- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A selling point for a hotel in the District used to be so basic: “Close to Capitol” or “View of the White House” was good enough for most tourists.

These days, the District seems to be hosting a much more high-maintenance bunch. When the W Hotel opened in the Hotel Washington space on 15th Street Northwest last month, it brought along Bliss, the vaunted New York-based spa that can be found in most W hotels since the two signed a deal in 2004. This, however, is the only Bliss located between New York and Atlanta, giving the spa an upper hand for those seeking a triple oxygen treatment ($160) with their tour of the monuments.

“There has been a groundswell of attention in D.C., because there is nothing like Bliss here,” says Bliss spokeswoman Barbara Martin.

In a way, there is not. Bliss is not your mom’s Elizabeth Arden (which, by the way, is located across the street at the much more formal and old-school Willard InterContinental). Bliss is small and not all that fancy, in keeping with the boutique retro whimsy of the W. Sure, there is the ubiquitous spa lemon water, but it’s served alongside teeny squares of brownies from Washington’s Bread & Chocolate bakery. Because what’s indulgence without a little, well, indulgence?

Bliss may come at pampering from a different angle, but all over town, the idea is catching on. At the Mandarin Oriental in Southwest, the signature Cherry Blossom Ritual ($330) combines an antioxidant foot scrub, hot-stone massage and cherry tea for the complete D.C. experience. Four Seasons in Georgetown, the Capital Oasis package (massage, Naturopathica facial, body treatment and lunch; $485) is popular. Across the river at the new Lorien Hotel & Spa in Alexandria, guests are going for the $200 Rejuvenating Caviar Dream Creme Facial, says Paige Dunn, regional director of sales and marketing for Kimpton’s Lorien Hotel and Spa.

“Having spa amenities really has added value to hotels,” Ms. Dunn says. “It is one more reason to book that hotel.”

Rebecca Pawlowski, spokeswoman for DestinationDC, says spa amenities definitely are a new selling point for Washington hotels. Spas formerly were thought of as resort perks. In the past few years, they have become part of the package for city tourists.

“What we have tried to do is position a level of service so you can come here and have a wonderful, relaxing experience, but also go to museums,” she says. DestinationDC, the city’s nonprofit travel and tourism marketer, highlights the spa factor on its LuxeDC guide, marketed toward meeting and event planners as well as individual travelers. Clearly, this is a market that can weather a travel slowdown with $100 pedicures.

“Spas give hotels an edge,” Ms. Pawlowski says. “D.C. has a balance between leisure and business travelers, and when looking at occupancy this year, D.C. has not been affected by the [economic] slowdown.”

Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder.com, says city hotels that feature spas are indeed a trend of the past few years. Forty percent of luxury lodging opened since 2006 features a spa. Before that, the number was 27 percent, Ms. Ellis says.

“Any five-star property, even a four-star property, needs one,” she says. “It makes a big difference. The consumer wants it, and the hotels get a premium on the rooms if they offer it.”

Ms. Ellis says the addition of Washington’s new hotel spas definitely increases the city’s profile as a destination.

“D.C. is pretty cutting-edge,” she says. “Luxury hotel spas are clearly a trend in New York and D.C. now.”

Fueling the trend is the appeal of hotel spas to locals. The “staycation” is alive and well in Washington, Ms. Dunn says.

“We are getting a lot of locals checking in,” she says of the Lorien, which opened in February. “I talked to a guest the other day and asked where she was from. She told me she lived here but just wanted to get out of her apartment and get room service.”

And, perhaps, a lavender body scrub.

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