Skift Take

Is anyone up for some desert bathing? How about a cleansing ritual led by a shaman?

Some hotels used the pandemic pause to rethink their offerings. Some are broadening their spa services away from just body-based treatments such as massage. Properties in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Mexico have been adding hyperlocal wellness services and activities that appeal to mental well-being in tandem with bodily health.

The growing emphasis on wellness will help support the rapid growth of spas — an under-recognized contributor to revenue and reputation at hotels. The Global Wellness Institute forecasts that the annual growth rate of wellness tourism will be 20.9 percent, on average, through 2025.

One example of the mix-shift toward wellness can be found at the Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve Puerto Rico in Rio Grande.

“Based on feedback and usage and interest in our spa, our guests are far more aware of how important well-being is,” said Nereida Amador, director of sales and marketing. “For [operations] growth, spa is a big component, including well-being, in the guest agenda. They’re more inclined to ask about that than anything else now.”

Grand Reserve’s growth plans in Puerto Rico include a careful examination of monthly spa bookings. If numbers stay strong, the property will likely move the fitness center out of the 12,000-square-foot spa space to free up space for treatments, said Amador. That would expand the total of nine indoor treatment rooms. Four outdoor cabanas that are now used for spa treatments will remain that way on a permanent basis.

Rainforest Spa, Hyatt Regency Grand Reserve, in Puerto Rico. Source: Hyatt.

Creating a Sense of Place

In Hawaii, Rachael McCrory, director of spa and wellness for Grand Wailea Maui, said it was advantageous to have the flexibility to move to outdoor space thanks to the temperate climate. But a to-the-studs renovation of the 50,000-square-foot spa area is bringing the outdoors in myriad ways, too.

A saltwater vitality pool will open up to the outside, and hydrothermal treatments are going co-ed, based on feedback surrounding the resort’s popularity as a honeymoon and babymoon destination. The reimagining will also remove walls for more flow.

“You’ll be able to walk out fully to an outside garden area, where it will feel like you’re outside even though you’re inside,” said McCrory. “You’ll have the ability to really get that fresh air into those spaces.”

The resort spa will also wave goodbye to opulence and embrace authenticity because locality is a key component of contemporary spa programs, said McCrory.

“A big piece of feedback we received is people want a sense of place,” McCrory said. “The spa was elegant, and we had Italian marble and incredible chandeliers – but when you walked in, you didn’t feel like you were in Hawaii.”

The new space will include lava-stone rocks and locally inspired finishes and materials.

Waterfall showers will re-create the types of rain experienced on Maui and will include aromatherapy elements with regional products. 

Operationally, the renovation opens a whole host of other opportunities to redefine the “spa menu,” said McCrory, adding things like astrology. Expanding on-site food and beverage offerings will give guests more of an opportunity to enjoy the setting and decompress while putting additional focus on nutrition.

When re-opening post-covid, Montage Los Cabos introduced several innovative treatments. Among the most popular is “Bathing with Whales,” a therapist-guided floating experience in harmony with whale song; and a cleansing ritual with a shaman. A mezcal massage features Mexican friega (friction) manipulation with locally made heated herbal poultices; a tasting menu features a shot of the drink that Oaxacan culture believes has curative powers. 

Like McRory, Montage Los Cabos spa and wellness coordinator Maxime Cormier says focusing on locality is an essential component of success – particularly in Mexico.

“As the first Montage outside of the American market, we believe our obligation is to share our culture and traditions through our food and beverage, our architecture, and our activities, too,” Cormier said. “Not the least of this identity is our beautiful setting.” 

The shift away from spa treatments to comprehensive wellbeing represents a rare opportunity at Montage Palmetto Bluff, which launched Well Living at Moreland Homes earlier this year. The wellness-oriented accommodations are focused on guests who enjoy individual dining and personalized energy and bodywork services.

Besides a “digital detox” from devices like cell phones and laptops, having a whole home to oneself instead of a traditional hotel room offers a much-needed sense of disconnect that informs overall health, says spa director Livia Reddington.

Guests’ expectations and preferences for getting a six-pack in a pack versus independently are forever changed, says Jaana Roth, the senior spa director at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale. Instead of opting for a spin class at the fitness center, for example, many prefer to bring their favorite virtual instructor into their guestroom via one of the hotel’s Peloton rentals.

What has heated up are intimate outdoor classes like desert bathing — a new Arizonian twist on Japanese forest bathing — that feature breathing exercises, yoga stretching, and an appreciation for a unique natural setting. 

After decades in the health and wellness industry, Roth says she’s excited for an opportunity to re-evaluate programming more frequently. Seasonal temperatures dictate that such offerings change the time of day depending on the month, for example. She’s also cheered by a more comprehensive view of guests’ needs.

At different times of the year, customers will notice different types of smells on the zen hikes.

“You’ll hear the hotel fountain behind you when you start,” Roth said. “Feel the sand underneath your feet. Exercise inside is good, but for me, it can feel like you’re on a hamster wheel.”

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Tags: future of lodging, hotels, spas, wellness

Photo credit: New for spring 2022, The Spa at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North introduces Desert Bathing as part of the rotating calendar of weekly programming. Source: Four Seasons.