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updated 5/9/2006 2:29:44 PM ET 2006-05-09T18:29:44

Not so long ago, hotels were pretty much just hotels. They were places to sleep, shower, and, if you were lucky, eat. Today hotels are much more than that. They are remote offices, health clubs, child-care facilities, country clubs, and, increasingly, spas.

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At resort hotels, in particular, spas are becoming increasingly important, not only as a way to attract guests, but to fatten the bottom line. As a result, increasing numbers of resorts are either adding spa services or revitalizing their existing properties. According to a 2005 report by PKF Consulting, a San Francisco hotel consulting firm, spa revenues grew 11.2% from 2003 to 2004. In comparison, total revenue increased 8.8% and rooms revenue grew 9.6% during the same period for these properties.

How much revenue? PKF notes that in 2004, spa revenue for the hotels it monitored averaged $2,076 per available room, or 2.3% of total revenue, although revenue did vary by property type and duration of guest stay. At resort hotels, spa revenue was $3,117 per available room, or 3.4% of revenue. For urban hotels, spa revenue averaged just 1.3% of total revenue, or $1,187 per available room.

PROFIT BOOSTER.  Even more compelling for the resort operators is that profit margins at resort spas average around 23% and drive more revenue than amenities like golf.

That's why the announcement of the Mobil Travel Guide's annual rankings of resort spas should be of interest to both vacationers and hotel owners. For the third consecutive year, Mobil has ranked the top resort hotels in the U.S. using the same methodology it has applied to its five-star, four-star, and three-star hotel rankings since 1958.

Mobil sends in teams of anonymous reviewers to evaluate each property based on more than 450 criteria, judging everything from how polite the staff is when guests make a reservation to how attractive the public areas are. Each inspector tries two different treatments, a body massage and a facial, which all spas offer, so the comparisons are fair.

HIGHEST RANKINGS.  This year, for the first time, Mobil has awarded two resort spas its highest five-star ranking: the Spa Montage at Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, Calif., last year's winner, and the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City, which is making its debut this year. There are 60 four-star resorts and 23 three-star ones.

"We are pretty demanding, but so are the customers," says Shane O'Flaherty of Mobil. "Only the spas that rank 90% or better on our tests get the five-star ranking." He does point out, however, that some spas on the list ranked above 90% but because the hotels in which they were situated scored lower, it brought the overall ranking down.

Copyright © 2012 Bloomberg L.P.All rights reserved.

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