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Serenity in the Desert

Spa resorts across the region relax, restore, and focus attendees in a myriad of ways

By Teresa Bitler

As a meeting planner, you strive to create an environment where attendees get the most out of time together solving problems, learning, and building relationships. Elements like exceptional meeting spaces, state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, and gourmet snacks and meals can contribute to the success of a meeting, but holding a meeting at a spa resort can take it to another level.

Spa treatments have been known to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, lower stress, and improve energy levels—among other things. All these effects can have a positive impact on your meeting. While you can encourage attendees to take advantage of spa and wellness amenities on their own, incorporating them into the meeting itinerary ensures everyone benefits from them.

Luckily, the Southwest has many outstanding venues with revitalizing spas and meeting spaces. Some also boast wellness and outdoor programs that can enhance the spa offerings, making the event an even more positive and memorable experience.

Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona, Arizona, offers multiple facial treatments. || Amara Resort and Spa

Refresh and Focus

“The better you’re performing in your mind, the better you perform at work,” says Jessica Carter, spa director at Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona, Arizona. She says spa treatments usually put people in a deeply relaxed state, and when someone is relaxed, it increases their focus—something that benefits attendees in the long run.

Even a brief neck or hand massage during a meeting break can relax an attendee and sharpen focus, according to Carter. Relaxation also can help people think more creatively and open up. With their guard down, attendees may have an easier time getting to know each other better.

Spa Director Tina Hay at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe in New Mexico agrees spa treatments can benefit a meeting by offering attendees the chance to decompress and reset. That’s why Rancho Encantado’s spa features treatments that address the mind as much as the body. For the group, meeting planners can plan a gong therapy session that uses a gong instead of the bowls often used in sound therapy and incorporates meditation for deeper relaxation.

The mind can also benefit from its surroundings. Rancho Encantado sits on 57 acres in the Sangre de Cristo foothills, and attendees can enjoy nature sounds from the spa’s treatment rooms and outdoor showers. Additionally, they can visit the property’s natural vortex, a swirling circle of energy thought to have restorative and healing properties. Located near the spa, the vortex is accessible to guests.

Patrons at Rancho Encantado || Courtesy of Rancho Encantado

Spiritual Healing

Some spa resorts focus on the spirit as well as the mind. In Phoenix, Arizona, the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass embraces its location on Gila River Indian Community land, with tribal elders giving input on everything from the artwork throughout the resort to the spa treatments offered.

The Native American influence can even impact your meetings, if you wish, according to Group Sales Manager Donna Sampson. One way you can experience the culture of the Gila River Indian Community is by having a community member offer a traditional blessing at the start of your meeting, she says. You can also enjoy foods such as corn, beans, and squash—what many tribes in the Southwest refer to as the “Three Sisters”—during meals or snack breaks.

In addition to chair massages and yoga, Wild Horse Pass offers a do-it-yourself bath salt station, where guests can add local ingredients like prickly pear cactus oil to the bath salts they concoct. Group activities like the property’s Mustang and Massage package bring meeting attendees together for a horseback ride led by wranglers from the community, followed by a massage at the resort’s Aji Spa.

Sara Howard, spa director at Aji Spa, says many of the signature treatments were created by community members and can only be given by community members. Some even use sacred ingredients like shegoi (creosote). She recommends the Nahtogig (Four Directions) treatment, which was inspired by the Creation Story passed down through the generations by Gila River Indian Community members and represented by a mosaic in the spa’s entry.

Spa clients enjoy drinks poolside at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Arizona || Courtesy of Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass

Doing the Work

While spa treatments are usually passive experiences—i.e., you relax on a table while a therapist kneads muscles, exfoliates dry skin, and drips oil on your body—some spa resorts offer treatments and wellness programs that require a little more effort.

That’s the case at Miraval Arizona, a digital device-free environment on 400 acres on the northern outskirts of Tucson. Between sessions, event planners can arrange for attendees to participate in fitness classes, meditate, paint, or ride a horse from the property’s herd. Planners can also schedule team-building exercises such as cooking classes or a ropes course. Planners also could encourage attendees to take advantage of classes that show ways to manage stress or think more positively, both things that can have a positive impact on the attendees’ work performance and overall well-being.

Even the treatments at Miraval’s Life in Balance Spa aim to be life-changing if you put in the work. The Energy of the Wolves spa treatment asks participants to decide which wolf—hope, love, and joy, or anger and fear—they will feed going forward. However, wellness doesn’t have to be all work, no play. You can include a mix of easier activities like a desert stroll or a chair massage.

Connect With Nature

One of the advantages of holding a meeting in the Southwest is its unique natural beauty. Destinations like Tucson, with its saguaros and desert landscape, or Sedona, surrounded by red rocks, invite meeting attendees to get outside, recharge, and maybe even ditch their devices.

Brett Briseno, director of sales and marketing at Enchantment Resort in Sedona, sees the positive impact nature has on meeting attendees, especially when paired with a spa treatment. Meeting planners can include outdoor wellness activities like guided canyon walks or arrange for attendees to go hiking, mountain biking, or rock climbing as a team before heading to the property’s Mii Amo spa.

“We offer you the ability to connect to nature, to connect to each other, and to connect to yourself,” he explains, touting the property’s location in scenic and secluded Boynton Canyon.

Such resorts in beautiful settings weave nature into wellness and team-building activities as well as spa treatments. Brandy White, director of sales and marketing at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, has noticed an increased interest in wellness activities held outside since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“People want to be out in nature when they’re not in a meeting,” she says, adding that they also often want to do team-building activities since so many people work remotely now and may not know each other as well.

According to White, meeting planners have inserted into the daily schedule activities like golf and pickleball lessons, harvesting from the resort’s garden with the chef, and guided hikes. Programs like birdwatching and stargazing, both of which Tucson is reknown for, can be as calming and healing as a spa treatment. Meeting planners even can bring nature to the spa by offering miniature treatments like neck massages outside during breaks.

The spa at Wynn of Wynn Las Vegas in Nevada features 44 treatment rooms. || Photo by Barbara Kraft, courtesy of Wynn Las Vegas

An Urban Retreat

You don’t have to sacrifice the benefits of spa treatments and wellness activities if you choose an urban setting. Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, is a good example. With 2 million square feet of exhibit space, Mandalay Bay accommodates up to 30,000 meeting-goers. Plus, the resort has an 11-acre tropical beach, an on-site aquarium, a retail venue, and endless custom event options.

Despite the property’s size, it’s possible to create relaxing moments by taking advantage of the Spa Mandalay. Therapists can offer miniature massages during breaks, and wellness instructors can lead meditation or fitness classes for meeting attendees.

Similarly, Wynn Las Vegas is a massive property with more than 300,000 square feet of event space. Meeting attendees can start the day with a poolside or golf course yoga class and work stiff muscles during a guided, midday stretch. A variety of Wynn Living Well programs can be added to the itinerary, too.

Attendees can also take advantage of the two spas at Wynn Las Vegas and its neighboring sister property, Encore Resort: the 45,000-square-foot The Spa at Wynn with its 44 treatment rooms and the 61,000-square-foot The Spa at Encore with an additional 37 treatment rooms. Because the property has so much spa space and several therapists on staff, it has more flexibility than a smaller spa.

If Las Vegas isn’t a good fit for your meeting, the Phoenix area has several options, including the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The largest meetings facility within the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts portfolio worldwide, the Princess can accommodate sizeable events in its two standalone conference centers, each with at least a 22,000-square-foot grand ballroom.

Chris White, director of sales and marketing at the Princess, says the resort can customize spa and wellness experiences for meetings, from spa takeovers to exercise sessions and smoothie bars. Staff can even bring a smoothie machine powered by a bicycle to a break, so attendees need to pedal for a blended treat.

On their own or with colleagues, attendees can visit the Well & Being Spa and take advantage of amenities like a rooftop pool, a grotto waterfall pool, a eucalyptus aromatherapy room, and a hot therapeutic whirlpool. Those looking for an upscale experience can book a treatment at Sicily Paris, a high-end spa within Well & Being.

Hosting a meeting at a spa resort can improve focus and productivity during the sessions and foster a deeper sense of community between attendees. But when you host a meeting in the Southwest, you’ll enjoy stunning landscapes, some of the nation’s top spa resorts, and unique spa treatments. It will make your meeting one to remember.