U.S. Hot Springs Resort Leaders Discuss New Industry Trends
Geothermal resorts are experiencing a rapid resurgence with a positive outlook ahead.
by Vicky Nash, Founder and CEO
Resort Trends, Inc. | Hot Springs Connection Inc. | Hot Springs of America Inc.
Owners and operators of thermal mineral pools, spas and resorts gathered at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort in Paradise, Montana on May 17-20, 2021 for a conference appropriately named the Hot Springs Connection https://www.hotspringsconnection.com/conference/. More than 130 like-minded industry professionals from 22 states were in attendance, representing 44 different hot springs properties from coast-to-coast.
Established in 2018 by tourism communications professional Vicky Nash, the Hot Springs Connection conference is the first and only event designed specifically for owners and operators of thermal mineral water facilities. “This is an important collaboration to unify the hot springs resort industry in this country,” Nash said. “Together we can enhance public perception about our hot springs and create a variety of meaningful guest experiences.”
The sold-out event did a complete buy-out of Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort located one hour northwest of Missoula, Montana on the bank of the Clark Fork River surrounded by the Lolo National Forest. The property showcased the addition of their newly constructed pool area featuring a variety of soaking options at different temperatures surrounded by rock walls, waterfalls, and multi-colored lighting. “We are quite proud of the recent improvements to our historic property and were honored to host our industry colleagues,” said Ben Slusser, Vice President/Director of Operations. “This was a great opportunity for Montana to highlight the abundance of hot springs facilities in our state.”
The conference began late-afternoon on Monday, May 17, 2021 providing an opportunity to network at the opening reception. An extensive behind-the-scenes tour of Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort was conducted on Tuesday, May 18, along with presentations and group discussions. Interactive sessions continued Wednesday, May 19 and Thursday, May 20 ended with a field trip to the historic town of Hot Springs, Montana. Each evening allowed participants to soak together in the hot springs pools for some immersive dialogue.
With more than 30 speakers, a full spectrum of topics were covered. Exhibitors, vendors, suppliers and consultants were available throughout the entire event to discuss and demonstrate products and services.
Resort Design and Development
During the past year-and-a-half, many properties used their lockdown time very productively by implementing major improvements. Several new construction projects have been unveiled across the country. Restoration and revitalization of historic structures are the most prominent activity. Various renovations are maximizing and optimizing their onsite natural resources.
There are also several undeveloped parcels in conceptual stages. One of the conference seminars emphasized the importance of having a master plan in place particularly when working with the unique settings and special challenges of geothermal locations. Incorporating high quality design is imperative when creating extraordinary experiences.
Connecting with Nature
Discussions revolved around the industry outlook for design, products, treatments, hydrotherapy, and health, healing & wellness practices and how to successfully incorporate them into a facility. Guests are seeking more connections to nature. Converting an outdoor patio into a spa treatment area proved to be very successful. Providing more private spaces in individual soaking tubs, tents, domes and yurts is also gaining popularity.
Preserving the Past
Therapeutic soaking in mineral hot springs has a long history, particularly in Montana. A geothermal energy consultant and hot springs book author explained everything from early use of pools by the area’s Tribal people to the grandiose elegance of opulent resorts. To honor these traditions, a revolving historic photo slideshow was displayed on monitors throughout Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort.
Back-of-the-House Site Tours
A favorite activity at past conferences is the behind-the-scenes tour. This year’s participants got an up-close look at the brand new pools at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort and obtained in-depth knowledge on operating procedures. This was followed by a candid discussion about the entire construction process including the challenges.
Off-site, attendees had the opportunity to visit nearby Hot Springs, Montana. Founded in 1910 at the edge of the Flathead Indian Reservation, the town is named for the local geothermal waters that still bubble throughout the area. Hot Springs was famous in the late 1940s through the 1960s for a 21-day cure at the Camas Bathhouse complex operated by the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes. The town’s motto is still “Limp in, leap out.”
Natural geothermal water is much different than a typical municipal swimming pool. Unfortunately, there are no separate designations when it comes to regulations, therefore most hot springs resorts are required to adhere to standard chlorine requirements. The use of chlorine generally degrades the integrity of the water’s mineral content so many facilities would prefer not to introduce this chemical. Lively discussions commenced on how to influence legislation to alter chlorination requirements for hot springs facilities.
Through science-based guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) is the only all-inclusive national pool code that addresses current aquatic issues. An overarching goal for the hot springs industry is to establish new language within the MAHC specifically acknowledging and addressing geothermal mineral waters, their unique benefits and how they should be managed for public use and benefit.
Other sought-after technology-oriented improvements are automatic identification devices and systems including key cards, waterproof key wristbands, mobile key room activation, towel and linen inventory control, among others.
The group identified an urgent need for a seamless multi-faceted software management system designed specifically for the resort/hospitality industry, with a focus on locations that provide lodging, spa, athletic club, retail, food & beverage and activities.
Hydrology control is all about water quality, clarity, filtration and flow rates. An innovative process that utilizes oxygen, ozone and CO2 provides an intriguing alternative.
Distributing and moving water is another vital step. Selecting the right pump for the right job is critical.
The potential for capturing and utilizing geothermal energy is vast. Heat recovery technology is a viable and cost-effective means of using heat to generate power.
Advisers addressed increasing insurance costs and peers shared experiencing on drowning risks.
An expert in the areas of leadership, service innovation and motivation reviewed customer service and hospitality training techniques.
This question was posed during a roundtable, “What did your property successfully implement during the pandemic that will continue to be regular operating procedure?”
The number one response was requiring reservations with designated soaking times at specific increments. This ultimately reduced maximum capacity levels and actually provided a much better guest experience.
Pricing adjustments eliminated discounts and increased admission rates which ultimately increased revenues. Surprisingly, many hot springs resorts posted a record-breaking year in 2020.
Traditionally, patrons rent towels for daily use. The pandemic changed that model so guests were then given the option to purchase towels, thus adding another revenue stream and eliminating the need for laundry service.
One progressive Idaho owner described the Certified B Corp process and explained how his business focus is on diversity and sustainability.
Gaining momentum is one popular Montana manufacturer who replicates the mineral content of a particular spring then provides private-label packaging for resale. A variety of CBD retail products can also be customized. For eco-friendly options, buyers are selecting robes made from recycled plastic bottles as well as durable reusable sandals.
Collaboration and Resources
The directors of the Balneology Association of North America (BANA) https://www.balneology.org/ did a deep dive into the language of the waters to inform, educate and raise general awareness to the benefits found in mineral water bathing.
The newly formed U.S. Hot Springs Business & Trade Association https://hotspringsassociation.com/ provided an update on the evolution of this organization and how to participate.
On display was a very successful collaborative tourism marketing effort called the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop https://www.cohotspringsloop.com/ spearheaded by Vicky Nash.
The Hot Springs Connection just launched a new website called Hot Springs of America https://www.hotspringsofamerica.com/ which lists and maps every commercial hot springs facility in the United States.
There are numerous opportunities to get involved with international public relations campaigns, available to any organization at no cost:
- Global Wellness Institute – Hot Springs Initiative https://www.globalwellnessinstitute.org/hot-springs-initiative
- World Bathing Day on June 22 https://worldbathingday.org/
- World Wellness Weekend on September 18-19 https://www.world-wellness-weekend.org/
- Soakember on November 13 https://soakember.com/
Fun and Games
Professional water sommelier, Janet Abbott led a water tasting event where spectators sampled different waters and select favorites in the categories of Best Still, Best Sparkling, Presentation, Packaging and Message.
One Wyoming hot springs resort who produces microbrews onsite brought four varieties to sample.
What is the only state capitol building heated directly with hot water? Answer: Boise, Idaho. Everyone learned some geothermal trivia.
This may be the only conference in the United States where everyone soaked together every evening and pooled their ideas!
Overall, the Hot Springs Connection conference was highly inspirational with very positive interaction. This was the third in a series of events. The inaugural conference was held in Glenwood Springs, Colorado in 2018 followed by the second event in Palm Springs/Desert Hot Springs, California in 2019.