Reaching New Heights

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Sonoran Desert, Miraval Arizona (Tucson) was introduced in 1996 with the intent to help individuals lead healthier and more meaningful lives. In 2004, after experiencing the resort for himself, Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, became the majority owner of Miraval. Since then, Miraval has continued to grow with the addition of Miraval: The Villas, a development of 16 two-bedroom and three-bedroom ownership homes at Miraval Arizona, and the planned Miraval Costa Rica, a destination spa resort that will serve as part of a future development in the Guanacaste region. According to general manager Michael Tompkins, 2011 is showing a healthy increase in overall occupancy, which is fueled by a large increase year over year in group business. He also credits Miraval Arizona’s new Authentic Circle Loyalty Program with contributing to the spa’s repeat business. Here, Tompkins shares how Miraval Arizona continues to transform lives with its pioneering approach.


Q. How has Miraval Arizona continued to succeed in these trying times?

A.  Miraval’s success has largely depended on the morale of our staff as our number-one priority. Being transparent about business shortcomings, dollars spent, guest satisfaction, and communicating these items so that the staff understands and realizes that the guest experience is a direct correlation to the workplace thriving has been a huge success. Recently, an article about Miraval appeared where a guest was asked to comment on what he or she thought about our company, and the quote was, “It seems like everyone loves their jobs at Miraval.” If that is the message our guest is getting, then my staff is doing its job. We have also strived to create teams that think outside of the box. We instituted some of our best practices during the downtime, and now, when things are returning for Miraval, we’re finding those ideas are becoming new guest favorites.


Q. Why do you think Miraval has been able to succeed where other spas have failed?

A. We have never been a property that has coveted another’s idea or felt a sense of competition. Our philosophy of mindfulness keeps our mission focused on the present moment rather than focusing on what others are doing. We believe that by living in the now, we can tackle immediate issues without the stress of urgency and think clearly when we need to push the envelope. Our hope is that wellness in any form that improves lives is a win for all. The successful creation of our spa fusion services, complementary approaches to medicine through our Andrew Weil, M.D., Integrative Wellness Program, and the overriding principle that all of our work is for the greater good has been a wonderful karma we’ve been blessed with based on our philosophy.


Q. How do you attract new and repeat clients and encourage them to visit?

A. Last year, we instituted Miraval’s Authentic Circle Loyalty Program, which rewards guests based on their number of stays. It’s been a huge success, largely because we surveyed nearly 3,500 of our best guests to find what they wanted, and we designed our program around their needs. A loyalty program is only good if the ones being rewarded are given the opportunity for input. Additionally, we’ve met some of those best guests in their home cities for dinners or events as a thank you for being part of the Miraval family. Every member of our management team is asked that when traveling on business to reach out to Authentic Circle members in that area and invite them for a meal to get feedback on how we’re doing. Our guests have given us the most valuable wisdom from their firsthand experiences that have helped shape the development of the programs Miraval initiates. It’s Miraval’s way of saying, “Thank you, you are being heard.”


Q. How do you use digital marketing and social media to boost business?

A. Clearly, this has been a major objective with our marketing team for the past two years. We have the best Facebook friends, and our sweepstakes on Facebook has helped garner numerous votes in “best of” awards, not to mention the increase in online bookings, and again in fostering guest loyalty. We are using streaming video for some of our banner ads. We have also done social media-only offers for packages that have had very good returns. Our opaque sale with LivingSocial sold out all of our Day Spa packages for the entire year in one weekend.


Q. Did you change your menu of offerings?

A. We have moved toward unique experiences that guests can only get at Miraval. Those experiences are sometimes higher priced, but our guests choose them simply because they sound amazing. Some guests choose to do one higher priced service with multiple modalities and forgo another service on a different day and instead partake in our all-inclusive activities to fill their next day. We have also done mini services, like our “hot spots” stone massage, which is a shortened version of our Miraval Hot Stone that focuses on a particular area at a reduced price. We also looked to expand offerings that no one had or has. For example, we were the first destination spa in the West to do a zipline; the Taiz Sensorium treatment, which is based on sound therapy; and classes like Dragon Yoga, Rock ‘n’ Roll Tennis, and R.I.P.P.E.D. We also focused on green building and green initiatives, expanding our organic product lines and services, growing an organic garden, and conserving waste and water. Part of our mission is sustainability, but with the growing trend of companies, corporations, and individual travelers looking for destinations that promote being earth friendly, it resonated with our guests as well as helping the earth.


Q. What steps and cost-cutting measures did you employ to offset the recession?

A. We asked our staff for ideas that we could implement that had little or no effect on the guest experience. Our staff was flexible with hours, and no one complained if he or she had to work extra. We knew if we worked as a team we could accomplish any savings we may have needed to reach.


Q. Have you employed any sort of creative staffing initiatives?

A. We looked at the best way to keep turnover down with our staff, and while every business did restructuring to some extent, we minimized our impact through attrition and doing the right thing in situations that were difficult. We kept our staff informed and asked for help when we needed it. We communicated at every opportunity to decrease fear. Creatively, we have cross trained many areas, such as reservations and prebooking. While some decisions were painful, I’m proud that my team weathered the storm together. The success has made it that much sweeter.


Q. What have you learned from surviving the recent recession?

A. I’ve learned my team is resilient and strong. I learned that when I asked for 10 hands for help, I got 100. I learned that what we try and teach our guests every day is how our staff lives. Even in this moment, it overwhelms me with emotion and pride. We hope to use the lessons we have learned over the past two-and-a-half years moving forward. For example, we look at ways to be creative around work assignments and only hire when necessary. We’ve learned to temper the great times and soften the hard ones, so that the atmosphere at Miraval is always one of peace and stability. Our guests need it, and so do we. The creation of that very special feeling set us apart in times of need. We’ve also learned the strong power of the electronic world and the fast-paced changes that resorts have had to adjust to—TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, and the endless ways of getting and projecting information that have caused managers to either get on the bus and learn or miss the opportunity. I want to set the bar for those in our industry.


Q. What steps are you taking to ensure Miraval Arizona’s success?

A. Keeping in touch with our guests and staff will ensure Miraval’s success. Knowing the product we sell is exceptional and doing what we do best and not trying and be everything to everybody is also important. We know our strengths, and we highlight them. We’ve also become a stronghold in the community, from volunteer events and charity fundraisers to supporting the arts, schools, and shelters. Tucson and Phoenix have been a wonderful support for the staycation market, and our appreciation of the local community will never falter.