Spa Branding With a Focus on Holistic Wellness and an Infusion of the Local Culture

By Jay Heidenreich Director of Sales & Marketing, Ritz Carlton Kapalua | July 19, 2015

Authenticity and unique experiences continue to be important criteria to most travelers when making travel destination decisions. Along with this trend, we’ve seen guests also looking to maintain healthy lifestyles while on vacation. As the focus on holistic wellness and authentic travel experiences continues to grow, it is important that we as hoteliers keep these ideas front of mind as we develop new concepts for our hotel offerings. Infusing authenticity, health and wellness into all aspects of a hotel from spa to food and beverage and guest activities, is something we are very dedicated to at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. We are consistently planning and evaluating our hotel amenities to ensure that our guests have the opportunity to create lasting memories through unique experiences they would not be able to find elsewhere.

When landing on any of the Hawaiian Islands whether it be for the first time or the hundredth time, discerning travelers want to feel as though they have been transported. They are seeking one-of-a-kind experiences that they would not find at home. The Ritz-Carlton recognized this emerging trend and innovated to create experiences with an authentic sense of place. As part of this brand innovation, The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, located on the northwestern corner of Maui, underwent a major $180 million renovation in 2008 and reemerged with a renewed sense of place. Prior to the renovation our hotel, including our spa, had the same look and feel as other Ritz-Carlton hotels and our spa was branded in the same manner as Ritz-Carlton spas around the world. An integral part of this transformation included the rebranding of our signature spa. What was unveiled in 2008, and is still in practice today, was a refreshed sanctuary infused with the spirit of Aloha and deeply rooted in Hawaiian healing.

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When planning for the renovation began, designers and architects partnered with Public Relations Manager and Maui native, Clifford Nae’ole, to ensure concepts for the reimagined hotel, including the signature spa, had a relevance and significance to the Hawaiian culture. The theme of the spa was to be designed with Hawaiian healing and wellness in mind and the concept would be carried through to all aspects of the décor, design, flow, staff training and inspiration for its treatments. Mr. Nae’ole, who soon after the hotel reopened from renovation would be named its full time Cultural Advisor, strategized with stakeholders and proposed the spa be branded around the concept of Waihua, water that ancient Hawaiians believed was in its purest form and had healing capabilities. As Mr. Nae’ole says”Mai ka po’o, ia ka piko me kou wawae…e ola e… ‘from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet …long life.”

As the Hawaiians saw it, the gift of ua ( rain ) enlivens the senses and instills well-being, to nurture, cleanse, refresh and purify. Blessed with a keen sense of observation and spirituality, the native Hawaiians of ancient times gave many names and personalities to various rainfalls, one such name was Waihua. The large leaves of the taro plant caught and stored this special water until gathered by the kahuna ( expert, healer, prophet ) for use in potions, medicine, ceremony and protocol. Waihua represents water that has not touched the dirt of the earth and thus was a treasured resource that helped na kanaka maoli ( Hawaiian people ) rejuvenate and invigorate their bodies and spirits, creating pono ( balance ) in one’s life. The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua represents the concept of Waihua in both its design and its inspiration for the treatments offered.

The spa design incorporates the natural colors of the landscape from the mountains to the sea and its soothing ambiance evokes the healing waters of Waihua. The concept is evident from the moment of arrival, with wood panels carved with images of taro leaves, to the dry stone river bed design on the floor. The walls throughout the spa are curved representing water movement, and guests walk through groves of tall bamboo, creating a sense of being in a secluded forest. Raw natural ingredients found in the spa treatments are placed in various alcoves. Before entering the relaxation lounges, guests go through a compressed space representative of a canyon, to help them transcend and leave behind any stress from the outside world. In addition, the design of the full service Salon within the spa incorporates wood floors and wall coverings with embossing of water droplets.

The 17, 500 square foot spa boasts 15 treatment rooms, including two outdoor couples’ cabanas, and steam rooms, saunas and whirlpools with lava stone walls, and private as well as co-ed relaxation areas with Basalt stone floors and rain showers, overlooking a taro patch garden. Most of the treatment rooms open to private outdoor shower gardens, while water walls and Hawaiian artwork are a unique presence throughout the public corridors.

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