Celebrating 20 Years—1997

American Spa made its auspicious debut in 1997 after several years as a supplement in American Salon magazine, where our industry was first mentioned in 1992 as a “burgeoning phenomenon.” Clearly, it was a phenomenon with staying power. Kicking off in March 1997, our first year featured four issues that highlighted unique spas, products, and equipment and offered tips to help spa owners meet their business needs. Among the featured spas and topics in the first year:

  • Spa features focusing on Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon & Spa (New York City and nationwide);  The Spa at PGA National Resort (Palm Beach  Gardens, FL); The Spa at The Peaks (Telluride, CO); Green Valley Spa & Tennis Resort (St. George, UT);  Gene Juarez Salon & Spa (Tacoma, WA); Belladonna  Day Spa (New Orleans); Spa Internazionale at Fisher Island (FL); Miraval, Life in Balance Resort (Catalina, AZ); The Spa at the Broadmoor (Colorado Springs, CO); Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (CA); Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires (Lenox, MA), and many more
  • Advice for incorporating fitness into a spa’s offerings
  • Highlights of unique hydrotherapy rooms
  • Organic cooking trends and spa cuisine tips,  courtesy of the experts at Canyon Ranch (Tucson, AZ, and Lenox, MA)
  • Advice for attracting male spa-goers
  • A report on the new buzzword: Wellness
  • Tips for developing effective compensation strategies

(*Spa names at the time of publication)

Magical Milestones


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Cheers to these spectacular spas that are also celebrating landmark anniversaries.

Glen Ivy Hot Springs (Corona, CA)

One of the oldest hot springs in the U.S., Glen Ivy celebrated 155 years of operation in June 2015. To commemorate this iconic anniversary, the spa offered the Discover the Fountain of You ($155) package, which includes a 50-minute massage, a facial, or a detox body treatment; Grotto admission for one; Taking the Waters admission for one; and Champagne and a sugar cookie. According to CEO and president Jim Root, the spa continues to make an impact on guests of all ages. “We offer an authentic social spa environment and personalized experiences to fit guests’ unique needs,” he says. “We strive to go above simply serving guests. We strive to adopt a Spa of One concept.”

Root says that, although the property has grown and introduced new offerings since its 1860 debut, the spa’s clientele has remained consistent. “If you look at the pictures from when we opened, our clientele hasn’t changed,” he says. “We continue to be a spectrum of humanity, honoring tradition and introducing new experiences. Our grounds and original concept have remained the same, but our ability to respond and adapt certainly has changed.”

As for upcoming plans, Root says strategies include honoring the past with a nod toward the future. “We definitely have plans to head ‘back to the future,’ so to speak, in a few years,” he says. “We are working to introduce overnight accommodations, programs, a working farm, and access to the wonders of the Santa Ana Mountains, as was first available in our founding year of 1860.”


Omni La Costa Resort & Spa (Carlsbad, CA)

Debuting in 1965 as the first resort spa in the U.S., Omni La Costa Resort & Spa has certainly evolved over the years. Today, the Spanish-colonial style Spa at Omni La Costa offers 28,000 square feet of indoor space, a 15,000-square-foot outdoor courtyard, 42 treatment rooms, a full-service salon, a spa boutique, a Spa Café, fitness-training studios, indoor and alfresco social spaces, a Reflexology Path, and an Herb Garden.

According to spa director Michelle Frye, one of the most interesting evolutions of the spa is its transformation from a guys’ getaway to a haven for women. “When the resort first opened, members of Hollywood’s elite, including Bob Hope, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra, came to La Costa to experience an escape from everyday life,” she says. “Today, the resort continues to host famous figures. One of the most interesting things about how our spa has changed was that in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the spa’s clientele was mainly men. It was almost like a boys club, where men would come to relax and socialize with their friends on a daily basis. Now that trend has completely reversed, and we attract around 80 percent women. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that we really are a social spa, and we regularly cater to groups of women who just want to come and socialize with their friends, enjoy a glass of wine or two, and have a fun day.”

While it may seem like a difficult task to keep things fresh after 50 years, Frye says that she and her team work hard to make that happen. “We develop a new treatment menu every two years so that we have creative and unique treatment offerings for our guests,”she says. “We also work hard on improving our service experience, so that the goal is to get all of our guests to come back. And, of course, we will always hire and retain top talent so that we have the best of the best!”

Icon Insight

Acclaimed industry veterans share their thoughts on the growth and development of the spa industry.

Deborah Szekely, Founder, Rancho La Puerta (Tecate, Mexico) and the Golden Door (Escondido, CA)

A true visionary, Szekely has been an integral part of the spa industry since its infancy, when she and her late husband, Edmond Szekely, opened Rancho La Puerta, a “health camp” located across the California border in Mexico in 1940. “We followed the original and ancient intention that spas were a healing place for mind, body, and spirit,” she says. That approach has proven successful, with The Ranch recently celebrating 75 years following its founding precepts and Deborah still going strong as its ambassador. She also founded  the Golden Door in 1958. Here, she shares some insights she has gained over the years.

What do you think is the secret to longevity and success in the spa industry? It is the returning guest. Those who come back year after year are your true measure of success. Thousands each year consider Rancho La Puerta and the Golden Door an annual trip that is literally life preserving. Both have had guests with more than 100 visits—each for at least a week at a time. It’s not uncommon for three generations of one family to be visiting at the same time.

How has the industry changed since you started in the spa industry? I believe there are fewer true fitness spas today and more beauty spas. I’d like to see that trend reversed. It’s easy to judge a spa’s commitment to fitness. Whenever someone says, “I have a spa that includes fitness classes,” I simply ask how many gyms they have. Most have one...or none. Rancho La Puerta has 13 gyms, three swimming pools, and 3,000 acres of wild meadows and mountainsides for hiking—more than 20 miles of trails in all. Of course no new destination spa today could afford to acquire this much land, which was one of the benefits of starting 75 years ago and constantly reinvesting profits into the land, facilities, and program. Still, do what you can to put the body in motion. Vigorous exercise provides the brain and body with vital oxygen. 

We’ve always believed that everyone must take personal responsibility for disease prevention. We help them take that leap of faith—usually because they are astonished at how much  better they feel after only one week of an active fitness spa program that includes a healthy diet of organic fresh food. They return home well on the road for a long, healthy life.

Do you have advice for others in the spa industry on achieving similar long-term success? Once again, measure your success in terms of return guests. Treat them and your staff like family, and they will become one—yours!

Spa Innovations

A look at some of the game-changing beauty products, equipment, and more that have made headlines over the past 20 years.

  • Shellac Smudged, short-lived, chipped polish became a thing of the past after the debut of CND’s Shellac in 2010. “Our chemists invented a modern solution to traditional polish inconveniences,” says Jan Arnold, CND cofounder and style director. “The three-part system wears flawlessly for 14-plus days of mirror shine, cures in a light-cure lamp for zero dry time, and can be removed quickly.”
  • Clarisonic When the first Clarisonic debuted in 2004, it created beauty buzz as clients discovered the power of sonic cleaning. Today, according to Robb Akridge, Ph.D., cofounder and global president, more than 10 million devices have been sold. “Countless customers have told me that Clarisonic not only changed their skin for the better, but they also felt it changed their lives by giving them the confidence that comes from having great skin,” he says. “It’s a big honor to be part of what makes millions of people look and feel great.”
  • Botox In 2002, the FDA approved the use of botulinum toxin for cosmetic purposes, and consumers around the world rejoiced at this easy way to eliminate frown lines and forehead wrinkles. Today, it still tops the list of minimally invasive cosmetic procedures, with 6.7 million Botox procedures performed in 2014, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

Future Focus

Spa headliners share their thoughts on the business and the future of our industry.

Jeremy McCarthy, Group Director of Spa, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group

McCarthy leads the hotel’s luxury spa division, featuring 44 spa projects open or under development worldwide. He  has more than 20 years of  experience operating luxury spas in resort and hotel  properties worldwide and is  the author of The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing (Amazon Digital Services, 2012).

What do you think is the secret to longevity and success in the spa industry? It is execution of the spa guest experience. All other efforts around leadership, marketing, cost control, and more are only as good as the guest experience that each customer receives when they come in the door. This is only becoming truer as we move into the future. The spa guests of today have less time and more choices, and they must feel like they get value out of every experience in which they invest their time and money.

What are some of the most exciting developments that you are seeing today in the spa industry? What I’m most excited about is that consumers’ understanding of wellness is becoming more holistic with a greater appreciation of the need for rest, recovery, and downtime and a greater appreciation for positive emotional experiences. In other words, what spas have to offer is increasingly sought after by consumers and validated by the science on wellbeing. Other exciting developments include a return to bathhouse spas with amazing facilities and opportunities for social spa experiences. There is also a rise of shorter spa experiences that fit better into consumers’ time-compressed schedules.

Where do you think the industry is heading? I think the successful spas of the future will be those that feature greater diversification and specialization. There is a lot of sameness in the spa world, which opens up opportunities for those who are brave enough to do something a bit differently and do it better than anyone else.