The Spa Life as Career Path

Is it ever possible to please all the people all the time?

Maybe not, but if any business comes close, it is probably the spa industry, which specializes in making people feel happy, healthy and, perhaps above all, hopeful that life after their spa experience will be better. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out the extent that today’s spas are willing to go to woo, soothe, educate, stimulate and entertain guests, noting that leading spas offer help on everything from chakra balancing to art therapy, spirituality to sexuality. “Nothing is off-limits, as spas have become our gurus on mountaintops, places to go for relaxation, pampering and now enlightenment” (“Illuminate, Exfoliate,” Valli Herman, February 24, 2008).

As the spa industry continues to grow (at a rate of 13% in 2006), and consumers become increasingly knowledgeable about wellness benefits, spa opportunities—especially if you love people and have a passion for wellness—are greater than ever.

A Plethora of Opportunities

According to the International Spa Association ISPA, the U.S. spa industry employs more than 230,000 people. About half are full-time employees, and 18% work on a contract basis. ISPA offers a variety of career training tools, including a Spa Professional Career Guide and a spa management certification course (see www.experienceispa.com).

Jeff Kohl, veteran spa expert, former ISPA board member and now a sales and marketing manager with Precor Inc. in Woodinville, Washington, agrees that the outlook is rosy. “I can’t count the number of calls I get from spas looking for staff. There’s a labor shortage in the industry, across the board. In fact, to meet the need, several major universities are starting to incorporate spa management into their curriculums.” Kohl is optimistic about the industry’s future growth, in part because of the aging Baby Boomers, but also because of the 19- to 25-year-old market. “They appreciate taking care of themselves, and I envision it will be a strong market with continuing growth potential.”

David-Dorian Ross is the wellness manager for Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach, California, and has consulted for a wide range of world-renowned spas. “There are many different kinds of opportunities. You can work as a fitness or wellness manager. You can be a permanent full-time staff person who teaches classes, works as a personal trainer or watches the fitness center floor. Another option is to come in on an adjunct or on-call basis to teach classes, offer lifestyle coaching or personal training. There are crossover areas if you’re multi-talented: you could be a massage therapist and a personal trainer, for example, and build your clientele by cross-referring your guests into both areas.”

Ross notes that life coaching is a hot new topic, but cautions that many hotels and spas do not really understand it. “I think there will be a lot of growth in this area in spas in the next 5 years, but [as a coach, you will] have to offer education [about what you do]. You can give in-house programs as a way of introducing yourself. Or you can create internal wellness or fitness programs for spa or hotel employees, to get yourself known.”

As Ross sees it, chances for employment abound in all types of spas. “Of course there are wonderful opportunities at destination spas, because guests come with an end goal in mind and are there for a longer period of time. However, [day spas] are very unexplored territory--there are a lot of possibilities for life coaching and offering classes. Resort and hotel spas also have many areas of education and training that could be introduced by a creative wellness professional.”

Ross explains that simple spa economics is likely to drive innovation and growth in the industry. “As spas become more competitive, they start maxing out at how many people they can put into salons for haircuts, or pack into treatment rooms. The fitness center becomes prime real estate. Wellness programs offer unlimited opportunities from a revenue-generating standpoint, and they can be done outdoors or even in the lobby.”

For the right person, spas can offer a unique and long-lasting career. “Most of our fitness staff have been here 5-25 years,” says Trish Martin, fitness director at the original Golden Door spa in Escondido, California. “As people age, they find new skills and interests to offer to guests. People who work here really evolve. The guests may come and go, but you’re here, and it becomes more than a job. It’s a wellness lifestyle—a whole way of life.”

Mary Monroe is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

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