Why Spa? Treatments and Services You Should Schedule

Our insights about spa wet areas, relaxation lounges, massages, facials, body wraps, personal trainer sessions and more.

You may not realize it, but the modern spas and treatments we receive today have been around for thousands of years, dating back to at least the ancient Greek and Roman days.

Many years ago I had a chance to tour Pompeii, Italy (a must for any traveler). As I walked through the city it was fascinating to learn that while a few wealthy families had their own private baths, the majority of people enjoyed the city’s public thermal baths — they had separate sections for men and women, changing rooms, a gymnasium and spaces for cold, warm and hot pools. The buildings were architecturally advanced and the thermal rooms were beautifully decorated. Sound familiar?

Courtesy of Grand Velas Riviera Maya
Courtesy of Grand Velas Riviera Maya

While their spa experiences were social and more focused on physical beauty, our spa experiences (while certainly social) are typically rooted in wellness philosophies today.

And business travelers know that finding spa time is important to maintaining their well-being. Popular spa treatments and services include massages, facials, manicures/pedicures, a signature service and a personal trainer appointment.

When traveling, I schedule a mix of services and spend a few hours at the spa. I’m a fan of longer treatment times whenever time permits. And I always appreciate when spas use all natural and organic products.

Considering the spa? Here’s what you should know about spa treatments and services:

Wet Areas and Relaxation Lounges (plan 60+ minutes)

Larger spas have multi-sensory wet areas which typically include whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, mud rooms, experiential showers, cold air rooms, and heated benches and lounge chairs. I’m a huge fan of wet areas, and it’s very easy to spend an hour or even longer, depending on what’s available. Changing rooms and showers are typically setup for privacy and fully equipped with all of the best amenities you need for personal grooming. And then there’s the relaxation lounge where you can enjoy waters/teas, listen to music, watch TV and just relax in an oversized chair until you’re ready for your appointment or to face the day. Going to the spa doesn’t always require a service or treatment, and many people go just to enjoy these areas. A few of my favorites along the way? Grand Vegas Riviera Maya Spa, Canyon Ranch Las Vegas and Spa Mandalay Las Vegas.

Massages: Swedish, Hot Stone and Deep Tissue (50 and 80 minute options)

The Swedish massage is the most recognizable type of massage, designed to ease tension and stress (my favorite). The therapist uses a massage oil and gently massages in long strokes. Swedish massage relieves tension and pain, including stress, back pain and circulation. After the treatment, you should feel relaxed. This is a great option for people who are looking for a gentle massage or haven’t had one before.

Courtesy of Canyon Ranch Las Vegas
Courtesy of Canyon Ranch Las Vegas

The hot stone massage is an interesting twist to the Swedish massage. (My first massage was actually a hot stone massage.) Using the techniques of Swedish massage, the therapist will sanitize and heat various sized, smooth stones for the massage rather than their own hands. Stones are placed on various places of the back, legs, arms and hands. They may also be placed in your hands and between your toes. And the therapist will use gentle pressure. Cold stones may also be an option, especially if you’re looking to use the treatment to reduce inflation. A hot stone massage is great to relieve muscle tension.

The deep tissue massage, also known as a sports massage, is popular for those who feel that they have tight and painful muscles, frequently in the neck, shoulders and back. Deep tissue massages may feel painful at some points, but no pain … no gain. The therapist will use their fingers, knuckles, hands and elbows.

Facials (50 minutes)

Performed by an esthetician, a facial service basically cleanses and exfoliates the skin through the use of steam, masks and a variety of products (all natural or spa quality). The therapist will also use facial massage techniques to help relax the facial muscles, and the general service may also include a head, neck and hand massage. Facials are customized to the unique skin needs for both women and men. I rely on my travel schedule to take care of this maintenance. Most estheticians are great, but my favorite memory was at Hotel Atlantic in Hamburg, Germany (see review). I didn’t have much time for the spa, and wanted to make sure that 50 minutes was going to be enough. The esthetician took a look at me, glaring at what was clearly a filthy face because I didn’t have this type of service in a while. A few seconds later she confidently said she could get the job done. And it was great that she used fresh aloe taken directly from the aloe plant as part of the treatment — that really helps your skin recover from the pain that gets inflicted!

Manicures (30 minutes) and Pedicures (50 minutes)

Courtesy of MGM Resorts.
Courtesy of MGM Resorts.

As the name implies, a manicure and pedicure combination is a salon service that is popular with business travelers and those who attend conventions and meetings. Manicure options range from 30 to 50 minutes depending on the service selected, but it is reasonable to select the standard 30 minute treatment. This will be followed by the pedicure treatment, which frequently takes 50 minutes. Most ladies already know the great results — smooth skin on the bottoms of your feet, the best cuticles of your life and a healthy shine to your fingernails and toes (or a colorful polish). Quiet as it is kept, some men are increasing their interest in this activity option. It’s very relaxing — if you haven’t already, make sure you try it.

Body Wraps and Scrubs

Body wraps are focused on eliminating toxins from your skin while hydrating them with products like cocoa butter and wrapping your body in warm sheets and towels for a period of time (typically 20 minutes). A body scrubs, on the other hand, achieves a similar result through exfoliation techniques (preferably using natural products). Neither treatment should be considered a massage (although you can incorporate a massage to the service). I recall my first body scrub at Vinotherapie Spa at Marques de Riscal (A Luxury Collection Hotel) in the Rioja region of Spain a few years ago (I was there to review special event ideas in wine country). It was the Cabernet Scrub (35 minutes), using a product that includes grape-seeds, honey, brown sugar and a contouring concentrate to restore your skin. As a guy from the midwest in the states, I recall thinking that I would have been more comfortable with a massage. But the spa director assured me that “scrubs” were actually the second most popular treatment chosen by European men. So, I scheduled a hydrotherapy tub experience first, and then changed into a piece of paper that provided the smallest amount of modesty for my scrub. The woman who performed the service applied the product, and scrubbed me down until my dead skin cells were gone, and my skin was smooth and soft. The good news is that spas are great about having intimate lighting, and the treatment was actually relaxing and enjoyable.

Foot Massages (25 or 45 minute options)

Many Eastern cultures — Hong Kong, Thailand and Southeast Asia — wash the feet of their guests to welcome and honor them into their homes (historically, people often traveled long distances over several days to make their visits). I recall my foot massage (the 25 minute revitalizing cleanse) at the Spa at Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas where they provide an authentic foot treatment, including a steeping into a hot foot bath infused with herbal blends. This is followed by a ceremonial foot bath. Then I was escorted to a lounge chair where you receive an relaxing massage for your feet and lower legs.

Jet Lag Treatments (25 or 50 minute options)

Courtesy of Encore Las Vegas.
Courtesy of Encore Las Vegas.

Jet lag treatments can be as quick as 15-25 minutes, and are usually shorter treatments (50 minutes is proper). Jet lag treatments are designed to try to help travelers to adapt to their new schedule on an arrival day. The treatment will likely reflect the philosophy of the spa itself, but often includes a focus on your body, circulation and senses: a quick facial mask, a scalp and shoulder massage, and a hand and foot massage. The treatment should help reduce swelling and to stimulate your senses through fragrant oils. To be honest, I haven’t yet tested the effectiveness of a jet lag treatment (mostly because of my bias that it’s best to commit to a couple of hours at the spa), but I will share a review in the future on one of my international trips.

Signature Services (50 and 80 minute options)

Whether it’s a massage, body treatment or facial, many spas will offer services that are unique to the venue and region. And many spas will offer a popular treatment that becomes a signature service. By choosing a signature service, you will likely get a chance to have a unique treatment that isn’t offered elsewhere, and it will be be a spa service that reflects the facility’s expertise and philosophy. Personally, I’m a huge fan of selecting signature services.

Personal Trainer Sessions (50 minute option)

There are always a few guests who are interested in the spa’s fitness center. My favorite athletic club is actually the one that is closest to my home (and I am also a member): The Hilton Chicago. It is known as the largest hotel fitness club in the U.S. (and they recently updated all equipment). Business travelers enjoy fitness centers whenever on the road. As for personal training sessions, those are an excellent option. Personal trainers who work at hotels and resorts will have a high level of energy and offer a unique workout experience for their clients. I still recall the day when more than a decade ago I scheduled a personal trainer appointment at the Atlantis in the Bahamas. At the time I had my own personal trainer back home (not the Hilton Chicago at that time), but my trainer at the Atlantis much much tougher on me (I probably needed it). But somehow I haven’t scheduled many personal training sessions since then, and generally opt for signature treatments whenever possible. A general tip for you as it relates to training sessions: Make sure that the trainers are certified and capable of working with clients in all fitness conditions.

To be sure, many spas package up several of these services into half day and full day packages. And they’re worth the investment. There are also other services that can be scheduled at the spa, including beauty treatments, make-up and hair (including blow outs), among others.

Always check with your therapist or personal physician if you have any questions or personal health concerns before scheduling a spa treatment, service or personal training appointment.

Do you schedule spa time when traveling on the road? Share your comments and thoughts here!

Rob is editor of Business Travel Destinations. He reviews international destinations for meetings and events -- where business travelers go, the hotels where they stay and their lifestyle preferences on the road. Rob was previously the event planning guide for About.com (owned by The New York Times Company) from 2007 - 2011. His articles also appear in business travel publications and travel sites internationally.

5 comments

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