In search of hotel excellence: Lake Austin Spa Resort

Representing the pinnacle of Texan hospitality, Lake Austin Spa Resort (LASR) is a 40-room lakeside sanctuary tucked just outside of the greater Austin area – a rapidly growing city in its own right as more and more tech companies flock to the booming Silicon Plains region.

I’ve known Janis Clapoff, managing director of LASR, for going on three decades now – first at Four Seasons Inn on the Park, followed by Topnotch in Vermont, then San Ysidro Ranch and Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in California – and I was elated to reconnect with her during my latest trip to Austin. With its innovative wellness focus, the resort is on the cusp of a new industry trend by designing all-inclusive activities to fill guests’ days. The following interview elucidates her approach to wellness and what makes LASR exceptional in this niche.

Janis Clapoff, managing director of Lake Austin Spa Resort
Janis Clapoff, managing director of Lake Austin Spa Resort

Tell us about the growing importance of wellness in hospitality.

More and more, people are choosing wellness as a lifestyle choice. Wellness is becoming an all-encompassing way of being, including how you eat, exercise, dress, shop, play and travel. Destination resorts are attracting people of all ages who want wellness in every aspect of their lives, from one-on-one consultations about nutrition and functional body analyses to interactive fitness classes and outdoor adventures.

Travelers want creative and conscientious cuisine that’s also healthful and exciting. They want to hear about nutrition and organic gardening. They want thoughtful, integrative body treatments in a beautiful spa. Sometimes all they want is to lie in a hammock and read a book amidst a tranquil environment. Whereas wellness resorts were long targeted to help you with ailments or weight loss, now they are sought after as vacation spots for couples, social groups and solo travelers looking for a healthy yet fulfilling getaway from their frenetic daily routines.

What truly comprises a wellness resort?

A wellness resort is comprised of healthy choices – a plethora of programs and activities, delicious cuisine, outdoor adventures, a world-class spa, highly accredited staff, a beautiful environment and a clear message woven throughout the property that speaks to a certain state of mind. Everyone can benefit from a wellness-focused rest, where we recommend a minimum of three nights so all guests have the opportunity to really unwind and destress. A one or two-night refresher sometimes works wonders for someone in need of just that, though.

How do you sell this and who is the target market?

We have a very large repeat client base that we communicate with on a regular basis. We are reaching many younger customers through our extensive social media marketing campaigns that are matched by our stellar public relations outreach. Our target market for this is a sophisticated traveler who understands the benefits of healthy living and who is willing to make it a priority. We offer an inclusive experience to our guests, and oftentimes they figure out on their own that, if they were to go to a regular hotel and spend money on each incremental activity or meal, their nightly rate would actually cost them much more. We thus offer a great value, and you cannot put a price on our location by the water.

I always thought of “spa food” as tofu, kombucha and lettuce leaves. But you’ve corrected me!

We place a tremendous importance on our culinary program; our menus must be exciting, flavorful and healthy. At the same time, we educate by having cooking and nutrition classes. Much of the produce served comes from our own organic gardens. We also offer daily and weekly tours so that there are connections made, as this is an integral part of the guest experience.

We profess to be creative leaders in “conscientious cooking” whereby our executive chef – of French background and training – cooks with traditional techniques while infusing the fare with local flavors. We’re not afraid of using the good stuff like butter, cream or cheese, just we limit the portion sizes while still keeping our focus on presenting a plate that’s satisfying, artfully prepared and, most of all, delicious. To the surprise of our guests, we also have wine and beer available – where again, our belief is that you can have a little of everything when in moderation.

How does your business split between male and female guests?

For many years, the spa world in the United States was seen predominantly as a “female activity” or a place to be pampered, instead of the European mindset where spas were always viewed as a therapeutic abode for the wealthy, regardless of gender.

Over the past decade, however, it has become clear that spas cater to both men and women equally. Men are very attracted to the various body treatments such as muscle tension relief, sports massage, acupuncture, facials and hot shaves. We are now attracting quite an increased percentage of male guests as couples are finding that there are many different activities that satisfy each individual, and then afterwards they can both enjoy a couple’s massage to wind down the day.

How do you differentiate LASR from larger spa venues?

Firstly, LASR is an intimate resort situated on a mesmerizing body of water; this environment alone lets people unwind and relax. Science has proven that connecting with water is good for our health. Hence, we complement this sense of place with hammocks along the shore as well as water activities such as kayaking, sculling, hydro-biking, stand-up paddle boarding. Secondly, we are in the South, meaning that we naturally attract very warm, hospitable and caring individuals to work here. Everyone knows our guests by name and one never feels like another number, as you might in a larger facility.

Describe your “digital detox” initiative.

It starts at check-in where we inform people that we are a cellphone-free environment. We then have subtle hints throughout the property such as a “cellphone sleeping bag” in each room. All that being said, it is still a difficult task to undertake in our digital age; we try to assist people in disconnecting but understand if they need time to wean themselves off of their personal devices.

How do you do to personalize each guest’s stay?

Every morning we have a very important stand-up meeting with all pertinent department heads to discuss who is coming, when they were last here, their special dietary or other needs, their estimated time of arrival and who will be able to greet them. We then treat our guests the same way we want to be treated when we go on vacation where we strive to meet all their needs before they even realize they might need something.