July/August 2004  



“Fifty percent of therapists quit the industry within five years of completing their training … This is the first time these therapists have been treated like healthcare professionals.”

Dramatic changes are in store for the whole massage/body treatment services world if the new Cortiva Group has its way. Headed up by an executive team and Board of Directors that includes the former president of McDonald’s biggest division, the former CEO of Blockbuster and CEO of Wal-Mart’s Stores Division and the former president and CEO of St. Regis Hotels and Resorts, the company is establishing a national spa services network available anytime, anywhere for hotels, spas, health clubs, medical facilities and residential communities.

Spa Review interviewed Alan Clingman, chairman and CEO of Cortiva Group, and Tristina D’Amico, the 17-year massage therapist, spa director and educator who is charged with the training and screening of therapists. Her credentials include the Peninsula Hotel, Hotel W, the Sports Club in LA, Georgette Klinger; and she has taught mini-courses at Vassar.

Clingman said the heavy hitters involved in Cortiva are there because they see a very unusual situation. “We have an opportunity to do what Starbucks did for coffee,” Clingman stated. It’s very unusual except in technology to find a proven category that is not consolidated,” he added. “People spend more on spas then on movies, yet it remains a fragmented industry.”

Cortiva was founded on the premise that the $14 billion spa services industry lacks both a systemic and a qualitative approach to such critical fundamentals as education, training, standards and practices. “Believe it or not, people spend more on spas than on movies,” Clingman noted.

Another prime reason for the company’s formation is the mission to provide anytime, anywhere access to personalized spa services, based on the lifestyle needs of modern consumers. They contend that any space can be transformed into a “virtual spa services treatment room,” with the corollary that it is the expertise of the therapist that defines the quality of the experience.

However, Cortiva is not likely to be found in lower end hotels, spas, etc., simply because of the quality and price level. “One of the reasons we are able to provide top services is that we pay the therapists well, and the host hotels, etc., get a percentage,” Clingman says.

This is the first time these therapists have found a place that treats them like healthcare professionals,” Clingman said. “We are able to get very highly trained, qualified therapists for this reason. Fifty percent of them quit the industry within five years of completing their training because they can’t make a comfortable living.

“A high quality anywhere, anytime service is invaluable to hotels, too, because they otherwise have to dedicate space, hire staff, etc. ”The hotels, spas, etc. have a tough time predicting their demand. So we are the third party that can supply what is necessary at both ends,” Clingman noted.

A 90-minute wait is the maximum for appointments; hotels are advising guests when they make their reservations and some, like the Chambers, are offering accommodation/massage packages. In boutique hotels, including the Wales, massage is coupled with teatime and other signature programs, and Cortiva is developing special treatments for mothers-to-be, couples, etc.

Cortiva is currently in 3% of hotel rooms in New York including the city’s largest, the Hilton N.Y.; they project being in 30% within the next 6 months.

“We are starting with the hotels, with the New York tristate area in the early stages.  We are working with insurance companies as well New York to set up partnerships,” Clingman stated. Cortiva is currently in 3% of hotel rooms in New York including the city’s largest, the Hilton N.Y.; they project being in 30% within the next 6 months.

He said potential partners are quick to recognize the varying hours and needs of clients, and welcome a quality service that can meet them. “People check in at night and often find a hotel spa closed; they need a credentialed person who can come when they need them.”

To be hired by Cortiva, therapists must be licensed, educated at a top school and go through an interview, background check and practical test before receiving Cortiva’s special training, D’Amico said; they are fully bonded. They continue to receive training while they work for Cortiva to keep their skills sharp and expand their knowledge

One of the key areas they are not affecting is the creative individuality of each therapist in the treatment itself. “The talent has to be expressed; what we want to do is set it in a branded, predictable standard, “ said D’Amico.

“We are also looking at medical facilities, with outpatient services for hospitals, nursing homes, etc., services for professional athletes, etc.

Partly because of the stringent standards and the ambitious plans, Clingman said the company has a steady stream of applicants through word of mouth. “We are hiring only one out of ten and we have a waiting list,” Clingman said. “We have stopped advertising for therapists because we already have 10-15 applicants a day for the New York area operation.

One of the ways they will guarantee quality is by training their own therapists. The company has acquired the first of a number of planned educational institutions: the Somerset School of Massage Therapy in Somerset and Wall Township, NJ. They point out that there is very little consistency in academic, practical and licensing requirements for massage therapy, which has different requirements from state to state. Cortiva proposes to set a national standard.

In addition to the hotel initiative, Cortiva is working with corporations; they recently provided 300 chair massages for a company’s staff appreciation day. “The therapists reported that many of these people had never had a massage before, Clingman said. “When you consider that back pain is the second biggest cause of absenteeism and that massage can alleviate that stress, the whole idea makes a great deal of sense.”

At the elegant Chambers Hotel in midtown Manhattan Cortiva’s massage products were on display; massage products, developed by an Ayurevdeic doctor, massage therapist and aromatherapist uses ingredients from the Mojave Desert. They have an essential oil wrap, a sun care line including a lavender wrap with aloe and bath salts. There is minimal preservative in the facial moisturizer and they do no animal testing. Eventually products will be available on their Website.

One of their treatments, The Traveler Unraveler, is a rejuvenating experience that can be customized for sleep or stimulation for the next business meeting or appointment.

My therapist, Carrie Kaskinen, introduced herself, asked about injuries or sensitivities and gave me my choice of massage oils, explaining the properties of each. She gave me an hour-long massage on an extremely comfortable table, a little larger than the norm. While I was still covered by the sheet she gave some firm, gentle pressure that D’Amico explained is a trademark of Cortiva.
“People are usually out of synch when they get a massage, chatting or tense, and by doing this we sensitize them to their bodies and give them the most effective use of the time.

The massage quality was excellent, with requests for feedback concerning pressure and depth and very sensitive, thorough technique. Kaskinen was very considerate and careful of protecting client privacy during position changes and used her particular style of massage, which involves Reiki elements. The massage oils are so light that they could be left on the body overnight, although of course the room had complete bath facilities. The modernist luxury of the Chambers made this one of the most magnificent treatment rooms ever, and left an atmosphere of relaxation and well being in the room after the treatment was finished.

The 60-minute Traveler Unraveller is priced at $155; classic massage is $145 and deep tissue therapy is $155. Most hour-long treatments fall into the $145-155 range, with 90-minute treatments priced between $215 and $225. To contact Cortiva, call (866) CORTIVA.




© 2004 Spa Review Magazine