According the the Global Wellness Institute, globally the wellness economy is a $3.7 trillion industry, and according to Glassdoor, the average salary of a spa director in the U.S. is more than $53,000 annually. However, it can be difficult to rise through the ranks in the wellness industry and recognize opportunities that will lead to career growth. American Spa recently spoke to two directors at two different spas, and they gave us their first-hand insights into what it takes to be a successful spa director.
Jennifer Lynn, senior director of spa and wellness at Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas says she has always had passion for healthy living, fitness, and nutrition. She started her a career in the industry as a personal trainer and group instructor. "While obtaining my undergraduate (degree) from University of Nevada, Las Vegas I was simultaneously working as a personal trainer at my first spa at The Mirage," she says. "I fell in love with the industry, and it was a natural progression. With the growth of hotel spas in Las Vegas, I found an easy path and plenty of opportunities. It was an ideal way to link my passion for wellness with my career." Now, Lynn has held a senior leadership role in the spa industry for more than 20 years.
William Wesley Myers, director of spa at the Chuan Spa Chicago at The Langham Chicago also got his start in the spa industry in Las Vegas after he worked several years on board luxury cruise ships. He says that finding a good mentor helped him get his foot in the industry's door. In his case, industry expert Zita Sims guided him through his first position. "Once hired by Sims, I quickly fell in love with the unique niche industry of spas within hotels and was inspired by her passion for it," he says. "As an incredible leader, she gave me the tools and guidance to quickly grow and succeed and has been a key influence to my career path and growth within the industry to this very day, now over 12 years later in the spa world."
Choosing a career often begins with formal education, but formal education is not necessarily needed to land a leadership role in the spa industry. However, Myers says that absorbing as much information as possible is critical. "I would consider myself a 'spa sponge' and have watched, listened, learned, and grown through making the most of each professional experience and opportunity that I gratefully have had," he says.
Lynn says her formal education was an important part of her success, but she says it doesn't mean a formal education is needed to grow in the industry. "I am a constant learner, and I believe education and ongoing learning experiences are essential for growth and opportunities," she says. "I do have my Bachelor of Arts and feel it has been an important part of my path. An education ensures that limits are not set on your career potential. However, I do know many successful people that do not have a traditional undergraduate degree and have been very successful," she says.
To run a large spa, directors need to do more than absorb information and recall their education as each day presents its own challenges. "No two days in the spa industry ever quite seem the same. However, I strive to keep consistent in important daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks that I hard block into my calendar and stick to," says Myers. "After arriving and reviewing the appointment books for the day, revenue pick-up, and some financial reporting, a large majority of my time is spent supporting and leading my leadership team beneath while also supervising staff in different sub departments of the spa (front desk, attendants, pool, fitness, therapists) and making sure that everything is ready for our spa guests."
Management is a large component of any spa director position, and managing individuals isn't always an intuitive skill. Lynn says there are a few things that make a good manager. "Be consistent. Be authentic. Being a leader for a diverse workforce can be personally challenging for an individual," says Lynn. "It is important to remember, not everyone will agree, understand or follow your direction. Accept that, be true to your leadership style and then be consistent with your follow through and expectations. For colleagues and direct reports, they find comfort in a leader that has predictable behaviors and mannerisms."
Being a strong manager isn't the only skill spa directors must master. Myers says the top five skills to master in order to be a director.
Time commitment and a strong work ethic. "The long hours and often times relocation required of spa directors can be challenging for those trying to balance a career with the demands of family and a personal life," says Myers.
Entrepreneurship. "If it’s not your spa, you must think like it is and operate with the mindset of 'what would my owner say or do?' Understand that profitability is more than sticking to a budget. It’s about driving productivity, client retention, and efficiency."
Vision. "A great spa director has eyes and ears tuned into the latest trends of the industry and is actively involved in industry conferences, events, and associations."
Communication. "Hold everyone accountable to the same standards, rules, and policies."
Delegation. "Empowering and trusting others with responsibilities is the most efficient way to build future managers."
Taking good advice is another way to jump-start a career shift. Lynn says the best advice she got a novice spa director was to roll with the challenges. "As a young spa director during the spa industry’s fledgling years in 90s, I was told the old cliché 'fake it ‘til ya make it.' I used this for many years as inspiration to get through unchartered leadership and business development territory," says Lynn. "Over the years, I would find myself in boardroom settings with legal teams or in interior design and construction meetings making critical decisions. Now, as a more experienced leader, I have learned to trust my intuition."
Stay tuned to American Spa for more tips on how to be a successful spa director and more career tips.