A Charmed Life

LIKE IN MANY PARTS OF THE WORLD, THE SPA industry in Ireland is flourishing . It should come as no surprise though considering the fact that Ireland itself is a much touted success story following a period of great economic growth, which gave it the nickname, the Celtic Tiger. Although economists caution of rising wages, inflation, loss of competitiveness, and falling property prices, there's no denying the fact that Ireland has been transformed from one of Europe's poorest nations to one of its wealthiest. The spa industry is just one beneficiary of that positive transformation.

The Spa at Marriott Johnstown House Hotel

Set in a 1750s Georgian residence, The Spa at Marriott Johnstown House Hotel in Enfield, County Meath, is located amid 120 acres of parkland just 30 miles outside of Dublin. Last year, $18 million was invested in the development of a 30,000-square-foot spa facility, part of a $73 million redevelopment of the four-star property. The spa was branded an Elemis spa and features 16 treatment rooms, which provide a variety of offerings, such as a floatation tank, a mud chamber, hot and cold hydrotherapy tubs, and more.

At The Spa at Marriott Johnstown House Hotel, guests can relax in the aroma steam room, one of the spa's three thermal suites.
At The Spa at Marriott Johnstown House Hotel, guests can relax in the aroma steam room, one of the spa's three thermal suites.

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Employing 25 therapists, seven receptionists, and a spa reservationist, the spa can cater to up to approximately 250 guests a day. Although the majority of guests are Irish, spa operator Sophia Weir notes that 5 percent are British, 8 percent are European, and 7 percent are American. "American clients tend to be more open-minded when using spas, preferring to immerse themselves in the treatments of the time," says Weir. Despite the notion that Americans are puritanical when it comes to modesty, Weir notes that in the treatment room they're considerably less inhibited than their European counterparts, choosing to forego wearing undergarments. According to her, Americans are also big proponents of homecare and are more willing to follow the product regimen prescribed by their therapist.

In creating the menu, Weir wanted to offer something with universal appeal. "I hoped to deliver a menu that would appeal to everyone, a step-by-step guide to make the entire spa experience accessible to everyone and remove the confusing and difficult spa language," says Weir. According to her, the spa's treatment guide has been a major success, troubleshooting many questions novice spa-goers often have.

At The Spa at Marriott Johnstown House Hotel, guests are encouraged to kick back and enjoy a beverage in the relaxation room after their treatments.
At The Spa at Marriott Johnstown House Hotel, guests are encouraged to kick back and enjoy a beverage in the relaxation room after their treatments.

Offering a variety of Elemis therapies, the spa is designed to accommodate some of the company's more elaborate treatments. For example, the spa's most popular treatment, Precious Stone Therapy ($119, 60 minutes), takes place in the spa's precious stone temple, which uses color, sound, scent, and lighting to create a holistic feeling of well-being. The treatment combines gemstone therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, reflexology, and more. It is ideal for reducing stress, increasing energy levels, and heightening all five senses. Other popular treatments include hands-on facials, especially the Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Facial ($173, 70 minutes). It's designed to slow down the signs of premature aging by using specialized lifting massage techniques and a Japanese silk mask.

The spa also offers a number of male-specific treatments, such as the Elemis Skin IQ Facial ($128, 70 minutes), Elemis Urban Cleanse Facial ($128, 70 minutes), and Elemis Full Body Deep Tissue Massage ($128, 55 minutes) for men. According to Weir, men make up 42 percent of the clientele. Male therapists, however, are rare, as most guests, men and women, still prefer a female therapist. Although this is evolving, Weir notes that it is a gradual change.

Spa cuisine is available in the cafe.
Spa cuisine is available in the cafe.

To enhance the effects of the therapies, the spa offers three complimentary thermal suites, including the aroma steam room, Finnish sauna, and caldarium. Each provides a different heat experience.

"The spa market is a highly competitive one and growing at a phenomenal rate in Ireland," says Jean-Paul Nel, regional vice president of operations for Marriott Hotels and Resorts, U.K. & Ireland, Middle East, and Africa. "Marriott has extensive experience in this area and we are confident that the magnificent and natural surroundings at Marriott Johnstown house will offer customers an experience beyond expectations, setting new standards in the Irish market."

A therapist prepares a treatment bed for her next client.
A therapist prepares a treatment bed for her next client.

The Spa at Marriott Druids Glen

Elsewhere in the country, other Marriott properties are following suit with new and improved spas of their own. One prime example is the The Spa at Marriott Druids Glen Hotel & Country Club in County Wicklow, just 20 miles south of Dublin. Although the hotel had a spa, it recently underwent a complete expansion and renovation. According to spa manager Dan Gray, the spa's four treatment rooms were redecorated and three additional rooms were added along with a new relaxation room and retail area. The spa also recently began carrying Elemis. "The reasons for doing this are twofold," says Gray. "We get group buying power and training support, as the Marriott Johnston House has also gone with Elemis." Staff members were retrained with the new product line. Gray expects the training to not only improve but also standardize the spa's treatment offerings. Previously, the spa catered mainly to hotel guests. Gray is hoping the new facilities will change that demographic by attracting more locals.

Absolute Spa

Also new to the scene is the Absolute Spa at the Courtyard By Marriott, Galway City. Located on the country's west coast in a city known for its Irishness, the spa opened this past May. With 17 full-time and two part-time staff members, it can accommodate approximately 55 clients each day. According to spa manager Laura de Haast, 80 percent of the clientele is Irish, 12 percent is American, and 8 percent is European. "Most Irish spa-goers tend to treat themselves to two or three treatments per visit, which sometimes take a day and also includes a spot of lunch between treatments," says de Haast.

The foyer at The Spa at Marriott Johnston House Hotel features a reception desk to check in and out as well as a number of product displays.
The foyer at The Spa at Marriott Johnston House Hotel features a reception desk to check in and out as well as a number of product displays.

For the menu, the spa partnered with German skincare manufacturer Babor because the two companies share a common belief in what makes a great spa. "The best spas we visited around the world have their own distinctive brand philosophy and culture," says de Haast. "We developed our spa menu to reflect this and built our systems, processes, procedures, and training to deliver Babor's brand experience." The spa's most popular treatment is the Aroma Body ($120, 90 minutes), which uses a selected aroma to relax, balance, or energize the body.

Capitalizing on the country's Irish heritage, the spa features the Celtic Suite, which is used for a variety of body treatments. The suite includes a Precious Stone Cabin, which uses light, aroma, sound therapy, and precious gems; a bath; and a hammam table where wet treatments are performed. The suite is especially popular with couples who want to spa together. Another highlight is the spa's Thermal Suite, which features heat therapy loungers, ideal for clients wanting to unwind; an aroma steam room, a Finnish sauna, a tropical rain shower, and a glass ice cave complete with an ice fountain. A typical day at the spa would include two treatments and a visit to the Thermal Suite. Says de Haast, "Our biggest challenge currently is trying to look after our regular customers on the weekends, as treatment availability is starting to book now at least two weeks in advance, and we hate to disappoint."

The Thermal Suite at Absolute Spa includes an aroma steam room.
The Thermal Suite at Absolute Spa includes an aroma steam room.

Monart Destination Spa

An hour-and-a-half outside of Dublin in the town of Enniscorthy, Monart Destination Spa is set on more than 100 acres of wooded countryside in southeast Ireland. Although the spa mainly caters to Irish spa-goers, it is drawing international visitors as well. According to spa manager Lowery Asbury, one of Monart's key marketing strategies is to develop both the U.K. and U.S. markets. "Irish spa-goers are certainly very different from their American counterparts," says Asbury. "The American market is what I would call a mature spa market, as the industry developed much earlier there than in Ireland. The Irish spa market is certainly in its infancy. As such, there are numerous differences between the two." For instance, American spa-goers are especially savvy when it comes to treatments and know what to expect. According to Asbury, the key challenge for the Irish market is education, primarily about the importance of taking time for one's self.

The Thermal Suite at Monart Destination Spa is the ideal setting for a soothing foot soak.
The Thermal Suite at Monart Destination Spa is the ideal setting for a soothing foot soak.

Fortunately, that lesson is being taken to heart, as most visitors to Monart are looking to escape from their busy lives. In creating the menu, Asbury wanted to create a results-driven experience in a relaxed environment. She wanted it to be "a happy balance between indulgence and well-being." According to Asbury, the menu had to offer results-oriented treatments. "There are many product houses and spas that offer treatments with some sweet-smelling goo, as we like to call it, but there is no real benefit to the guest," says Asbury. "We wanted a range that would deliver results." Ultimately, the spa went with Pevonia for its facials and body treatments and Creative Nail Design for its nailcare services. The spa's most popular treatment is the Prescription Facial ($155, 55 minutes), which is a customized treatment.

Light loops on Monart's grounds provide a decorative accent after dark.
Light loops on Monart's grounds provide a decorative accent after dark.

Employing 70 full-time and 30 part-time staff members, Monart can accommodate approximately 175 guests each day. "The biggest challenge is handling the high demand for treatments," says Asbury. "Guests who are looking to experience Monart are certainly looking for a number of the traditional treatments when they are booking. However, we hope we've created an environment where they can enjoy all aspects of Monart, from taking a stroll around our magnificent 123 acres of mature woodland to spending time in our gym or taking a studio class to enjoying our state-of-the-art thermal suite with a range of heating and cooling rituals to enjoying our wonderful restaurants. We hope to encourage people to enjoy a real balance to their experience here and not just look to be on a treatment bed all day."

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