Spa Talk With Ella Kent of The Spa at Sea Island

Ella Kent has been in the spa and hospitality industry since 1997, when she became a personal trainer at a high-end fitness club in Washington, D.C. She most recently was named director of spa and wellness at The Spa at Sea Island (GA), where she is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the spa, salon, fitness center, racquet sports, and athletics. Kent takes on this role following a long history with the resort. From 2014 to 2019, Kent was the spa, fitness, and tennis director, before becoming director of rooms at the resort. Prior to joining Sea Island, Kent was the executive director of spa at the spas at Wynn and Encore (Las Vegas). Learn more about Kent, her path to where she is today, and her thoughts on the future of spa and wellness.

Photo credit: Ella Kent

What was the path that led you into the spa industry? 

As a military family, we were scheduled to move from Washington, D.C. to Colorado Springs, CO. At the time, I had no idea what hospitality was nor how lucky I was to consider entering into the profession at the five-star level. I got a job as a personal trainer at The Spa at The Broadmoor’s fitness center in 2000. Shortly after, I became a spa guest relations manager, then spa director.

What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of being in the spa industry? 

I love the creativity and sincerity of spa team members. Much of the hospitality industry is transactional. Guests check in and check out, eat a meal and leave. But activities, especially spa, make the stay memorable. And spa visits can be life-changing! The best in the business hone their skillset and pour all their energy into serving their guests in the most meaningful way they need at that moment in time. It is deeply personal and impactful.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment is being recognized by my spa peers for my volunteer work with the International Spa Association (ISPA) as a Dedicated Contributor. When I accepted the award on stage at the ISPA Conference & Expo, I realized I had received much more than I ever gave to the industry and was so grateful for the many people who mentored and befriended me. This community is what separates spa from the rest of the hospitality industry.

What's your favorite skincare ingredient? 

Vitamin C is the ingredient that makes the most visible impact on my face and body.

What positions have you worked in that you feel have been most influential to your career? 

As a U.S. Army officer, I learned the value of discipline and straightforward communication. As a middle school teacher, I learned how to engage people in ways to teach things that made them relevant to a very restless group. As a trainer, I continued to learn how to educate and motivate clients through discomfort and to push through to do new things that make a difference in their overall fitness level and health. All three prepared me to work with a diverse group of individuals to work together for a common goal. Discipline, communication, education, motivation, and engagement are key to the success of any leader, but never more so than with the very diverse family found in our spas.

Was there a time you had to make a decision in your career that ended up changing your destiny? 

In 2003, The Spa at The Broadmoor found itself without a director. I had only been in spas for a couple of years and in a position of leadership for one year. When the general manager asked me to consider taking the spa leadership position, I replied that I wasn’t ready. I was told to think about it and get back to him. Later that day, the head of security called me into his of ce and scolded me. He said I was the person to lead the team, and that with hardwork, the skillset would come. I learned a lesson that I continue to pass along to this day. You are never ready for the next position. Go into it with a willingness to listen, learn, and give it your all, and you will succeed.

If you could work in any other profession in the world, what would it be? 

I love being on stage and talking, and I love to write, so something that combines the two.

How would you sum up your personal philosophy? 

Find something hard to do and do it well. That has always been what I’ve done. I am at my best when I am outside of my comfort zone, working very hard, and making things happen. But as I am reflecting on this and my recent move back to the spa world, I’ve had an interesting revelation. I can work hard and succeed at many things because I’m stubborn and highly motivated to succeed. But if you are going to work that hard in this one life we are given, accomplish something for which you are passionate, excited, and that puts a smile on your face and makes you feel whole.

How do you like to spend your time away from work? 

I love the outdoors: running, cycling, paddleboarding, hiking, working out, and riding my Harley on the backroads soaking up the countryside.

What are your three greatest priorities in life? 

Family and friends, community, and working hard in something that gives me joy.

What's the best advice you've received? 

God gave you a mind and a heart for a reason. Use them both!