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In the Blossoming Land of Manicures and Men

“Shave and a haircut, two bits.” Of course, I'm far too young to recall the jaunty melody that goes with that ditty, but I am old enough to remember when that verse pretty much summed up how much time and money men were willing to spend on “spa” services. Nowadays, though, it looks like the good ol' boys are changing their tune.

In my January column I asked industry insiders for their forecasts for the coming year. A boom in male clientele numbered among the top three trends mentioned.

“Our spa has seen a dramatic increase in men experiencing facial treatments,” reported Bruce Taylor, director of spa operations for the Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa. “We provided more than 1,300 men's facials this past year. Exfoliation treatments are becoming more popular with men as well.”

The evidence of the men's trend is more than just anecdotal. According to a recent industry consumer survey, 29 percent of visitors to hotel or resort spas in 2003 were men. The percentage of men using day spa services are even higher with men accounting for as much as 50 percent in some metro spas.

What took them so long? Once these “spa virgins,” as spa branding consultant Kim Marshall refers to them, realized the pampering and benefits they'd been missing, they worked up the courage to face the menu all by their lonesomes.

Throw in the dynamic of reality makeover shows such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover that have convinced us that anyone can and most likely should improve their appearance with an aging Baby Boomer generation and pretty soon you have a full-blown trend.

The second — and crucial — part of the equation is that spas owners, architects, designers and consultants quickly responded to the fledgling fad by developing programs, therapies and facilities specifically with guys in mind.

“In our resorts, our guests are great enthusiasts for golf or skiing,” explained Anne McCall-Wilson, manager of Fairmont spas. “Our golf facial and our exclusive facial masque for outdoor enthusiasts helps take care of the skin for an avid golfer. Our golf or ski performance massage helps our guests limber up before or recover from over exercise and without the occasional soreness that a deep tissue or sports massage might have.”

Soon, spas of every persuasion were beefing up to appeal to masculine tastes.

“A men's suite such as the Dusting Room at Thermae Spa in Menlo Park [CA] is a must-have feature in any spa because men don't want to have their nails done sitting alongside a woman. They want a private environment where they feel comfortable — forget the aromatherapy, New Age music and pastels,” spa consultant Jill Batterson-Taylor said.

At the Vita di Lago spa at the Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas, the lake and mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for the glassed-in fitness center, but Ritz Carlton executive Bonnie Crail notes that male guests are often more attracted to what's showing on ESPN.

High rollers can avail themselves of many men-only services at the recently opened 55,000-square-foot spa and salon at the Bellagio Las Vegas including gender-specific treatment rooms, boxing classes in the Bamboo Studio and Oriental foot massage (where the therapist holds onto bars suspended from the ceiling and uses her feet to perform the massage). The facility also features a men's lounge with a balcony overlooking the swimming pool, easy access to the casino's sport's book — and, of course, big screen TVs.

“Women come to a spa for quiet, rest, contemplation — to get away from it all,” Marshall said. “Men like to hang out together. They'll stick around the lounge all day.”

Men are masters of a private domain on the Bellagio's salon level as well.

“The Barber Shop has antique barber chairs and even a Russian barber who offers signature services such as the Royal Shave,” said Spa Director Michelle Wilkos. She then described a treatment that provides a professional shave and a facial that includes application of a “rose desert clay, calendula extract and almond and jojoba oil mask” followed by a cleansing with “natural sea sponges soaked in lemon essential oils.”

Of course, inevitably men and women will find their way back into each other's company. So, now that the industry has tamed both the male and female of the species, where do we grow from here? Well, just ask yourself what usually transpires when buff, well-groomed dudes hook up with silky-skinned, supple-limbed damsels? That's right, babies happen, and then who has time to spend at a spa? The whole family, that's who, thanks to Disney World's new Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa that provides pampering for mom and dad, and My First Manicure, My First Pedicure and My First Facial to those world-weary toddlers age four and up.

Polly Johnson is vice president for SpaEquip Corporate Accounts Division. Formerly known as Hydro Spa Consulting, SpaEquip offers technical spa consultants during the design phase and are a FF&E and OS&E procurement company for many of the world's finest destination and resort spas.

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