Being a Spa Director

Imagine working in a spa – such a serene atmosphere full of smiling professional staff. Easy life, right? We go behind the scenes and find out what leading a spa is really about

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Imagine working in a spa – such a serene atmosphere full of smiling professional staff. Easy life, right? We go behind the scenes and find out what leading a spa is really about

Jane Wang, spa director at W Hong Kong
Jane Wang, spa director at W Hong Kong

“Ten years ago, when I was Director of Bliss at the W Hong Kong, firstly people would be amazed there was a male spa director,” says Kent Richards, currently corporate operations director (Spas – Global) at Six Senses Hotels, Resorts & Spas. “Secondly they assumed I just made sure the treatments were done well and people felt good all day.” 

In the past, spas were seen as beauty, massage and nail emporiums. Today’s wider concept encompasses health, fitness and nutrition, as well as the recognition that they can positively influence hotel occupancy and room rates, has resulted in the development of a spa director’s role, bringing more responsibility and respect. 

In Macau, Connie Pong Sau Chung, the recent winner of the BMW Award of ‘Wellness and Spa Hotelier of the Year 2016’, is senior manager spa & leisure at City of Dreams overlooking Crown Spa, Rock Spa and pre-opening at the spa at Zaha Hadid’s upcoming Morpheus Hotel. After daily briefings with other department heads, her to-do list includes site inspections, meetings, paperwork, inter-department liaising, recruitment, budgeting, marketing, planning and brainstorming for upcoming promotions and events, plus ROI, KPI, capture rates and client satisfaction. 

However, it was Chung going beyond her role, particularly in mentoring her staff and turning around revenue, that led to her award nomination. “Even though I have a spa manager and supervisor, I need to spend a lot of time overseeing operations”, she says. “If you want to maintain the standard required by Forbes then you need to check everything.” 

The spa director’s role liaising between the owner and management company is one of the most challenging aspects of the job, says Richards. Jane Wang is spa director at the W Hong Kong, and says that her role between the team and client on one hand, and the management company and owner on the other, can feel like it brings about a conflict of interests. 

“I try to balance the life of my team and my business goals. If business is not good then the pressure is on to deliver profit by saving costs, but this is the last thing I want to do as it could influence the overall guest experience. I need to find the perfect balance to maintain both profit and service.” 

While there are many spa directors with therapist backgrounds, Wang believes experience in management makes the business side easier. One of her strategies is to ensure the spa is relevant in relation to the rest of the hotel. Last year she created pop-up events, spa and wellness parties and pushed the spa to become part of the hotel brand’s DNA. As a result, the hotel departments were happy to collaborate, and rather than feeling isolated, her spa could count on vital hotel support. 

Wang adds that her role could be easier if she only did enough to maintain the business, but like Pong, she also gives her all and has a clear understanding of the larger picture. ”How difficult the job is depends on how determined and ambitious the spa director is. I don’t like people assuming spas don’t make money. When we make the spa profitable and contribute to the hotel, then we boost the whole industry.” 

Seeing the business grow financially is naturally rewarding. Richards also emphasises, “For any spa director, getting feedback from guests who have seen their lives change thanks to your recommendations is incredible. In addition, identifying staff with potential, guiding them through development and seeing them succeed in a higher position is awesome.” 

And when spa directors are promoted to resort general managers, as has happened within the Six Senses group, the proof that the job is a serious business role becomes blatantly clear. “Today, when you go into the spa industry, it’s not just spa positions that are open to you,” says Richards. “The sky is the limit.”