Digital Detox: Incentive Options to Unplug + Unwind

Argos in Cappadocia Turkey
Argos in Cappadocia, Turkey

Everyone has his or her personal favorites when it comes to incentive programs or a pre/post extension attached to a business event. Cultural enrichment events are gaining steam as hotels, DMCs and DMOs roll out “local/insider” experiences to create a more authentic destination immersion. Meals with chefs and winemakers continue to explode as a trend. We’re big on community impact programs, and everyone loves a pristine beach or mountain retreat. Shopping, golf and spa continue to rank high, but don’t overlook chanting with monks in a Korean temple.

We’ve compiled 26 ways to attendees can reconnect with themselves and each other by disconnecting from their hyper-connected daily routines. “Digital Detox” is the buzzword of 2012.


We checked in first with the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), which “funds and promotes research to advance the science, enhance the awareness and improve the appropriate application of motivation and incentives in business globally.” The IRF is gearing up for its 19th annual Incentive Invitational educational and networking event, hosted this year at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa from May 30 to June 3.

For an update of this year’s event, we spoke with Matt Harris, chairman/trustee, and Terry Epton, CITE/DMCP, president of USA Hosts New Orleans.

“Buyers like the Invitational because they’re treated to the latest research that can support their performance and proven strategies,” says Epton. “Buyers also have the opportunity to create new relationships or maintain relationships with leaders in the incentive travel industry.”

And the benefits for suppliers?

“I think most of them are multiyear, repeat sponsors,” says Epton. “Last year we had a significant percentage of new sponsors but it wasn’t because we lost old sponsors, it’s because we had new involvement. The suppliers see the invitational as the cornerstone of their incentive market business strategies.”

The Invitational is not an industry event where someone pays a registration fee to be there. Everybody in attendance maintains senior positions in their companies, so there’s a high level conversation and not a lot of hard selling.

We were also curious how the Invitational has evolved over the last five years.

Harris says, “When I started attending six years ago, it was very clear that people were coming for a chance to see the destination and network. I would say we’ve started gaining ground on making the educational content as important a reason for going. This year’s Invitational is really going to have that portion of the event be a strong value for attending.”

Harris explains that the IRF has become more aggressive about their research agenda in the last couple of years, which is now bearing fruit for planners.

“We’ve also gotten more focused around the idea that part of our mission is really to share information, whether it’s from the IRF directly or from others,” he says. “Even if it’s not a piece of research we did, we can help identify it…. We’re also putting together a really great end-user panel to look at trends and best practices that people can employ, so that’ll be really helpful too.”

For this year’s event, the Incentive Travel industry is going to get a good look at San Antonio and Texas Hill Country, which Epton feels is overdue.

“San Antonio has some really unique cultural offerings that I think are best appreciated in person,” he says. “The JW is the centerpiece of the whole thing. I can’t wait to see it in person. Without the JW Marriott, this would not be possible.”


We asked Harris and Epton for their take on the status of the Incentive Travel industry, from both an academic standpoint and what they’re hearing among their colleagues.

“It’s kind of mixed,” says Harris. “When we look at budgets and whether people think they’re going to get their budgets cut, it’s relatively even. In our latest research, 28 percent expected budgets to decline, 45 percent think there’s no change and 27 percent actually expected a slight increase.”

Epton says the industry is trending north.

“I’m the president of a company that runs a consortium of DMCs in 70+ destinations around the world and we meet periodically and converse with each other,” he says. “The general news that I’m hearing is that resorts are exhaling now and spas as well, and they’re beginning to see business pick up. I think the business is feeling like it’s not dangerous to go to a resort or luxury destination now.”

Are there certain destinations that are starting to become more popular?

“I think people are becoming comfortable traveling to some places that were not on the board a few years back,” asserts Epton. “I think the Eastern European destinations have started to gain a really great reputation for high hospitality and service levels. I know people are talking about places like Croatia and Turkey.

In general, there’s less of a fear to go to these places… [than] when the recession first started.”

Templestay, Korea
Templestay, Korea


Let’s get started with Korea, which you’ll be hearing a lot about this year. EXPO 2012 Yeosu Korea runs May 12-August 12 in the coastal city of Yeosu, surrounded by over 300 islands about one hour flying time from Seoul. The theme is: “The Living Ocean & Coast,” focusing on global maritime sustainability.

The ultra hi-tech pavilions were designed with low impact, long term usage in mind. Korea’s advances in tech and design are well documented, but Koreans are anxious to showcase their more human and cultural side.

“The image of Korea in the U.S. is a business destination where people work hard, but we’re also a culture that plays hard,” says Sung K. Kim, MICE manager with the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) in NYC. “There’s plenty of nightlife and there’s always something happening somewhere…. We haven’t always been comfortable with bringing out our ‘Koreaness,’ but now we’re looking within more and finding inspiration in our past to share with the world.”

In that vein, the KTO is actively promoting Templestays where international groups can either visit or overnight at Korean Buddhist Temples located around Seoul. This is beyond cool. For participants sleeping over, they wake up with the monks at dawn for chanting and prayers, followed by a Balwoo Gongyang communal meal service, meditation, yoga and tea ceremony. The big takeaway is the dialogue with the monks and learning about how they live and what they believe. Planners can also organize lotus lantern and rosary bead making classes.

In 2002, there were 33 temples in the program. In 2011, there were 122 with over 20,000 foreign visitors. For 2015, the KTO is projecting 40,000.

“Our RFPs from meeting planners show there’s definitely a strong interest, and I didn’t get that 3-4 years ago,” says Kim. “It’s about reconnecting, taking away distractions and looking inward. You can be deep into the mountains hiding away from the secular world…. You don’t bring any cell phones, it’s just a chance to rest and feel at peace and harmony. I mean, when do you ever have time to do that?”


A UNESCO World Heritage Site in eastern Turkey, Cappadocia is like a moonscape of volcanic terrain with cities built into the natural landscape full of “fairy chimneys”—towers of soft undulating rock carved by the winds of time.

The 42-room Argos in Cappadocia is a new luxury hotel created out of the ruins of the 2,000 year-old Bezirhane Monastery, once used as a hostel for camel caravans plying the Silk Route. The stone buildings, barrel-vaulted caves and underground tunnels were carefully preserved following a 15-year renovation, with open-air stone terraces overlooking fragrant valleys lined with vineyards and apricot groves.

Accommodations range from Standard to Splendid Suites individually designed with Turkish carpets, candles, handcarved wood furniture and fireplaces. The Suites feature private pools, creating the feeling of having your own Turkish bath house.

Yes, we really want to go there too.

The fine dining indoor/outdoor restaurant features Kalecik Karasi wines produced in the region and classic Turkish dishes with homemade pastas, veal chops and myriad olive oil appetizers. After dinner, everyone retires to the restored onsite concert hall for live classical, jazz and Sufi music.


Home to both Hong Kong Int’l Airport and the massive Asia World Expo convention district, Lantau Island is considered the lungs of Hong Kong because of its green space away from the hustle of Central and Kowloon. Group venues include the Po Lin Monastery, 112-foot Giant Buddha museum, historic Tai O fishing village and The Bounty tall ship for 60-pax dinners.

We like the Shaolin Wushu Culture Centre for martial arts training, where groups can learn the 18 rudimentary Shaolin Basics like the deadly Crouch Stance Palm Strike. The Black Belt instructors teach “a blend of power and energy, courage and skill, gentleness and wisdom.” So there’s all kinds of ROI here related to leadership training, sales strategizing, health and wellness, and teenager management.

Afterward, try the ice cream at the historically recreated Ngong Ping Village, before taking the world’s most intense cable car, the Ngong Ping 360, back for the transfer into town.

A quick shout out to The Mira Hong Kong in Kowloon. The 436 suites and 53 specialty suites provide “a design-led urban retreat for the discerning meeting professional,” says Eva W. Y. Kwan, director of catering.

The moody interiors are offset with maroon egg chairs and pink prism tables. The 10,000-sf ballroom features 18 crystal chandeliers, and the 18,000-sf spa includes a 25-yard infinity pool. For dinner, the trendy Cuisine Cuisine serves contempo Cantonese.

Carton House, Ireland
Carton House, Ireland


We spoke with Pat Crowley, CEO of the Shannon-based DMC, Odyssey International. He says that U.S. groups often fly into Shannon in western Ireland for the famous greenery in Limerick and Killarney.

“We also take groups to offshore islands for fishing for crab, oysters and mussels,” says Crowley. “It’s a genuine Irish experience with food, music, history and crafts.” He especially likes putting together CSR events on the island of Aran, just 35 minutes off the west coast. Gaelic is the first language, so that’s fun. Previous groups have donated musical instruments ahead the program, and then students played a concert on their arrival.

From Shannon to Dublin, it’s a 3-hour drive so groups often return home from the capital.

“Dublin isn’t a big city but it’s a very vibrant city, which meeting planners appreciate,” says Derek Wallace, managing director of the DMC, Wallace Travel Group, in Dublin. For rooms, Wallace likes the 165-room Carton House Hotel in Kildare, a majestic manor built in 1749 outside Dublin. Spread over 1,100 acres, it offers two pro golf courses and a training facility for Irish soccer and rugby teams. Love the modern rooms with plank floors and big clawfoots.

Deirdre O’Brien, director of sales/marketing for Carton House, says, “Groups can do so much here, like fishing, archery, clay pigeon shooting, 4x4s, soccer, rugby, the high and low ropes courses. And we’re only 20 minutes from Dublin airport.”


When Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II decommissioned the family boat Britannia back in 1997, all of coastal Great Britain scrambled to secure the ship’s final berth. Edinburgh, Scotland won the rights, and you really should think about organizing an event here. Permanently moored just minutes from the central hotels, The Royal Yacht Britannia floating museum hosts up to 96 in The State Dining Room, lined with souvenirs picked up during the ship’s 968 voyages from the South Seas to Antarctica. Or you can host 380-pax cocktail receptions with a buyout.

We stepped aboard for a champagne tour. It’s quite a stirring sensation on the outdoor Royal Deck looking at family portraits of Lady Diana hovering over young William and Harry. For warm weather months, dinner capacity in this outdoor venue is 80 pax. “Dancing capacity” is 120.

Every August, the Edinburgh International Festival draws visitors from around the world for what’s considered one of Europe’s premier cultural events. This year, however, the Year of Creative Scotland 2012 is a spectacle running through the entire year showcasing Scottish food, music, arts and history. That adds significant value for group planners who can create their program revolving around the ongoing events. We’re heading back this year to check out the summer unveiling of The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Stay tuned.


So let’s say you’re the second wife of English monarchy and the time comes for a little girl tête à tête with the stepson’s new bride-to-be. Where do you go? Duchesses Camilla and Catherine of Cornwall and Cambridge enjoyed a lovely lunch and tea at Koffman’s in The Berkeley London. You can too for up to 16 pax in the private dining room. The prices aren’t crazy bad. The pig’s trotter main stuffed with sweetbreads and morel runs about $44. The chocolate mousse dome ($14) looks good too.

The 240-room Berkeley features the only hotel rooftop pool in London and The Caramel Room and The Blue Bar are two of the most sought after venues for cocktail receptions. We really like “The Berkeley’s Fashion Trunk” for guests booking the suites. It comes packed with vintage accessories that ladies can wear for one night, such as a ’60s Christian Dior necklace or a ’70s Pierre Cardin Studio 54 evening clutch. How awesome is that?

The Berkeley is part of the Maybourne Group, which also operates The Connaught and Claridge’s. All three are centrally located five minutes apart in Knightsbridge/Mayfair around the intersection of Hyde and Green Park. The 119-room Connaught finished a $120 million renovation a couple years ago, marrying elegant period decor with modern flourishes orchestrated by a team of top designers ranging from Guy Oliver to David Collins. The Michelin-star Helene Darroze restaurant oversees catering inside the ballroom for 200 pax, and the Aman Spa is the only one of its kind not located in an Amanresort property.

“Connaught Bar won #1 Hotel Bar in the world (Tales of the Cocktail 2010, New Orleans),” says Brad Simmons, senior sales manager. “Basically, it’s a fine dining experience in a bar, with things like slowly frozen ice which melts less slowly in a cocktail.”

Eden Roc at Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
Eden Roc at Cap Cana, Dominican Republic


We checked into the legendary Badrutt’s Palace rising grandly on the shore of Lake St. Moritz, Switzerland. The 135-room resort built in 1896 is credited with inventing winter sports and installing Europe’s first indoor tennis courts. Now, following a $76 million infusion at the 17,000-sf Palace Wellness Spa, jetsetters are again flocking here to “take the waters.”

The grotto reception area was blasted out of rock beneath the resort, which creates quite the dramatic reveal. The indoor/outdoor pool separated by a high glass wraparound wall overlooking the lake is the iconic image most people have of the spa. A central “Wet Zone” offers jacuzzis and steam baths. Treatments include Ayurvedic specialties and conventional facials and massage, but don’t miss the Engadin stone massage using hand-graded stones from surrounding glaciers.

The Swiss are natural environmentalists and the design relies on local pinewood and softly glittering silver granite from the local mountains. The 10 treatment rooms have a cool, zen feel and delicious forest scent. There are also Ice rooms, Mist rooms, an Aromatherapy room and a Salt Steam Room, along with a renovated Fitness Centre. The staff, dressed in bright white uniforms are careful as well as caring—this is a hotel that has an in-house Bridge Hostess, after all.


The adults-only, 495-room Secrets The Vine Cancun opens in August. The all-inclusive resort marks property number 21 for the parent company AMResorts in Mexico, and the tenth for the Secrets brand. The new-build features more than 17,000 sf of meeting space, a full-service 13,000-sf Secrets Spa by Pevonia and four pools perched on a grand terrace landscaped with rows of palm trees overlooking the beach.

One of the few major hotel brands to be expanding during recent years, AMResorts continues to evolve its product. Rooms feature Italian porcelain floors and elegant teakwood furnishings complementing the rooms’ creamy color palettes and hydro-massage bathtubs in the oversized bathrooms.

The hotel lobby focuses on fine wine both in design and menu offerings. The Enoteca, or wine cellar, features a unique wine wall with more than 3,000 varieties of global wines. Groups up to 30 pax can sit along the Mexican handcrafted wood table and experience a sommelier-led wine tasting session, offering a special contingent of Mexican wines from Baja.

We met with Gonzalo del Peón, executive vp, at Caribbean Marketplace in The Bahamas in January. When asked about AMResorts’ interest in MICE travel, he replied, “Basically all new hotels are aggressively going after the group market both in terms of the facilities and sales and marketing…. For existing properties, we’re taking a look at all of them and retrofitting many with expanded meeting facilities.” Stay tuned for upcoming news about AMResorts first foray into Costa Rica.


Scheduled to open in March, the new Eden Roc at Cap Cana is a collection of 34 freestanding suites and three oceanfront bungalows gracing the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, 20 minutes from Punta Cana Int’l Airport. Promoted as being larger and more luxurious than anything on the market right now, the accommodations come with private swimming pools, an outdoor rainshower and spa area, and dedicated golf carts. Suites range from 860 sf with a 570-sf terrace to 6,100 sf.

Amenities include three Jack Nicklaus Signature golf courses, five restaurants, a tennis facility and the private Caleton Beach Club. Golf is the big draw for groups. With intricate fairways hugging the coastline and intricate layouts, the Las Espadas course works its way around cliffs, waterfalls and beaches, and its signature 13th hole requires a tee shot over the ocean. For non-golfers, opt for an outdoor treatment by the resort’s private lagoon. The spa menu includes handcrafted phytotherapy using indigenous plants, complemented by a freeform swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and hammam.

Planners can host relaxed dinners in the Riva Bar, inspired by the glamour of 1960s Monaco with vistas of the resort’s pool and gardens. Two meeting rooms total 1,300 sf, while the Caleton Beach Club can host larger dinners for 100 pax.

“We want to create an ultra luxurious environment that hasn’t really existed before in Punta Cana,” says Daniele Trombacco, director of sales/marketing. “The idea is to really position Eden Roc as a destination itself, surrounded by 30,000 acres of absolutely phenomenal luxury and pristine beach and rainforest surroundings.”

Ritz-Carlton, St.Thomas
Ritz-Carlton, St.Thomas


Considered way ahead of its time, the visionary CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa in Anguilla operates the world’s only resort-based hydroponic farm. Last year, it took over operation of the island’s only golf course and the Temenos Villa complex. Together, the resort is now one of the most intriguing resorts in the West Indies for upscale, forward-thinking groups. Just back from a visit in January, we were blown away by the stunning Mykonos-inspired architecture shining brilliantly over one of the whitest beaches in the Caribbean. All of the 93 guestrooms and suites were refurbished in the last two years. Secluded at the eastern end, six 3- and 5-bedroom stand-alone villas offer private courtyard pools and master bedrooms with bright solariums.

CuisinArt sources the majority of its food items from its 18,000-sf greenhouse. The onsite Dr. Howard Resh raises fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs that are harvested daily by chefs of the resort’s three restaurants, including Anguilla’s first authentic Japanese restaurant, Tokyo Bay. There’s also an organic farm, herb garden and fruit orchard flourishing with more than 37,000 plants and 150 species of exotic trees, flowers and shrubs. In the spa, cucumbers, lavender and jasmine enhance treatments at the newly renovated 27,000-sf Venus Spa.

Next door, Temenos is a 275-acre luxury development sharing CuisinArt’s 4-mile stretch of Rendezvous Bay. Presently, the estate homes are undergoing renovation. And anchoring the $50 million Greg Norman golf course, the 33,500-sf Mediterranean clubhouse is well suited for incentive group gatherings.

“Acquiring this spectacular property with its course and clubhouse allows CuisinArt to offer an even more comprehensive luxury experience,” says Stephane Zaharia, GM. “It has helped us become a true destination resort.”

At the clubhouse, we savored chef Massimo Telessi’s delicacies at the new Italia restaurant. The main dining area accommodates 200. Ask about private farm tours, cooking classes and tastings in a 3,600-bottle wine cellar.

We also boated over to Sandy Island, an offshore cay with a colorful beach shack serving lobster, crayfish, snapper, grouper, shrimp and ribs barbecued on a steel drum grill. Groups of 50 can feast at a half-dozen tables in a makeshift pavilion while calypso music fills the air.


The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas Resort & Spa in “America’s Caribbean” is offering a new series of tropical treatments and products. Spa director Tommy Toth offers planners a customizable menu of packages to create a full-day wellness program with a delicious spa lunch, followed by a sunset sailing aboard the resort’s Lady Lynsey catamaran.

“We have a few different venues that groups can choose from like a beachfront gazebo or a seaside terrace,” says Toth. “We can also do Hydrotone, which is like water aerobics, in our infinity pool. That’s been a big seller in the past.”

Personal trainers and Zumba instructors are also on hand for bespoke events outside on the beach.

“The beachside gazebo is shaded and we can have some pretty great yoga classes out there,” says Toth.

New scents and oils like coco-mango and pineapple-pear promote the spa’s theme: “Discovering Island Treasures & Caribbean Cultures.” The spa has seven massage rooms and three dual rooms for both massages and facials.

Toth says, “We also have mango-tangerine diffusers throughout the spa to get groups into that Caribbean mode of thought before their service…. We’re still working on customizing the menus. It’s not completely rolled out yet, it’s one of my goals for the end of the first quarter.”


Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Casino & Spa unveiled its new 5,200-sf ZoiA Spa in January. The eight treatment rooms were constructed with sustainable materials such as cork, recycled glass tiles and qurt—a granite-like stone created from crushed seashells. It’s a great indooor/outdoor venue to take advantage of the gorgeous setting, much like the hotel itself.

The treatment ethos is entirely sustainable too using all local and natural ingredients, especially aloe produced by an on-island supplier and the aloe garden in front of the spa.

Years ago, we met herbologist Dina Veeris in Aruba who’s a bit of an icon on the island. She looks half her age and sells a wide variety of herb products and potions to visitors on her farm. Veeris has now partnered with the Hyatt to offer exclusive hand-pressed oils and home-grown herbs at ZoiA. They will be complemented by organic Naturopathica-brand oils and lotions created in Aruba. And in keeping with the susty theme, the spa sells locally-crafted jewelry and island fashions.

During a recent conference, we spent some quality time at Spa Avania at the beautiful 493-room Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch. Welcomed with tranquil music in the naturally lit grand foyer, you saunter down stone steps to the sound of cascading water. One of the many oculus above lets in streams of natural morning sunlight.

Upon mentioning the light, our spa attendant replied, “Keeping with one’s own internal clock is the philosophy of the spa in the treatments, music and atmosphere.” The 21,000-sf Spa Avania has 19 treatment rooms, men’s/women’s lounges and relaxation areas, outdoor hot tubs and icy cold plunge pools. The French mineral pool in the common area is heated to a warm 80 degrees.

Our massage of choice, the Avania Hot Herbal Poultice is a warming, immune boosting, detoxifying treatment of wonderfulness. It’s an herbal treatment using aromatic ginger, lemongrass and organic Thai herbs wrapped in a poultice applied directly to your body in a gentle kneading action. Then you’re lathered and massaged with oils to help the herbs penetrate into your muscles, joints, and ligaments.

Several hours later, your muscles feel like pudding. It’s a luxurious reward after spending countless hours traversing the 70,000 sf of meeting space during a week-long meeting.

Yoga with the Dolphins at the Mirage
Yoga with the Dolphins at the Mirage


The “Centerpiece of Central Park South,” the 509-room Jumeirah Essex House is elegant, chic, dazzling and it’s quintessentially New York City. You can’t beat the address with its proximity to Broadway, Carnegie Hall, Central Park and Lincoln Center.

We visited The Spa for a Deluxe Hot Stone Pedicure. It’s 80 minutes of pure ecstasy as your feet and calves are soaked, softened and scrubbed, followed by warm, smooth stones placed between your toes. The flow of energy in your body begins to improve the nanosecond those stones touch your skin.

The entire hotel is restorative as soon as you enter the impressive lobby, with its large scale artwork, including paintings by Mark Innerst and fine art Atta Kim photos.

For an 80 year-old icon, she’s looking very spry. The recent $90 million face and body lift improved the overall contents without marring the distinctive Art Deco design. The opulent Grand Salon with crystal chandeliers, hand painted murals, and intricately designed walls seat up to 400 for dinner. The connecting La Petit Salon is glorious for formal receptions. Total flex space is 12,000 sf.

Love the sleek, susty South Gate resto helmed by chef Kerry Heffernan, who works with local farmers, fishermen and shellfish harvesters. Although, we have to admit sneaking into The Tavern for the Fried Macaroni & Cheese Smoked Tomato Fondue. So bad, yes, we know, but so good too.


Overtones of the Orient mixed with undertones of DC Federalist design permeate the capacious Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Washington, DC with 347 rooms and 47 suites. Situated near the banks of the Potomac Tidal Basin, the hotel has spectacular views of the waterfront and prominent monuments. Really cool lobby rotunda enhances the airy feeling of spaciousness and light.

Take the elevator to “S” level, totally dedicated to the 10,500-sf SPA. Step onto the onyx marble slab and at once your senses are engaged. The bamboo floor and dim lighting with shears of orange, red, yellow—the colors of the sunrise and sunset—are enhanced by sensual Oriental spa music. Half and full day buyouts for groups include full exclusivity.

The spa concierge welcomed us with a cup of warm tea, an oshiburi scented towel and spa slippers. It is essential to arrive early to enjoy the water and heat features. Try the “Experience” shower with color therapy of calming blues and invigorating yellows while alternating between the hot and cold jets to circulate the blood and engage the nerve endings. Our treatment began with a soothing foot ritual before two therapists performed the purva karma 4-hand synchronized massage. Hot volcanic stones are then balanced on your chakras leaving you in a state of complete harmony and bliss.

This is one of the only spas in the DC area to service groups. Eight treatment rooms, plus two newly added Beauty Suites, Vitality Pools and cold plunges, steam rooms, saunas and relaxation areas are all part of the tranquil oasis. Have your group start with a yoga practice to fully honour and appreciate the unique Eastern culture and zen-like ambience.

Although The Year of the Dragon is celebrated at the hotel, your skin doesn’t need to mirror one. Peeling away old skin with a Somme Time Reversal anti-aging treatment or the non-invasive CACI treatment is simply awesome. Imagine a total deep face cleansing with miniscule pain. Honestly the incentive of a soft, glowing complexion is worth the energy.

If it’s Cherry Blossom season, why not the Cherry Blossom Ritual beginning with a foot treatment, cherry scrub, hot stones and a cup of Cherry Tea? Enjoy the Bento Box Lunch too while lounging on the cabana couches surrounding the heated pool. Total meeting space is 38,000 sf.


Thanks to CityCenter, America’s largest green group venue, Las Vegas is promoting planet-saving policies and healthy spa programs up and down the Strip. For example, the $160 million rehab at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino emphasizes everything from low VOC paints to biodegradable soap.

There’s still as much ego as eco in Vegas, but a quick hybrid taxi ride turns up lots of luxurious healthy happenings. Chef Rick Moonen, whose RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay Resort is an insider favorite, is a longtime food activist and a board member of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Moonen’s restaurant is dedicated to sustainable seafood (no salmon!), as well as organic wine, and he personally prepares waiters to discuss environmental concerns with guests.

New executive chef Royden Ellamar at Sensi Restaurant in Bellagio is dedicated to savory and sustainable Italian and Asian classics. Ellamar, born to a Hawaiian family of farmers and fishermen, personally visits the farmer’s market weekly and he brings his staff to local farms. Yes, he admits, food is trucked in but Vegas is closer to more organic farms than Los Angeles.

Eating isn’t the only way to be healthy here. Most Strip hotels offer fantastic gyms, including New Age fitness programs for centering the mind and burning calories. Serious workout junkies dig the “JUKARI Fit-to-Flex” at Spa Bellagio, inspired by Cirque du Soleil artists. Using Reebok’s 5-foot elastic JUKARI band, the exercises mimic the show’s flowing movements to lengthen muscles and strengthen your core.

At The Mirage Spain Mirage Hotel & Casino, try “Yoga among the Dolphins.” Three mornings a week, in a gorgeous underwater room in Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat, participants stretch and balance (and gasp and sweat) while bottlenose dolphins glide past sturdy glass walls. The class is followed by a vitalizing smoothie and a day pass to the spa.

Heading out for the night? For your paraben-free pamper, check out 18,000-sf Spa & Salon Vdara at CityCenter. Nevada’s only member in the Green Spa Network welcomes guests to a seriously sustainable primp in a stunning waterfall reception area. Try the vegan manicures and mineral makeup.

The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa
The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa


Located at the northern reaches of Miami Beach, about 30 minutes from MIA, the 408-room Turnberry Isle Miami is surprising in scope when you see it from the penthouse hospitality suites. We visited recently for a breakfast event there, and you really need to see the view to appreciate it. If ever the term “oasis” were applicable, this is it.

You would never know it from the road, but the hidden resort encompasses two championship golf courses just minutes from the beach within a largely residential setting. It is thickly landscaped with deep palm tree landscaping, paspalum grass, rolling greens and clever doglegs originally designed by Robert Trent Jones St. and updated by Raymond Floyd.

“We’re a destination within a destination,” says James Gelfand, director of sales/marketing. “We have 408 magnificent and large guestrooms, a great conference center and all of the amenities that you could possibly hope for.”

The spa is set to undergo a multimillion dollar refurbishment and the beach club hosts events up to 500 people. We like chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak restaurant because of dishes like whole-fried organic chicken with truffle mac ’n cheese. Two private dining areas seat 14 and 30.


Under new ownership in January, The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa is undergoing a complete $30 million renovation scheduled for completion at the end of the year. The work will impact all 412 guestrooms and meeting space, outdoor venues, the lobby and pool area.

As of press time, the WestinWORKOUT Fitness Studio doubled in size with all new workout equipment. The 4-diamond resort’s spa next door features nine treatment rooms with an all-natural spa lineup focusing on South Carolina’s Lowcountry ingredients. And this is fun. Spa “add-in” components can be added to any massage, including a Hot Oil Scalp Massage, Hot Mud on the Back and Sweetgrass Back Scrub.


If ever there was a global collection of venues designed to feed and entertain groups at a great value, it’s Hard Rock Café. Today there are 136 cafes and 15 hotel/casinos in 52 countries around the world, serving Americana-inspired cuisine surrounded by an ever-growing collection of rock ’n roll memorabilia. And the list just keeps growing. In February, after 11 years on Sheikh Zayed Road, the new, 26,000-sf Hard Rock Cafe Dubai relocated to the buzzing Dubai Festival Centre. It’s the largest in the Middle Eastern/Asia portfolios with seating for 350 pax.

In January, Hard Rock Cafe Budapest made its debut in Hungary. It’s located in the center of the city’s most popular shopping and business district, close to all of the central group hotels. The 4-level, 11,800-sf cafe seats 220, with flexible function space for live music galas.

SLS Hotel South Beach
SLS Hotel South Beach


At the 2,000-room Borgata in Atlantic City, the 54,000-sf Spa Toccare has—count ‘em—31 treatment rooms. Deep enzyme peels and moisturizing Hydra Surges are popular, along with seven different massage modalities. Nearby, The Barbershop is an alpha-male mecca with straight-razor shaves from pros certified by The Art of Shaving. Follow that up with cigars around the tournament pool table.

Next door, the 800-room Water Club lifestyle hotel offers more resort than gaming. The Immersion Spa is a 36,000-sf, 2-story, green getaway designed for the full-day experience. Guests enter via a cascading water archway into a sensual realm of slate, marble and subtle glass detailing. The 16 “experience” rooms are customized for longer and more personalized service—think 2-hour massages and the always fun Ayurvedic dripping oil treatment, Shirodhara.

The 110-minute Immersion Rainforest offers a Black Silk Clay mud wrap followed by a rinsing soak in a Hanoki tub scented with bourbon vanilla and linden blossom oils. Hmm, we’re getting warm just writing that.

Meanwhile, your bento box spa lunch is crafted by the Food Network’s new Iron Chef champ, Geoffrey Zakarian, delivered poolside or to your spa suite.


One of South Beach’s iconic 1930s Art Deco hotels, the Ritz Plaza Hotel is reopening this spring as the 142-room SLS South Beach, owned by sbe Hotel Group.

The loftiest minds in the hotel design biz are coming to SLS, including Philippe Starck, who started the South Beach boom 25 years ago with The Delano right across the street.

The Kravitz Design team, led by rocker-turned-designer Lenny Kravitz, will work on the snazzy penthouse suite and 10 ultraluxe poolside bungalows.

On the food front, James Beard Award-winning chef Jose Andres is opening the second location of his renowned restaurant, The Bazaar. The resto/club blends Spanish, Caribbean and Latin influences.

Los Angeles legendary sushi chef Katsuya Uechi serves Japanese cuisine with a sexy twist at Katsuya by Starck South Beach.

And the slick Hyde Lounge group is following up its recent project at Bellagio Las Vegas with the opening here of Hyde Beach—its first oceanfront location. Hyde Beach will provide more than 8,000 sf of pool, beach and indoor group space. Overall, total Starck-designed meeting space totals 28,000 sf.