Seth Wenig  /  AP
Massage therapist Nicole Yie demonstrates the Mandarian Oriental's 'Awaken Facial' on Lissette Hesmadt during the annual meeting of the International Spa Association July 27, in New York.
By AP Travel Editor
updated 8/9/2006 8:35:50 PM ET 2006-08-10T00:35:50

America's top spas gathered in New York recently for the annual meeting of the International Spa Association.

But nobody at the meeting used the word "beauty."

Instead, today's spas are integrating cosmetic treatments like facials and manicures into holistic approaches to well-being.

You can still get that pedicure, but your spa visit will also include fitness, health, relaxation and even spirituality.

"Beauty is almost a given," said Nina Smiley, spokeswoman for The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, N.Y. "But it's superficial. It's external. I'd say what's internal is as important as the beauty aspect."

Spa-goers want more than a massage that feels good for 20 minutes. They want advice on skin care and diet; products to recreate the spa experience at home; and techniques they can use on their own to relax and stay fit, from exercise to yoga to aromatherapy.

At some spas, guests are no longer sent from one treatment room to another. They sit in one spot, and specialists come to them.

Spa Montage in Laguna Beach, Calif., offers a "Surrender" program in which "you get an analysis, and instead of getting a menu of services, we design a program for you," said spokeswoman Anne Bramham. "All the staff coordinates to work with you."

A weekend stay at a destination spa can easily run $500 or more - including lodging, meals, a class, the pool and a few treatments. So it's no wonder that a survey found guests at destination spas want the experience to be more than skin-deep.

"They expect there'll be some major life changes" when their stay is over, said Michelle Barry, a spokeswoman for the Hartman Group, which polled 7,680 North Americans for the International Spa Association's 2006 "Spa-goer Study."

Along with the overall shift toward integrating spa services, other themes emerged at the July 27 spa meeting.

Here are five trends shaping today's spa experience:

  • WELLNESS: Procedures that used to be primarily cosmetic have been reconfigured as healthful and relaxing.

Mandarin Oriental's "Awaken Facial," "instead of focusing on the face, incorporates different massage techniques over the upper body to get the circulation moving," said Sharon Holtz, spa director at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Miami. "It really is relaxing."

Canyon Ranch, with resorts in Lenox, Mass., and Tucson, Ariz., has long combined medical care, nutrition and fitness with relaxation and pampering. Now Canyon Ranch is collaborating with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio - to offer health and wellness programs in areas like weight control, stress management and cardiac care. The partnership includes staff exchanges, and an executive health program for CEOs.

  • FOOD: Forget "rabbit food" - raw veggies and skinless, boneless (tasteless? colorless?) chicken breast. Today's spas are ramping up their menus.

"Good spa, good food," said David Erlich, director of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in Sonoma, Calif. "We've taken spa cuisine to a whole other level - it looks good, tastes good and smells good." Sonoma's menu - directed by Bruno Tison, former chef at New York's Plaza Hotel, includes bright-red beet puree, and thick and flavorful gazpacho served with jewels of cherry tomatoes speared on a toothpick.

You can even satisfy your sweet tooth at a spa. Canyon Ranch serves chocolate chip cookies, and Mohonk will have (large!) gingerbread men for the Christmas season.

  • AUTHENTICITY: Spas differentiate themselves by evoking regional traditions and landscapes.

Mii Amo in Sedona, Ariz., offers products to scrub and cleanse the body made from blue corn and a succulent plant called stonecrop, while an eagle feather is waved as part of a ceremony to cleanse the spirit, inspired by local American Indian culture.

The new Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Mayakoba on Mexico's Riviera Maya uses cacao, papaya, honey, lime and cornmeal for body wraps, and corn meal and papaya treatments for hands.

At Cliff House Resort & Spa in Ogunquit on the Maine coast, you can have body wraps made from Maine blueberries, wild roses or juniper berries. Stones from the nearby Bald Head Cliff are used in a stone massage, and warm seashells are applied to the body in a two-hour "Seashell Therapy" treatment.

  • MANLINESS: Men comprise 31 percent of U.S. spa-goers and 29 percent of Canadian spa-goers, according to the Hartman Group study.

About two-thirds of U.S. men and 49 percent of Canadian men who visited spas did so while traveling. Their top reasons for going to a spa are to feel relaxed, calmed and refreshed, according to the study.

"When men are at home, they don't necessarily feel they have permission to go to a spa," said Barry, the Hartman Group spokeswoman. But if they're staying in a hotel for business, they may wander down to the spa for a massage.

Fairmont Hotels report that 50 percent of their spa guests are male at certain times, like ski season in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and golf season in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Spas have responded to the large numbers of male guests with gender-specific products, and by making their menus and decor more appealing to men.

The Lodge at Woodloch, in Hawley, Pa., which is the first new destination spa to open in the country in more than a decade, "was designed to be an environment that men would feel comfortable in," said owner Ginny Michel Lopis.

The architecture is reminiscent of a mountain lodge, incorporating stone and wood with picture-window views of the forest. There is a private lake, golf course, a full bar with tapas, and a dinner menu - no calories listed - that offers steak and bison burgers.

  • FUN: Spas shouldn't only be about scrubbing skin, massaging muscles or lazing in the sauna. They should also be fun.

At Loews Hotels spas in Tucson, San Diego and Santa Monica, Calif., you can get treatments based on astrology readings. Is the Aquarian in you dominated by "air" qualities like curiosity and multitasking, leaving you nervous and exhausted? If so, Loews "Star Menu" recommends "earth" therapies to help "ground" you - deep tissue massage, a desert herbal wrap or reflexology.

The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, Calif., has an Artist's Cottage and Apothecary where guests can weave, paint or make a mandala. The spa has hosted three-generation families and birthday parties for all ages where an art project or storytelling brings the group together.

If you go:

RATES: Rates vary. Best deals are group rates, packages, weekdays and offseason (summer for Southwest, early spring for New England).

INTERNATIONAL SPA ASSOCIATION:  888-651-4772

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CANYON RANCH: Tucson, Ariz., and Lenox, Mass., 800-742-9000.

CLIFF HOUSE RESORT & SPA: Ogunquit, Maine; 207-361-1000.

FAIRMONT SONOMA MISSION INN & SPA: Sonoma, Calif.; 877-289-7354.

THE LODGE AT WOODLOCH: Hawley, Pa.; 866-953-8500.

LOEWS HOTELS: "Star Menu" available at Loews in Tucson, San Diego and Santa Monica; 800-235-6397.

MANDARIN ORIENTAL MIAMI: 305-913-8288
Other Mandarin Orientals in New York, San Francisco and Washington in the U.S., plus more than a dozen globally.

MII AMO: Sedona, Ariz.; 888-749-2137.

MOHONK MOUNTAIN HOUSE: New Paltz, N.Y.; 877-877-2664.

MONTAGE AT LAGUNA BEACH: Laguna Beach, Calif.; 866-271-6953.

OJAI VALLEY INN & SPA: Ojai, Calif.; 805-646-1111.

WILLOW STREAM SPA AT FAIRMONT MAYAKOBA: Near Playa del Carmen, Mexico; 800-441-1414.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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