Bathing Beauty



located in the heart of wine country, the fairmont sonoma mission inn & spa (sonoma, ca) has undergone a number of incarnations. Built in 1927, the Sonoma Mission Inn replaced the famed Boyes Hot Springs Hotel, which burned to the ground. Complete with arcade and bell tower, the Inn was intended to replicate a California mission, even its name was meant to capture the romance and historical significance of the last missions on El Camino Real. Due to its location over geothermal hot springs, it was only a matter of time before a spa opened, taking advantage of the natural artesian waters. After undergoing a major restoration in 1980, the Inn introduced a European-style spa in 1981. In 1996, the Inn underwent another extensive renovation, and in 2000, a 40,000-square-foot spa was unveiled. Another milestone in the property's history came in 2002 when it joined with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. Although most Fairmont properties have branded Willow Stream Spas, The Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn retains its own identity yet reaps the benefits of working in conjunction with Fairmont branded spas. "The spa has twenty-four years of brand equity and the heritage of the property to draw on," says spa director David Erlich.

 Spa-goers can also enjoy the thermal waters found in the main pool.
Spa-goers can also enjoy the thermal waters found in the main pool.

Capitalizing on its good fortune as one of the few spas in the U.S. to have natural thermal mineral waters, the spa features a complimentary signature Bathing Ritual, which includes an exfoliating shower, two mineral water soaking pools, an herbal steam room, a dry sauna, and cool-down showers. Guests are also given access to the bathhouse lounge and the outdoor relaxation loggia as well as the outdoor thermal mineral pools and whirlpool.

The spa's fitness studio is ideal for meditation along with other more active pursuits.
The spa's fitness studio is ideal for meditation along with other more active pursuits.

According to Erlich, guests who drive in from one to two hours away make up a large portion of the spa's clientele. While 75 percent of patrons are resort guests, roughly half of that figure represents locals who travel from the Bay area for either a romantic getaway or a special occasion. High season runs from April through October. The spa also gets what Erlich calls his "weekend warriors," guests who drive up on the weekends from Silicon Valley to spa and tour the area's wineries. "Most guests come to the spa for relaxation," says Erlich. "The feedback is that they want to feel good and leave with a heightened sense of caring for themselves."

Complete with mineral water soaking pools, exfoliating showers, an herbal steam room, and more, the Bathing Ritual area is one of the spa's biggest selling points.
Complete with mineral water soaking pools, exfoliating showers, an herbal steam room, and more, the Bathing Ritual area is one of the spa's biggest selling points.

With that in mind, Erlich is focused on making each visit memorable. He and his team do that by promoting the spa as a multi-day experience. There is also a great deal of emphasis on integration. For example, many of the bath and body programs are designed to work together. "We're seeing more savvy consumers going toward treatments that are true and efficacious, but they also want something they haven't experienced before," says Erlich. Most guests typically spend two-and-a-half to three hours in the spa, and that's after scheduling only one service. "They don't rush in for a treatment," says Erlich. "They complete the bathing ritual and experience the entire hydration circuit."

The loggia overlooking the Spa Rotunda is a perfect place to relax before and after treatments.
The loggia overlooking the Spa Rotunda is a perfect place to relax before and after treatments.

The spa also offers guests more bang for their buck. "The value for their dollar at Sonoma Mission Inn is great," says Erlich, referring to the fact that the spa's fitness and wellness activities are all-inclusive. The spa recently introduced Turning A New Leaf, a program featuring a metabolic analyzing system. It is coupled with a complete nutritional assessment to help guests make better lifestyle choices. Not surprisingly, massage comes in at the top of the most requested treatment list. According to Erlich, Ayurvedic services are also quite popular. The spa also offers Thai massage in a Thai-themed room, which adds to the experience and keeps it genuine in nature. Feng shui was used in the design of all the treatment rooms.

Spa-goers can indulge with a soothing bathing ritual.
Spa-goers can indulge with a soothing bathing ritual.

One of Erlich's greatest challenges relates to the available labor pool. He says there is a shortage of qualified therapists and nail technicians in wine country. "Fortunately, because of the spa's stellar reputation, there are a lot of spa professionals interested in working here," says Erlich. Handling approximately 120 clients each day, the spa employs 142 staff members, 70 percent of whom are full time. There are 56 massage therapists, 18 fitness instructors, 14 estheticians, 12 salon employees (including stylists and nail technicians), and 42 administrative and support team members. Another major challenge for Erlich lies in counteracting negative spa experiences guests have encountered at other places. Intent on ensuring that both the experience and quality are outstanding and never deviate, Erlich is also faced with the fact that a mediocre spa visit elsewhere means he and his staff have to work twice as hard to get those guests to return. It's not just a matter of getting them back to the Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, it's getting them back to any spa. "The true challenge in the spa industry is battling the inconsistency as it relates to the available workforce," says Erlich. Fortunately, the Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is ready to meet that challenge.

The spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn
The spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

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