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Spas: Not just for the rich and famous anymore

Variety of travelers seeking out spa destinations

By Marnie Hunter
Destination spas, such as Mii Amo in Arizona, above, are drawing travelers who want more than just a facial.



Hotels and accommodation

(CNN) -- Spa experiences for a wider range of tastes and budgets are springing up all over the world, and weary Americans are taking note.

For Patti McCarroll, 62, a longtime spa enthusiast who lives in Olympia, Washington, eating well, exercising and centering herself emotionally and physically are important.

"I'm not into just going to a spa for treatments, although a lot of women just want the pampering and so forth. But I like to meet the people ... and it's a good vacation for me away from my husband," she said.

"I guess the best way to put it for me would be it centers you, it makes you a better person, more well-rounded."

More than half of the travelers polled for a recent Travel Industry Association of America survey were interested in going to a spa or a place where they can relax and rejuvenate themselves, and 28 percent were more interested now than they were five years ago.

"People are more stressed out than ever before. They're working at a crazier pace and spas look to really alleviate that stress," said Lynne Walker McNees, president of the International Spa Association.

Spa treatments -- from massages and manicures to aromatherapy -- are easy to find if you're interested: A 2004 study estimated there are more than 12,000 spas in the United States. Day spas are the most prevalent type of spa, followed by resort/hotel spas. (Explainer: Types of spas)

If you really want to immerse yourself in a full mind-body experience, try an extended stay at a destination spa where treatments, exercise, diet and education are blended to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

According to a recent study conducted by the International Spa Association and the Canadian Tourism Commission, nearly two-thirds of U.S. spa-goers and about half of Canadian spa-goers visited a spa while on an out-of-town overnight trip. The vast majority visited a resort or hotel spa. (Map: Some destination spas)

Hitting a hotel spa

The hotel industry has responded to guests' growing interest with new facilities.

"It used to be in the '80s that you had to have a swimming pool to be competitive in the hotel business and now it's a spa," McNees said. "And it's not just a massage therapy room or a massage therapist on call, it's a full-blown spa experience."

The Four Seasons luxury hotel chain has been a leader in meeting the demand for spa amenities. The chain opened its first full-service spa in Texas in 1986 at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. Now 62 of the company's 70 properties worldwide have spa facilities.

"To our hotels, they're critical, and we would not really embark on anything new without a major spa component being part of the property," said Neil Jacobs, senior vice president of operations in the Asia/Pacific region.

Historically, spas have been more important for Four Seasons resort properties, but an emphasis on urban spas has emerged within the last three or four years, Jacobs said.

"In fact, probably the largest growing segment of the spa industry is within urban day spas."

Day spas and hotel/resort spas typically offer spa services with a la carte pricing. According to the International Spa Association, the average price for a massage -- the most popular treatment -- was $76 in 2004, the most recent year figures were compiled.

"There's really something for everybody's budget and pocketbook today," said Jill Radin-Leeds, founder of Just Spas & Adventures, a travel agency with offices in Bolton Landing, New York, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The increased accessibility of spa services has been good for the whole industry, according to Michelle Kleist, executive director of the Destination Spa Group, an organization representing 25 destination spa owners.

"A lot of times I think you can get a taste of what you do like, or what pieces have some benefit for you, and sort of take it to the next level at a destination spa," Kleist said.

Full immersion

A focused approach to wellness, usually over a seven-day period, defines the destination spa experience.

"The sole purpose of the property is health and life enhancement, so they're not there for business meetings or weddings or family getaways," Kleist said.

Rates include classes, guided fitness programming and spa cuisine. Some spas in the Destination Spa Group serve organic wine and beer with meals, although each facility has its own alcohol policy. Rates for spas in the Destination Spa Group range from $800 to $1,000 per person for a seven-night stay at the Tennessee Fitness Spa in Waynesboro, Tennessee, to up to $7,500 per week at the Golden Door Fitness Resort and Spa in Escondido, California.
Getaways for a group of women friends is a growing spa trend.

Destination spas have moved past the era when they were seen as places for wealthy women to go to lose weight.

"A lot of people want to go and be active, but they want to eat healthy and they want to be pampered and they want to have a good time as well," said Radin-Leeds, the spa travel agent.

"It's changed a lot from even 20 and 30 years ago when people used to go to what they called the 'fat farm.' "

An emphasis on weight loss is still an option, but spa experiences now can be tailored to suit a wide array of consumer interests.

Destination spas increasingly are offering the option of shorter stays to appeal to busy clients. Most spas have a two- to four-night minimum.

"I always recommend a minimum of a three-night stay at the absolute least because you're just getting into it when it's time to turn around and leave," Radin-Leeds said.

While more women than men still visit destination spas, according to Kleist, those numbers are beginning to even out. Couples and families are visiting spas together, and more women are visiting with friends.

McCarroll, the frequent spa visitor, started visiting destination spas in the 1980s and recently has booked several trips through Just Spas & Adventures. McCarroll and her daughter, Kelly Levesque, have been taking annual spa trips together for more than a decade.

"When Kelly was 18 -- she's now 31 -- I took her to Rancho La Puerta (in Tecate, Mexico), so now she begs me to go to spas," McCarroll said.

McCarroll and Levesque recently enjoyed a stay at Cal-a-Vie in Vista, California.

Cal-a-Vie, a luxury spa that has been in business for 20 years, educates guests with a comprehensive health, fitness and spa treatment program, according to the spa's general manager, Debbie Zie.

"Our goal has always been healthy lifestyle change and offering people education on how to make those changes and incorporate them into their daily life, and even if people just do a little bit, it's a step in the right direction."

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