstate, in Napa Valley, Auberge du Soleil features
gourmet meals, romantic rooms, and a hilltop setting with valley
views. The resort which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2005 and
has recently renovated many of its rooms houses couples treatment
rooms and private outdoor gardens for showering off. Seasonal spa
services take advantage of the area’s natural resources, such as a
heating wrap using blooming mustard; a steam bath with fresh herbs;
and a face, head and body massage using regional grape-seed
When not swaddled in warm towels or sunning by the pool, guests
savor the resort’s famous food.
“This is not a resort where you go to diet,” said spokesperson
Stacy Lewis. “The food is very unmanipulated, beautifully and
simply prepared and uses fresh local produce and ingredients.” If
your clients want spa cuisine and a focus on integrating mind, body
and spirit, the award-winning resort Miraval delivers. This
Catalina, Ariz., resort offers a menu of Ayurvedic treatments,
which draw on the wisdom of ancient India for removing toxins and
improving immunity and uses detoxifying oils and herbs. According
to spokesperson Mary Monaghan, the spa attracts people “living a
very stressful lifestyle, either business or personal” who find
respite in Miraval’s 100 spa and massage options, including hot
stone massage, shiatsu and acupuncture.
“We do not have a whistle-and-clipboard mentality we let our
guests choose their own schedule of events,” said Monaghan.
Also in Arizona, uber-spa Canyon Ranch, in Tucson, offers dozens
of enticing and unusual treatments, from Jet Lag Wrap to Aloe
Glaze, for total pampering. But the biggest thing that separates
Canyon Ranch from the pack is its extensive medical department,
according to regional sales manager Scott Bull. Clients meet with
on-site doctors, therapists, acupuncturists and nutritionists for a
comprehensive overview of their medical condition and to set goals
for the future.
“There is nowhere else you can lie by the pool all day, pick out
of 50 fitness classes, exercise from morning to night and address
lifestyle issues all in one setting,” said Bull.
But dare not think of Canyon Ranch as a medical clinic.
“Not only are guests getting the most sophisticated integrative
medical diagnostic testing, but you are getting one of the most
fantastic resorts in the world,” said Bull.
At Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, the name says it all. This
idyllic mountaintop sanctuary, recognized several times over as
“One of the World’s Best Places to Stay” by Conde Nast Traveler
magazine, offers world-weary travelers a stunning view, elegant
touches, private casitas and a unique spa. The Sanctuary Spa’s menu
includes exotic facials with names like Sanctuary Jewel, Dragonfly
and Porcelain; Asian-inspired body treatments using seaweed,
coconut, lemongrass and bamboo; massages using stones and herbs, as
well as Thai foot massage and Reiki.
The Sanctuary’s ultimate pampering package is called Satori,
which is the Japanese word for enlightenment, and you just might
reach this transcendent state after four nights in a deluxe spa
casita, daily meals, a choice of spa treatments, session with a
personal trainer, classes in the movement studio and unlimited use
of the facilities including the vitality pool, steam room and
Other inclusive deals at Camelback include Paradise for Two and
Sanctuary Escape, as well as seasonal packages.
Elsewhere in the West
For clients wanting something on a smaller scale, privacy with a
personal touch can be found at the exclusive Colorado mountain
resort Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, an intimate 56-room getaway on
top of a mountain overlooking Vail Valley.
A recently completed multi-million-dollar renovation resulted in
a spa that houses 12 treatment rooms, a fitness room and indoor and
outdoor pools. Cordillera’s unique setting high above sea level
inspires customized services, such as the High Altitude Rescue Body
Wrap where therapists use propolis (bee’s wax) as a moisturizer and
then pour warm coconut milk over the body. The personalization
extends to customized massage services, too.
“Guests don’t have to choose between sports, deep tissue or
shiatsu,” said spa director Angie Primmer. “They talk to the
therapist, and then it’s completely tailored to whatever they
need.” After a long day of skiing or golfing, guests often need
some kneading and a quiet escape. “Our location is perfect we are
not in the middle of the hustle and bustle, but you can still go
into Vail for dinner and then come back to this quiet, serene
place,” said Primmer.
The best of both worlds also exists at the Spa & Salon
Bellagio, in Las Vegas. The renovated spa recently reopened and
includes new contemporary design and an eclectic international menu
that features treatments like Thai Yoga massage, Indian head
massage, Balinese massage and watsu.
The spa’s 56 treatment rooms include spaces for skin care,
hydrotherapy and massage. The spa also houses couple’s rooms, a
fitness studio, meditation room, salon and lounge.
“Spa & Salon Bellagio’s theme is contemporary fusion,
bringing together the best-of-the-best of spa and salon therapies
from around the world,” said spa director Michelle Wilkos. “The new
space was created as a result of listening to guests. They wanted
more, so we doubled the space to 65,000 square feet and created
areas for unique spa gatherings. They wanted an experience they
couldn’t get any place else, so we brought the world of spa-ing to
them in a sleek, natural Zen-like setting.”
The Watermark Hotel and Spa in San Antonio, Tex., opened its
doors in 2004 along the River Walk. This year-old gem has a
17,000-square-foot spa, with slate floors, eucalyptus trees and
tumbled marble that offers 20 rooms for over 60 treatments,
including facials, massage and wraps.
Visitors rave about the hotel’s packages, which include an
Anniversary Package for couples, Girls Day Out for mothers and
daughters or bridal parties, and a Spa Getaway for anyone who wants
“Guests love the specials, which often include lunch at the
rooftop cafe,” said spokesperson Christabel Wilson. “There’s a pool
on the roof, and they eat lunch in their robes.” Utah’s Red
Mountain Spa offers luxury adventure; guests can hike, bike and
rock climb to their heart’s content among Moab’s stunning rock
formations, lava caves and desert terrain. Red Mountain also offers
full-service spa, massage and body treatments, a core program of
hiking, fitness classes and three healthy gourmet spa cuisine meals
daily. For guests hungry for information about their health, Red
Mountain offers a list of services like body composition
assessments and bone-density testing. Packages include Sisterhood
Getaway, Bring a Teen and Couples Adventure.
Spas in Paradise
Over the years, Hawaii has been a leader in the health-and-wellness
and spa markets, and that trend continues today.
On Maui, the Grand Wailea Resort and Hotel offers golf, tennis,
fine dining and an impressive art collection, but its crown jewel
is the newly renovated Spa Grande, which consists of a
50,000-square-foot spa facility and a state-of-the-art Terme (which
literally translates as “healing waters”). This wet area includes
hydrotherapy baths, three cascading waterfalls, five specialty
baths, Swiss jet showers, a traditional Japanese Furo bath, marble
steam room, Roman tub and two cold plunges.
“The Terme is complementary whenever you get a treatment,” said
spokesperson Wendy Bagwill. “More people show up early, and they
can spend an entire hour there. It’s good for your body to loosen
your muscles, and it’s good for your mind as well. You get a full
two-hour treatment even if you are only getting a 50-minute
The Fairmont Orchid, a 32-acre resort on Hawaii’s Big Island,
opened its Spa Without Walls in December 2003. The spa includes 10
hale, or houses, nestled in tropical foliage, where guests can get
massage, reflexology, hot-rocks therapy, facials and body wraps,
many of which use indigenous ingredients.
The spa’s in-demand offering? The hale with a special floor
window, so you can look at the fish while lying face-down on the
treatment table. Spa packages like Nirvana, Hawaiian Rejuvenation,
Deluxe Oceanside Experience and Ladies or Gentlemen’s Special
combine some of the most luxurious treatments for an unforgettably
Nora Isaacs is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who
writes about travel, health and wellness. She can be reached at
As spas grow in popularity there are some trends agents should
monitor. A Wide Net: Spa directors across the country see an
increasing number of men traveling to spas especially getting
massages, manicures and facials.
“Men are finally understanding how therapeutic these services
are they’re not just a luxury, they are routine maintenance for
your body,” said Grand Wailea’s Nancy Bagwill. In addition to more
men, the International Spa Association (ISPA) said that more
children are introducing their parents to the spa experience, and
that more “teenagers are entering the spa world for cosmetic spa
Spiritual Acceptance: As consumers become more interested in
practices like yoga and tai chi, incorporating spiritual ideas
seems less threatening.
“Whereas before it was considered a bit too woo woo to even say
the ‘spiritual’ word, now if people aren’t actively pursuing it,
they are at least open to learning more about it,” said Miraval’s
Indigenous Offerings: More interest in spas means more diversity
in offerings. ISPA sees more spa services that use local, natural
ingredients, as well as an increase in the use of ancient
treatments based on Ayurvedic (Eastern) and Native American
Simply getting away from the grind can be a transcendent
experience in itself. But for clients who want to connect with
their spiritual center, a growing number of Western getaways offer
a combination of spa services with classes, workshops and
Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California
Perched along 27 acres in California’s Big Sur, guests enjoy
cliffside baths while also taking one of over 400 workshops a year
taught by experts in spirituality, psychology and health.
Feathered Pipe Ranch, Helena, Montana
This Montana mountain paradise offers intensive yoga classes,
massage, acupuncture, CranioSacral therapy, acupressure and energy
Omega at the Crossings, Austin, Texas
A progressive learning center that offers seminars, workshops,
retreats and trainings, alongside a wellness spa for rejuvenation
Shambhala Mountain Center, Red Feather Lakes,
A Rocky Mountain refuge offering an array of workshops on Tibetan
Buddhist meditation and philosophy, yoga retreats and personal
With over 12,000 spas in the U.S. alone not to mention those on
cruise ships and at overseas resorts travel agents can rightly feel
overwhelmed by the choices available in the spa market.
Fortunately, they have help in the form of the International Spa
Association (ISPA). The association maintains a very helpful Web
site (www.experienceispa.com), which features a glossary of spa
treatments, and has experts that are willing to answer agents’
questions. Travel agents can even join ISPA for $90 annually.
Here are some of the group’s tips for agents:
Put clients at ease: According to ISPA’s research, one of the
main hurdles for first-time spa-goers is uneasiness about what to
expect. If you can put a client at ease in advance and answer their
questions about etiquette, you will probably earn a repeat customer
eager to experience more spa-going.
What is the client looking for: As always, work hard to
determine what type of experience a client expects right from the
start. ISPA has a page on their Web site titled, “What I Want From
a Spa Vacation” that is a great starting point for this
Ask, ask, ask: Before you book a spa vacation, be sure to call
the spa and ask detailed questions. Professional spa operators
should be happy to speak to you if not, consider it a warning sign.
Finally, Jennifer DiFrancesco, the spa director at the Miramonte
Resort & Spa, said agents should always utilize the biggest
selling point for a spa vacation.
“Agents will never go wrong presenting the opportunity to their
clients to visit a spa resort by touting the benefits of stress
relief,” she said. “In this fast-paced world we live in, each of us
needs some aspect of stress relief when vacationing.”
|Spa Resorts & Outstanding Features|
Auberge du Soleil
Specialty: Cuisine; Hilltop views
Napa Valley, Calif.
Bellagio Spa & Salon
Specialty: International menu of treatments; Urban location
Las Vegas, Nev.
Specialty: The “Uber Spa”; Extensive medical evaluations
Specialty: Deluge shower
Specialty: Private hales; Indigenous ingredients
Big Island, Hawaii
Grand Wailea Resort
Specialty: “Terme” water spa
Lodge & Spa at Cordillera
Specialty: Privacy; Location near Vail Valley
Specialty: Ideal for romantic getaways; Tennis and golf
Indian Wells, Calif.
Specialty: Ayurvedic treatments; Eastern philosophy
Red Mountain Spa
Specialty: Active adventure; fitness pursuits
Sanctuary on Camelback
Specialty: Private luxury casitas; Deluxe spa packages
Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Watermark Hotel & Spa
Specialty: Extensive packages
San Antonio, Tex.