Miraval Resort and Spa has hauled in the most awards from readers of travel magazines and websites than at any time in its 16-year history.
Its accolades include top-10 rankings in various categories in Trip Advisor, Travel + Leisure and SpaFinder, as well as a No. 21 ranking in Condé Nast Traveler.
Miraval president and general manager Michael Tompkins credits the success to the resort's strategy of investing during tough times rather than slashing personnel and services. Although the company did lay off 13 employees in 2008, Tompkins says the move was more about restructuring than cutting back.
The formula for success
In addition to consistently excellent service and low staff turnover, Tompkins says a major reason Miraval has found more success with reader-voted awards is the work of marketing supervisor Lauren Bloch, who oversees social media activity.
"People are using electronic media for just about everything when they travel," Tompkins says, crediting social media for helping Miraval receive recognition from competitions in which it never had much success, such as Trip Advisor. Using Twitter, Facebook and other sites, Miraval has been able to expand its marketing reach, pitching special deals and sales to travelers who follow the destination spa online.
Tompkins also says new services like Taiz Sensorium, which lets guests feel the physical vibrations of live music as they lie on massage tables, are turning heads. A reporter from The Wall Street Journal recently visited the spa to write about the service, he says.
Tompkins calls the awards "an important barometer on how we're doing in the product we sell" and says they reflect the efforts of his personnel.
He says Miraval gently encourages guests to think of them when voting for spas in awards - by doing things such as placing placards near the resorts computers - but doesn't market to guests or pressure them to vote.
Tompkins' goal, he says, is to make it to No. 1 on Condé Nast Traveler's rankings. Currently, the spa is ranked No. 21 in the mainland United States. Other Tucson-area resorts on the list include Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain at No. 23, Loews Ventana Canyon at No. 113, Canyon Ranch at No. 127 and JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa at No. 132.
Canyon Ranch topped Miraval in high-end travel magazine publisher Andrew Harper's list of top 20 resorts, placing first while Miraval finished second.
Harper's list is believed to be an objective source in the resort ratings field because it employs a journalist who travels incognito to review resorts. The company pays the journalist's expenses rather than accepting resort-paid trips.
Elite local competition
Susie Ellis of SpaFinder says Miraval's Crystal Award - a reader-voted award that this year spotlighted six out of the dozens of elite resorts worldwide - is impressive.
SpaFinder says USA Today and Forbes have ranked its site, spafinder.com - which lets users search for spas and travel packages - as the best website for spa travel. The organization also publishes the online magazine SpaFinder Lifestyle.
"They did extremely well," Ellis says. "That's a big deal."
Although reader-voted awards are by nature less than authoritative, the volume of responses makes it tougher for any resort to manipulate the results, Ellis says. Most publications base awards on reader voting.
"The good thing is, with so many people voting, it pretty much takes care of a few irregularities," Ellis says.
Tucson is one of the hottest resort spots on the continent, she says.
"Tucson always does extremely well, because you have these two fantastic destination spas that are, really, world famous in Miraval and Canyon Ranch," Ellis says. "I don't know of any other place in the world where two destinations are so close that have international prominence. I would say that's very unusual."
Although there's heavy competition among Tucson-area destination spas, there doesn't seem to be bitterness or jealousy.
"We're always flattered by and grateful for the awards we receive for all our properties, as well as the many 'aha moments' of our guests, and we congratulate Miraval on their recognition as well," Canyon Ranch representative Meredith Ford said via email.
• One of six of SpaFinder's Crystal Award Winners, October 2011.
• Nine top-10 appearances in SpaFinder's Readers' Choice Awards, October 2011.
• Ranked No. 4 in Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards, July 2011.
• Ranked No. 5 in Trip Advisor Traveler's Choice Awards, January 2011.
• Ranked No. 21 in Condé Nast Traveler 2011 Reader's Choice Awards, October 2011.
• Tucson Lifestyle Best of City Seal Awards, January 2011.
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at email@example.com or 573-4130.