By Terry Trucco
The new Hyatt 48Lex is a small, upscale hotel that offers guests everything you’d expect, from a restaurant and room service to a well-equipped fitness center – everything, that is, except a spa.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a hot stone massage or an herbal facial without leaving the premises.
48Lex is the latest in a small contingent of hotels, including the Andaz Wall Street and the Grand Hyatt, offering the Cart – a spa on wheels outfitted with the basics a therapist needs to administer spa treatments in a hotel room.
The Cart looks like a rolling room service table, but instead of Eggs Benedict under a silver dome look for a facial steamer, magnifying lamp and towel warmer, a warming shelf for heating stones or wraps, a retractable table for lotions or manicure paraphernalia, a pedicure bowl, a storage drawer, a computer and a folding massage table. Since no spa treatment is complete without the tinkling of New Age bells, there’s even a sound system with subwoofers. Think of it as the spa version of a Matryoshka doll.
I dimly recall reading about the Cart — and Suite Spa, the entrepreneurial Michigan
concern behind it — when it launched in 2009 but I’d never seen one in action until a recent trade show. With shelves stacked with organic creams and nail polishes lined up on the pull-out tray, the Cart looks like a life-size burr puzzle; just one plug gets everything cooking so there’s no tangled wires.
The Cart was created at the request of the JW Marriott hotel in Grand Rapids. With just one treatment room in the spa, the hotel wanted a way to deliver quality treatments to guests in their rooms, emphasis on quality. After all, if a high-end hotel restaurant can do room service, why not a spa?
The a la Cart menu features massage, facials, hot stone therapy, herbal and mud wraps, manicures and pedicures that can go beyond plain vanilla. “We have an herbal wrap with 12 detoxifying herbs,” says Victor Bennett, a Suite Spa partner. When a wrap is wrapped up, the guest washes off the mud or herbs in his or her room shower.
Suite Spa’s developers have done their best to turn the guest-room-as-treatment-room into an asset. At treatment’s end, the therapist draws a bath for the client – provided the hotel room is one of those increasing few with a tub — adding an herbal infusion. “You don’t have to go into the lobby or ride the elevator to get back to your room after a treatment,” says Bennett.
Even the fanciest spa is only as good as its therapists. How does Suite Spa choose its staff? The company trains and subcontracts therapists, schooling them to meet the demands of each hotel and in the use the Suite Spa equipment, Bennett says. Guests can book an in-room treatment much as they would a treatment at a spa. “We can manage the business virtually, so if you want someone there at 8:30, we can do it,” he says. Suite Spa treatments are for hotel guests only.
If the Cart catches on is the full-service hotel spa a gorgeous but doomed dinosaur? Spas, after all, are costly to build and run, eat up valuable real estate and need to attract an audience beyond registered guests. Do guests staying at hotels in New York and other big cities really want or expect spa treatments in the way guests at resorts do?
The Pierre recently announced seven in-room spa treatments based on Jiva, an ancient wellness tradition from India, including a muscle-relaxing head massage and a Indian-inspired facial.
Trend? Not yet. As soon as the Pierre opens its lavishly appointed spa in early 2012, treatments will be in spa, not in room.
“Hotel spas are not an endangered species,” says Bernard Burt, author of 100 Best Spas of the World. For nearly every new luxury hotel in New York that sidesteps a spa, it seems another new hotel opens one, like the Surrey, the Chatwal, Ink48, Trump SoHo and the Setai Fifth Avenue. Even the Guerlain Spa at the Waldorf=Astoria, which surprised many when it closed last year, reopened this summer under new management.
Of course, not every urban hotel is big enough — or inclined — to take on a spa. We guess the real question is will massages and facials turn up on the room service menu one day along with hamburgers, Cesar salad and coffee.