This decade’s recession may have pummeled Las Vegas and other parts of the nation. But as a result, tourists are coming to Sin City to do more than let off steam by engaging in the usual excesses. They’re coming to sit in the steam and feel better.
Wellness travel is a growing niche market within the travel industry, said Cheryl Smith, health and wellness tourism manager at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
Opportunities for boosting wellness are vast. They include everything from an excellent night’s sleep and adventure packages combining horseback riding with spa time, to dream interpretation in a global Strip destination.
“Wellness goes beyond the freedom from disease,” Smith said. “It really emphasizes proactively the improvement of overall health and well-being. So that includes stress release, rejuvenation and relaxation.”
The same elements that make Las Vegas a premier destination for leisure and business travel also make it ideal for health and wellness travel, she added. Among those reasons: about 320 average days of sunshine year-round. Also, Mount Charleston, Death Valley, Lake Mead, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park and more than 45 spas concentrated in about four miles of the Strip — including nine Forbes four- and five-star rated spas, she said.
“That’s a significant differentiator, because many other destinations that provide some degree of wellness travel build their entire wellness services around those offerings located in one spa,” she said. “And we have a variety. And among that variety of some of the finest-quality spas, we also offer a culturally diverse array of treatments.”
Smith said the convention authority added her position about a year and a half ago, after the state began to study possibilities for economic diversification.
“As the meetings and convention capital that Las Vegas is, we’re already seeing steady success in attracting more health and wellness meetings to the destination,” she said.
At one conference in Las Vegas in 2010, Jessica Huss learned AquaStretch, a form of aquatic myofacial release that she immediately added to her physical therapy practice with clients in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. Huss is a doctor of physical therapy and the vice president of Education and Programming for the American Physical Therapy Association’s Aquatic Physical Therapy Section.
She said she’s used the modality to help clients with difficult situations, such as knee replacements, frozen shoulder syndrome and even fibromyalgia. But, Huss said, people are also trekking from across the United States to the UNLV Student Recreation and Wellness Center pools — a hub of AquaStretch training and practice — for other reasons.
For example, there’s the concert guitar player who makes a splash when it’s time to get a “tuneup” the day before a performance. It helps him get loose and sleep well that night.
People are also coming from as far away as Alaska to be trained in facilitating AquaStretch at the UNLV Wellness Center, she added.
She and others with ties to the program are envisioning the first AquaStretch research and training center, to be located in Las Vegas. She’s seeking funding for a health cost savings study that might demonstrate what she believes would be an annual 25 percent savings per chronic pain patient, for Medicare seniors who experience AquaStretch.
MGM Grand has been riding the wellness tourism wave with the Stay Well room, a standard room that’s upgraded with everything from an air filtration system targeting odors, bacteria and allergens, to a minibar offering raw almonds and yogurt-covered raisins. Although guests can still order from MGM’s existing in-room menu, there’s also a special service menu featuring items such as organic steel-cut oatmeal and organic baby greens salad.
To apply the concept of wellness to hospitality, the hotel partnered with Delos, a real estate wellness company that has relationships with institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic, said Travis Lunn, vice president of hotel operations at MGM Grand.
“It’s really just resonated with our guests,” he said.
It’s resonated so much that MGM plans to expand its original roster of 42 Stay Well rooms, unveiled in 2012, to 171 rooms by the end of 2013. The hotel will dedicate an entire floor to the concept, for guests who want the experience from the time they step off the elevator.
Strip hotel guests can even have an indoor “snow” experience to increase circulation, when they land in what’s been dubbed “the coolest place in Las Vegas”: the Arctic Ice Room at Caesars Palace’s Qua Baths and Spa. Although the room includes heated benches and floors, it’s cooled down to a crisp 55 degrees.
“You can put ice chips all over your body, if you want to help cool yourself down, as well,” said Kristin Carpenter, spa director.
Putting distinctive spa offerings on the menu to enable life-changing experiences has been routine for her.
“I’m from Arizona, and we’ve done that for many years,” she said. “In Nevada, California, maybe New York, I don’t know that that was as popular. But it has become that way.”
The offerings let guests take information they get from their experiences home with them to use as they decide, she said.
The adventurous can receive information through dream interpretation, chakra balancing, ayurvedic escapes, Aura-Soma color healing, and a new experience christened “Soulful Journey” — all performed by highly trained artisans.
Aura-Soma uses rainbow-colored oils, essences, pomanders and quintessences to help clients improve their spiritual well-being. The Soulful Journey treatment is designed especially for each client and can involve healing stones, harmonizing crystals, color light therapy, sounds, massage and other techniques to ease stress and promote relaxation.
The Spa at Encore’s new treatment on the menu: the Bodhi massage and visualization, which concludes a stress-alleviating massage with a 15-minute guided breathing and visualization. That experience can help guests learn to reduce stress through deep breathing even when they’re away from the spa, said Ella Stimpson, executive director of spa operations at Wynn and Encore.
And, offering a choice, whether it’s breathing or numerology, is an asset for a wellness destination with a brand that’s “all about adult freedom and choice,” Smith said.