“A journey is a great description of what a spa experience is,” says Loma Alexander, a spa consultant based in Napa Valley, California. “If we can surrender in the spa and take time out, it’s a journey away from our everyday stresses.”
Alexander, who has worked on spa projects that include a number of Auberge Resorts properties, believes it takes more than an hour to disconnect; to truly experience a journey, one must commit between three and five hours. Alexander notes that spa-goers typically don’t hang out at the spa or take advantage of amenities such as pools, steam rooms and whirlpools. “That’s where the journey occurs,” she notes, “by using the circuits and really using the space.”
Beginning the voyage
For spa director Robin Jones, the journey begins whenever a spa team member soaks the client’s feet. “This takes the client to a new place, a journey to somewhere magical,” she says. Jones, a massage therapist, is the spa director at The Spa at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, where the Sanctuary Journey is offered. “I believe our business is very participatory in that when the client allows the therapist to gently coax them to someplace new, either within or beyond, it truly is a journey.” The Sanctuary Journey has been on the menu since the spa opened in 2004, and was developed for the experienced spa-goer who schedules two or more services in one day.
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At the new Agora Spa at the Stamford Marriott in Stamford, Connecticut, four very distinct spa journeys are available, ranging in price from $175–465 and in duration from 75 minutes to five hours. There’s even one designed for local business professionals called the Executive Retreat Journey ($245, 150 minutes). It includes an 80-minute signature massage and a signature facial. Why did the spa decide to call these experiences journeys? “I named them journeys because every spa has packages, and I wanted to differentiate us,” explains Daniela Innaimo, spa manager. “I wanted clients to have a journey experience in our spa—not just visit for a couple of treatments, but come in and receive the whole kit and caboodle.”
Perhaps one of the more interesting takes on the journey concept is at Seattle’s Ummelina International Day Spa. In existence for 19 years, the spa took on a unique concept when owner Nina Ummel moved Ummelina International to its new location nine years ago. Ummel felt that with a larger space, she needed a business structure that matched her philosophy of honoring traditional herbalism from around the world.
“The corporate structure was creating a lot of stressed clients for us,” she says. “And I was unwilling to become a part of that belief. So I thought about old traditional ways of working together, and the tribal concept came to mind because it is circular. Having always been a therapeutic-oriented spa with a focus on balancing the five senses, it was important to create an environment that truly has a mind-body-spirit experience. Thus, the concept of going on a journey was born. To ensure that clients really enjoy a journey that is exotic and new, they need a sure-footed guide. So Ummelina Guide Tribe was created.”
All of Ummel’s staff are guides—Skin Care Guides, Massage Guides, Nail Care Guides or Global Remedies Guides. All packages are called “Journeys,” and individual services are called “Rituals.” Journeys available include The Pacific Rim, which is inspired by the Far East and offers a tranquil temple garden experience; The Safari, designed especially for men; and The Journey to Eden.
Creating an experience
A journey is so essential to the spa experience that some facilities have gone so far as to incorporate the word into the spa name. There’s the Journeys Spa at Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, which aims to “transform you into everything you need to take those many journeys in life.” Its promotional materials describe the spa as providing “an extensive array of treatments and services so that you will discover your personal wisdom and express yourself through peaceful processes.” Then there’s Mii amo, a destination spa at Enchantment, in Sedona, Arizona: The Native American name translates into “one’s path, or journey,” in Yuman, the traditional Native American language of northern Arizona.
Even if a spa doesn’t have packages described as journeys, a client’s experience often is a transcendence into a different state of mind. Kathy Zia, spa director at Santa Monica, California’s Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach, sums it up: “I would call the entire time one has at the spa a journey—from the minute a client walks in to the minute they leave.”