It's official. Spas are now as American as apple pie. The New York Times Sunday Travel Section feature,Spa-ification of America, chronicles the explosive growth of the spa business. The comprehensive article explains why spas have gained mainstream popularity, and provides an overview of the spa development plans of major hotel chains.

"Spa has become the must-have for today's hotels," says staff writer Kate Zernike. Starwood, which recently purchased Bliss Spas, is creating entire spa floors in six of its W Hotels which will include spa suites in which guests can control the humidity, light, and aromatherapy. Hyatt is building six spas, and Wyndham, which owns the Golden Door spa, is extending the brand to four of its hotels by the end of 2006.

'It's gone from being a point of differential to a point of necessity,' said John Korpi, a spa consultant and president of the ISPA foundation. 'It used to be a hotel could differentiate itself from its competitors by having a spa. Now it's just not competitive at all if it doesn't have one.'

"It's not enough to go on a simple vacation anymore," states Zernike. "Now, people seem to need to elevate their vacation experience into something more meaningful, where they will come back a changed, detoxed, perhaps even a more spiritual person." Robbie Blinkoff of Context Research, an anthropologist interviewed in the article, agrees: "People need to feel they are getting something of lasting value out of their vacation. 'People feel ready for a transformation. A vacation should make you feel like a new person, which is exactly what a spa is offering.'