Skift Take

Austin may be best known for its music bona fides, but wellness is also becoming instrumental in bringing an eclectic mix of visitors to the Texas capital city. It must be something in the water ... or in the hills.

For many years, the tourism slogan of the capital of Texas has been “Keep Austin Weird.”

But given recent developments, that slogan could easily be “Keep Austin Well,” and no one would bat an eye.

One of the city’s main luxury spa resorts is undergoing a $150 million facelift, while another continues to get regular shots of Botox. Furthermore, the first Miraval spa resort to open outside of the Tucson, Arizona, flagship comes to Austin at the end of this year.

And one more thing – this year, South by Southwest added a Wellness Expo to its agenda for the first time. Brittani Mathis, Senior Exhibitions Manager said that as SXSW transforms along with society, the Wellness Expo is a response to the public’s growing attention to health.

So, what’s in the water in Austin? According to Hyatt’s Marc Ellin, global head of Miraval Group and Exhale Enterprises, “Austin is becoming a mecca for everything. Music, high tech, hospitality. Wellness is just another deliverable.”

Janis Clapoff, managing director of Lake Austin Spa Resort, shares that view.

“More types of people are seeking out Austin because it’s Austin. It’s grown into a mega-city known for arts, music and food. So it follows that in a city that is so very current… it makes perfect sense for wellness to follow along with everything else that’s happening,” she said

One more advantage, given the massive growth in spa resort culture, is the fact that, according to Ellin, “Austin is one of the fittest cities in the country, and very health-conscious,”

That’s a large part of why human resource departments won’t have to be on pins and needles as they seek out the holistic specialists, ranging from acupuncturists to yogis to reiki masters, needed to staff their facilities. They are already in abundance in the area.

The Players

Miraval began life in 1995 as a facility dedicated to helping guests live life in balance. Around the beginning of 2017, when Hyatt was purchasing Miraval’s intellectual and physical assets, it was also purchasing Travassa, a mindfulness resort located 40 minutes outside of Austin in an area called Hill Country.

This property, after a significant renovation, will have a soft opening in November, followed by a full-on opening in December. The existing guest room inventory is being renovated and 50 more rooms are getting added, bringing the total to 117. Other new facilities include a 21,000 square foot spa and Body Mindfulness Center. There will also be an expansive farm, complete with chicken coops, beehives and event spaces, as well as a ranch for equine programming.

Ellin distinguishes Miraval from its local competition in several areas. “Most notably,” he said, “we are an inclusive pricing structure. Also, the experiential nature of what we offer is a totally different deliverable from start to finish. There will be 100 well-being programming elements.”

Food and beverage will also be a big part of the menu, with a Life in Balance culinary program developed in partnership with Williams-Sonoma.

Lake Austin Spa Resort offers a counterpoint. The rustic luxury property, located on the shores of Lake Austin, dates back to the 1940s.  During its first 50 years, the property  welcomed everyone from nudists to cowboys to extreme weight loss devotees. However, in 1997, best friends Michael McAdams (who was once president of Trammell Crow Design Centers) and William Rucks purchased the property and decided to transform it into an all-inclusive luxury destination spa. They added and updated guest cabins, and by 2004, had built a 25,000 square-foot LakeHouse Spa.

“We are in the process of putting a big property plan together for a wider renovation,” said Clapoff. “Architects are drawing up plans, still under wraps. that will encompass significant changes to our rooms, public spaces and spa.”

So, for the next few years, the competition may have newer, shinier facilities, but Clapoff said Lake Austin Spa Resort plans to “capitalize on other people marketing the area,” while at the same time promoting the property’s unique selling proposition – its waterside location.

“Not only can guests take a water taxi to get here,” she said, “but fifty percent of what you can do is on the water: We have hammocks over the water… yoga and meditation on the shore.”

While Lake Austin promotes the water, the Omni Barton Creek Spa and Resort focuses on its views. The current $150-million transformation will add spaces designed to take full advantage of the panoramic Texas Hill Country landscape. The updated 493-room resort will reopen on May 1, 2019.

The property opened in 1986 as a golf club. It added a hotel in 1987, and the spa component was added in the early 1990s. The renovation/transformation beefs up the wellness component, adding a 13,000 square feet spa to the mix.

Still, the property will promote itself as an overall resort rather than a wellness destination per se. According to Dan Surette, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Omni, “This is a group and leisure destination, with four golf courses, an events pavilion, tennis and a spa. So, we are marketing it more as an overall resort. Wellness is a big part of the entire resort, but we won’t be selling just wellness.”

Even though the renovation was in the cards before Miraval came on the scene, Surette is not worried.

“The other resorts [Miraval and Lake Austin] are running with one real strength. For us, we have a lot of strengths.”

He also gives a nod to the theory of critical mass. “The more quality there is in this market, it heightens the awareness and draws attention to all of us.”

Clapoff agrees. “We love that we have competition from a wellness standpoint – it’s so healthy. It will bring more people to the area by building awareness of Austin as a wellness destination.”


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Tags: austin, hotels, luxury, miraval, South By Southwest, wellness

Photo credit: Paddle boarding at Lake Austin Spa Resort. The property is one of a number of wellness locations in the Austin, Texas area. Lake Austin Spa Resort

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