Spa at airport a trend toward upscale retailers

Goal is to have high-end brands, more amenities

Out on Concourse C at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, 15 soft, yellow, leather recliners wait to pamper passengers as they await their next flight out of the ATL.

In a retail space bright with light from windows overlooking the tarmac, XpresSpa hopes the indignities and distractions that have become commercial flight can melt away at Hartsfield's first full-service spa.

XpresSpa, next to gate C36, has a small army of manicurists and masseurs ready to work to put minds and aching shoulders at ease. The spa opened earlier this month.

The new salon — set to be one of five at the world's busiest airport — is part of Hartsfield's latest retail makeover.

John Cugasi, the airport's concessions manager, said 90 retail spaces, or about half of the airport's retailers, will change during a yearlong effort to bring comforting amenities and more high-end brands to the nearly 45 million travelers who spend time at Hartsfield-Jackson every year.

Names like Brooks Brothers and Brighton Collectibles have already appeared, along with a Georgia Aquarium store called Beyond the Reef. Another new arrival is a first-in-the-nation airport Blackberry store, on Concourse B near the just-opened Lacoste store.

Blackberry salesman Brett Boike said he's been surprised by the number of new phone activations — especially popular with folks in the military. The most popular items? The travel charger, he said, followed by Blackberry "skins" — or plastic phone covers.

But it's the spas that bring the newest twist to Hartsfield-Jackson's retail scene.

Some airports have had spas for years, but XpresSpa is Hartsfield's first foray into such creature comforts. It won't be the last.

Opening soon are another XpresSpa on Concourse A, a Self-Center Spa on Concourse D and a Jakki Colours salon in the atrium. The salon is an airport-first by Jakki Dee, who owns a Buckhead salon.

"One of our objectives is supporting the healthy lifestyles of our travelers," said Cugasi, "with more healthful food and services travelers have been asking for."

So far, says Solomon Crayton, general manager of the XpresSpa chain, business has been swift.

As he talked, female travelers slowed as the "spa" sign caught their eye. Many stopped in to get treatments.

Got luggage? Not a problem. The spa saved space to store bulky bags while fliers get their nails done, legs waxed or skin hydrated.

There are two private rooms for full body massages, which cost $120 for an hour.

Headed to Aruba? No problem. A bikini wax runs $35.

Need new nail polish applied before Mother's Day? A manicure is $20.

Pat Pardee, who was returning to Tulsa, Okla., from Puerto Rico, got one recently.

"I was trying to figure out how I was going to get my nails done before Easter," she said, sporting a fresh coat of nail polish.

Cugasi said he expects the spas to bring in more than $2 million in annual revenue each.

In 2008, the airport produced $700 million in gross revenues from food, beverage, retail and car rental concessionaires.

Hartsfield gets about $100 million of that of that in rent, Cugasi said.

XpresSpa has 29 locations in U.S. airports — including six at New York's JFK, where the chain was founded in a former smoking lounge. A defining feature is the chain's lounger chair, developed in Hong Kong with a patented technology, said Crayton. Manicures and pedicures are given from a reclining position.

Business traveler Ashley Seybold was returning to Tulsa from Montgomery recently when she treated herself to a neck and back massage.

"It was great," said the 25-year-old. "Do they serve alcohol? That would make it even better."