Spa stones and candlesThe substitution of Canyon Ranch for Steiner Leisure as the spa provider on Celebrity Cruises should strengthen the cruise line’s appeal to a coveted passenger segment.

It is also a sign of resurgence in the $14 billion spa business after several tough years.

Travelers who value health and wellness and who visit destination spas are more likely to pick Celebrity as their cruise line now that Arizona-based Canyon Ranch is onboard, agents said.

“That is an upscale brand normally associated with upscale lines like Regent [Seven Seas],” said Rosie Flanagan, a Virtuoso agent in Keller, Texas, who specializes in spa trips.

Flanagan said that when confronted with similar itineraries on Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises or Holland America Line, spa-conscious travelers could view the Canyon Ranch brand as a tiebreaker.

Whether Canyon Ranch will enable Celebrity to command a higher ticket price is uncertain, Flanagan added, but travel agents could play a role in getting more revenue from qualified customers.

“It’s up to us to upsell because of the name brand,” she said.

Canyon Ranch has run a destination spa in Tucson, Ariz., since 1979. It opened an East Coast counterpart in 1989 in Lenox, Mass., and also has spas at resorts in Las Vegas and Miami Beach.

Flanagan said it can cost $1,100 a day to stay at the flagship property. She said the spa’s standards “are really five-star.”

The spa’s bevy of treatments include massage, skin care, facial, nail and body treatments as well as yoga and meditation classes. On ships, it oversees fitness centers, saunas, steam rooms, juice bars and full-service beauty salons.

“The cruise business has been a wonderful platform for us,” said Peter Smith, Canyon Ranch’s COO.

Canyon Ranch got a foothold in the cruise industry in 2004 with the debut of Cunard Line’s groundbreaking Queen Mary 2. It continues to operate a 20,000-square-foot spa on that ship and picked up the concession for Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent of Oceania and Regent Seven Seas, in 2009.

Smith said he’s been approached by other cruise lines but didn’t think the opportunity was right until now. The agreement with Celebrity will more than double Canyon Ranch’s presence at sea, from nine ships to 19. Smith said it was important to choose the right partner.

“We’re not going to put our brand at risk,” he said.

Smith said he thought that Celebrity and Canyon Ranch were a good fit because they both cater to well-off customers, have innovative strategies and brand-loyal customers.

In addition, Celebrity has “AquaClass” cabins on each of its ships that are targeted to spa-goers. They are adjacent to the spa and have guaranteed access to Blu, an alternative restaurant serving “clean cuisine.” They also come with extra bath amenities and access to the spa’s Persian Garden and, on newer ships, a relaxation room.

Smith said Canyon Ranch’s edge is the holistic approach it takes to wellness that includes nutrition, relaxation, brain health and lifestyle changes as well as traditional spa treatments.

“The real heart of Canyon Ranch begins with fitness,” he said.

The spa business contracted after the 2008 financial meltdown, going from 20,600 U.S. locations in 2009 to 19,850 in 2012. Now, Smith and others are hoping the worst is behind and the time is ripe for growth.

Canyon Ranch has a formidable competitor in the company it succeeded at Celebrity, Steiner Leisure Ltd.

For 2012 the publicly traded firm reported $53 million in net income on revenue of $811 million. It has spas on 146 ships and 69 land locations, and an additional 28 spas are operated by third parties under its brand names, such as Mandara and Bliss.

Steiner spas are on 24 Carnival Cruise Lines ships, 22 Royal Caribbean International ships, 16 Princess Cruises ships and 15 Holland America Line ships, as well as on 14 other lines.

Travel agents say there are several difference between Steiner and Canyon Ranch beyond perceived prestige. One is that Canyon Ranch is less relentless in its marketing.

“They take a softer sales approach,” said Angela Turen, president of Churchill & Turen, which has offices in Naperville, Ill., and Naples, Fla. “Steiner is much more hard-core.”

Canyon Ranch therapists are less likely to wind up a session with a sales pitch for other treatments and products, Turen said.

Another difference is that agents who prebook spa appointments on cruises where Canyon Ranch operates the spa deal directly with a dedicated reservationist at Canyon Ranch. Flanagan said that provides reassurances that the booking will be recorded correctly for the right day and the proper treatment.

Flanagan also said the Canyon Ranch name means more to Americans because it is based in the U.S., whereas Steiner was founded in London and is based in the Bahamas.

The handoff from Steiner to Canyon Ranch will start March 6 on the Celebrity Century and be phased in over six weeks. It will finish up April 14 on the Celebrity Equinox.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.

Spa photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
Clarification: Oceania is among the cruise lines that currently have Canyon Ranch spas aboard their ships.

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