Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why are Spas in top hotel chains NOT better?

I am constantly asked why the Spas at prestigious hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons, Sofitel, etc…are very average (if not entirely mediocre) and why it is that their financial results range from poor to horrible. Very simply put, these companies know their hotel business and do an excellent job at managing and operating the hotel services, including the Food and Beverage part of their business; but when it comes to Spas they do not have a clue as to where to start!

As these large hotel chains are corporate-minded, they proceed to seek out experts in the field, which sounds good; but in order to identify who is knowledgeable and who is blowing smoke, you have to have a minimum of knowledge yourself…which they do not have. So they end up hiring B.S. artists who know how to play the corporate game and make them believe that they are experts! We have had in our training seminars some of the so-called top Spa directors from these companies. As a rule, since these seminars are custom designed to help these people do a better job in their position, we have them take a general knowledge test of about 50 questions. To this day not one got more than 23% on this test! Hardly what you would call an expert level!

In general, a lot of these people come from F&B, sometimes from the front office staff, and sometimes from the fitness industry; yet none of these fields have anything to do with what a Spa in a hotel should be! Their technical knowledge is at best textbook knowledge. In some cases, the candidate invests in schooling at an esthetics or a massage school in order to feature a professional license on their resume. However, many times they have never really practiced and therefore bring to the table only a vague idea of what these services are all about. As a result, they often carry into their jobs mostly erroneous notions of treatments and managerial skills which can be best described as Mom and Pop level, needless to say totally inadequate. Most of the time they will join an association such as ISPA thinking that the association will give them the clout of expertise that it pretends to have; and, there again, it is the blind leading the blind. These types of associations are mostly self-admiration societies who are happy to refer to the same ill-informed people to set the example and to provide guidance. ISPA claims to be the Voice of the Industry? There are some 300,000 workers in the Spa Industry in the U.S. and there are only 3000 members of the association? Not so impressive; only 1%!



  1. I believe that if you rise above its nipping tone, this post raises some very valid discussion points, Raoul. Two people who are knowledgeable about both the spa and hotel environments could sit down and have some very good discourse around the ideas you raise.

    It's unfortunate though that in your attempt to elevate this discussion, you make such liberal use of inaccuracies, hyberbole, and self-serving statements. What an unfortunate and severe spirit of conversation the post brings to the industry and its professionals at all levels. Not to mention to the potential partners with whom, I can only assume, your firm wishes to serve.

    I have a feeling that there is an intelligent conversation to be had here; it just didn't begin that way.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. "Cara's comment has been deleted above and will be re-inserted below per her request to protect the name of a certain hotel chain." ASM Administration.

  4. Cara said, "Ryan, I totally agree with Raoul!

    The hotel industry is ruining the spa profession. I was employed by “a certain hotel chain” as a massage therapist. I and 10 other MTs were treated poorly by pretentious hotel hot shots looking to renovate and re-staff the new Spa at “un-named hotel chain”. The health club spa manager was demoted but they made her an offer to become the head massage therapist and facialist. She was hurried off skin care school. Upon her return, she had no clue about spa etiquette or client consultations of that nature. She gave massages (sometimes 10 or 12 day), without any real education or any conditioning of the forearm muscles. Her massages must have been very light not very effective.

    In fact, the head concierge at “un-named hotel chain” appointed herself as the one who would audition any new massage therapists looking for employment within the hotel! She didn’t have a clue on how to audition massage therapists. She simply had seniority and talked the clueless hotel GM into believing she could staff that whole department. Imagine that?

    When an “un-named hotel chain” guest would ask for a treatment on the spa’s menu that required specific training such as Shiatsu or Reflexology, most of these newly hired massage therapists faked reflexology or shiatsu treatments simply because it wasn’t mandatory for them to attend a continuing education. There was positively no order in that spa. The new “Spa Director” was someone who worked previously as the hotel’s PBX operator."

  5. More from Cara, “un-named hotel chain” had burned so many bridges with all of the surrounding legitimate massage schools, that they were forced to hire MTs from a massage school that also taught personal training and bartending all rolled into one.

    One of the spa’s desk attendants decided to take a weekend class as an introduction to massage therapy given in someone’s basement. He learned the basics of draping, applying oil, etc. When he got back to the spa, they made him a massage therapist instantly. Despicable! He was doing pregnancy massages, and cracking people’s backs without any training. This went on for years in that hotel.

    One of the massage therapists on staff brought her massage therapy credentials in so the Spa Director could see them. Guess what? Those licenses and certificates were stolen out of the spa (by another spa therapist) never to be found. A police report was filed and hotel security was told to ignore the chaos in the spa.

    In October of 2009, I had one of the worst massages ever at a “un-named hotel chain” in Austin, Texas. It was such a terrible treatment that I stopped the therapist and told her not to continue anymore. It was awful. I felt like telling her, "why bother?" I even let her know that I am also a massage therapist (I was in town for an ISPA conference). The strokes were sloppy and half heartedly done. I realize it was later in the evening and she probably didn't feel like staying to perform my treatment.

    I booked an 80 minute treatment. But I kept wondering, “is she going to get started and work out the knots?" I kept trying to think of a way to get out of this massage because it was so bad; I wasn't going to tolerate it any longer. I told her I felt sick and called off the massage at that point. She seemed almost relieved because she was the one who said, "Do you just wanna forget the rest of the massage?" When I reached the front desk to pay, I told them the truth.

    This massage therapist had a heads up before we began the treatment that I was also in the business. She proceeded to give me a careless massage. The treatment was promoted at a discounted rate because I was a conference attendee. I think that's another reason she gave such a disconnected treatment that lacked fluidity in the strokes and the initiative to work out the knots.

    I told the spa director and he sort of defended her, saying, "We've never had a complaint about her." I told him "if she had auditioned like that for a job at my spa, I wouldn't have hired her."