Spa Talk With Kenia Zavala of SpaTerre at Kona Kai San Diego

Meet Kenia Zavala, director of spa at SpaTerre at Kona Kai San Diego, who has eight years of experience in the spa and hospitality industry. 

Photo credit: Kenia Zavala

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

Self-care and wellness have always been personal interests of mine. I also love people and have a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, so a career in the spa industry felt like a natural way to combine my passions into a fulfilling career. My journey into the spa industry was driven by my genuine passion for self-care, wellness, and fitness. While initially considering a career as an eating disorder specialist after college, I discovered that the spa environment was my true happy place. Starting at the age of 18, I realized that pursuing a career in the spa industry aligned perfectly with my interests and offered a more fulfilling path for me.

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

In my experience, the spa industry presents both challenges and rewards. One of the most challenging aspects is maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction while managing the diverse needs and expectations of clients. This requires strong communication skills, adaptability, and the ability to personalize treatments to meet individual preferences. On the other hand, the most rewarding part of being in the spa industry is witnessing the positive impact we can have on clients' wellbeing. Helping individuals relax, rejuvenate, and improve their overall wellness is incredibly fulfilling. Additionally, being part of a team that promotes self-care and provides a sanctuary for guests to escape and unwind is truly gratifying.

What is your proudest accomplishment? 

My proudest accomplishment in the spa industry is successfully transitioning from a supervisor role to becoming a spa director at the age of 26. This achievement reflects the dedication and hard work I have consistently put into my career. It demonstrates my ability to take on increased responsibilities and excel in a leadership position within a relatively short period of time. I am proud of this accomplishment, as it showcases my commitment to professional growth and my ability to make a positive impact in the industry.

What has surprised you most about working in the spa industry? 

One of the most surprising aspects of working in the spa industry has been the transformative power it holds for both clients and practitioners. Witnessing the profound impact that spa treatments and wellness practices can have on individuals' physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing has been truly remarkable. It has reinforced the importance of self-care and the role that spas play in promoting overall wellness.

Additionally, I have been pleasantly surprised by the strong sense of community within the spa industry. Despite being a competitive field, there is a genuine spirit of collaboration and support among professionals. The willingness to share knowledge, best practices, and industry trends has been inspiring and has contributed to my own professional growth. Overall, the spa industry has exceeded my expectations in terms of its ability to positively transform lives and the sense of camaraderie among professionals.

Where do you think the industry is heading?  

In my opinion, the spa industry is heading toward a more holistic and integrated approach to wellness. As people become increasingly aware of the importance of self-care and overall wellbeing, there is a growing demand for personalized and comprehensive wellness experiences. I believe that spas will continue to evolve beyond traditional treatments and focus on offering a wide range of wellness services that cater to the specific needs and preferences of clients. This may include incorporating alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or energy healing, as well as expanding into areas such as nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness practices. Moreover, technology will play a significant role in shaping the future of the spa industry. From online booking systems to virtual consultations and personalized wellness apps, the integration of technology will enhance accessibility and convenience for clients. Lastly, sustainability and eco-friendly practices are becoming increasingly important in the spa industry. Consumers are seeking out spas that prioritize environmentally conscious practices, such as using organic and natural products, reducing waste, and implementing energy-efficient measures.

Overall, the spa industry is poised to embrace a more holistic approach to wellness, leverage technology, and prioritize sustainability in order to meet the evolving needs and expectations of clients.

What’s your favorite skincare ingredient? 

I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of skincare ingredients, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would be coconut. Coconut has numerous benefits for the skin, making it a versatile and effective ingredient in skincare products. It is rich in antioxidants, which help to protect the skin from free radicals and environmental damage. Coconut also has excellent moisturizing properties, deeply hydrating the skin and leaving it feeling soft and supple. Additionally, it contains natural antimicrobial properties, which can help combat certain skin conditions and promote a healthy complexion. Its natural fragrance also adds a soothing and tropical element to the spa experience, enhancing relaxation and overall wellbeing.

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

The positions that have been most influential to my career are my role as a spa coordinator at Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa and my current position as a spa director. Starting as a spa coordinator was a valuable experience, as it allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of the spa industry from the ground up. In this role, I managed front desk operations, ensuring a smooth customer experience by answering calls, scheduling appointments, and addressing guest inquiries. This position honed my communication and customer service skills, as I had the opportunity to interact directly with clients and fulfill their needs.

Working as a spa coordinator also provided me with the opportunity to observe and learn from the spa director, Brisa Huezo, who is now my area spa director and continues to be my mentor. This experience gave me insight into the responsibilities and challenges of a leadership role within the spa industry. Transitioning from a spa coordinator to my current role as a spa director has been a significant milestone in my career. It has allowed me to apply the knowledge and skills I gained in my previous position to lead a team and oversee all aspects of spa operations. Building upon my experience as a spa coordinator, I now have the opportunity to shape the direction of the spa, implement innovative strategies, and create exceptional experiences for our guests.

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

After completing my college degree in dietetics and initially pursuing a career as an eating disorder specialist, I realized that it wasn't the right fit for me. However, during my college years, I had worked in spas and found great joy and fulfillment in that environment. After completing an internship in the dietetics field, I made the decision to take a job as a spa supervisor. It was during this time that I truly discovered my passion for the spa industry and realized that I wanted to focus my career in this field and eventually become a spa director. This decision to shift my career focus from dietetics to the spa industry was a pivotal moment that changed the course of my professional journey. It allowed me to align my career with my true passions and strengths, and I have found great fulfillment in working in the spa industry ever since. I believe that this decision was crucial in shaping my destiny because it led me to a career path where I am truly happy and motivated to excel. It has allowed me to combine my love for wellness, customer service, and leadership in a way that brings me joy and fulfillment every day.

How did you handle that challenge and what was your thought process? 

I handled the challenge of realizing that my initial career path was not the right fit by engaging in self-reflection, evaluating my skills and interests, and actively pursuing opportunities in the spa industry. My thought process involved aligning my passions and strengths with a career that brought me joy and fulfillment. By remaining open-minded and committed to growth, I successfully navigated this challenge and set myself on the path to becoming a Spa Director.

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

If I could work in any other profession in the world, I would choose to be either a jewelry designer or a travel writer. These two professions appeal to different aspects of my interests and passions, but both offer unique opportunities for creativity, exploration, and personal fulfillment.

As a jewelry designer, I would have the chance to express my creativity through crafting unique and beautiful pieces. I would enjoy the process of conceptualizing designs, sourcing materials, and bringing my artistic vision to life. This profession would allow me to combine my love for aesthetics, attention to detail, and passion for self-expression. I would strive to create jewelry that resonates with people, evokes emotions, and becomes a meaningful part of their lives.

On the other hand, being a travel writer would fulfill my desire to explore the world, immerse myself in different cultures, and share captivating stories with others. I would relish the opportunity to journey to various destinations, experience new adventures, and document my encounters through vivid and engaging writing. Travel writing would enable me to inspire and inform readers, while also allowing me to continuously learn and grow personally.

How would you sum up your personal philosophy? 

As a young leader and spa director, my personal philosophy revolves around helping others, promoting wellness, self-care, and doing the right thing. I believe in the power of compassion, empathy, and service toward others. It is my fundamental belief that by supporting and uplifting those around us, we can create a positive and nurturing environment for personal growth and fulfillment.

I am deeply passionate about wellness, self-care, and fitness. I believe that taking care of our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing is essential to leading a balanced and fulfilling life. As a leader, I strive to foster a culture that prioritizes self-care and encourages my team members to prioritize their own well-being. By promoting a healthy lifestyle and providing resources for self-improvement, I aim to create an environment that supports the overall wellness of both my team and our clients.

Family holds a special place in my heart, and I prioritize the values of love, respect, and support within my personal and professional life. I understand the significance of work-life balance and the importance of maintaining strong connections with our loved ones. I strive to create a work environment that respects and supports the familial obligations and commitments of my team members, fostering a sense of belonging and understanding.

Doing the right thing is a core principle that guides my decision-making. I believe in demonstrating integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior in all aspects of my work as a leader. I am committed to upholding high standards of professionalism, fairness, and transparency. By leading by example and holding myself accountable, I aim to inspire my team members to do the same and create a culture of trust and respect

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

Self-care and wellness are personal passions of mine and I find fulfillment in weightlifting and hiking as these activities not only support my physical wellbeing but allow me to connect with nature. I live in San Diego, so I naturally enjoy spending time at the beautiful beaches in the area and find solace in the tranquility you find there. Exploring farmers' markets is another passion of mine as I am committed to supporting local and sustainable food sources and there are some fantastic options in San Diego. I also love reading and expanding my knowledge on various subjects as I feel it helps me maintain a well-rounded perspective and love a rejuvenating spa day – I consider this to be a vital aspect of my personal care routine.

What are your three greatest priorities in life? 

In my life, I prioritize three key aspects: myself, my family, and my purpose. These priorities guide my decision-making and shape the way I approach both personal and professional endeavors.

First and foremost, I prioritize myself. I firmly believe that taking care of my own wellbeing is crucial in order to effectively contribute to the wellbeing of others. This includes prioritizing self-care, maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and continuously investing in personal growth and development. By prioritizing myself, I am able to show up as the best version of myself, both for my family and in pursuing my purpose.

Secondly, my family is of utmost importance to me. I value the love, support, and connections that family provides. I prioritize nurturing and maintaining strong relationships with my loved ones, and I strive to create a loving and supportive environment for them. This includes dedicating quality time, actively listening, and being there for them during both joyful and challenging times. My family serves as a source of inspiration, strength, and grounding in my life.

Lastly, I prioritize my purpose. I believe that each person has a unique calling or purpose in life, and I am committed to discovering and fulfilling that purpose. This involves aligning my personal and professional pursuits with my values, passions, and strengths. By pursuing my purpose, I am able to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others and contribute to the greater good. I continuously seek opportunities for growth, learning, and making a positive difference in the world.

What’s the best advice you’ve received? 

The best advice I've received is to stay true to myself. This advice has had a profound impact on my personal and professional life, guiding my decision-making and shaping the way I approach various situations and relationships. As a professional, staying true to myself means aligning my actions and choices with my core values, beliefs, and principles. It reminds me to act with integrity, authenticity, and honesty in all aspects of my work. By remaining steadfast in my values, I am able to make decisions that are in line with my personal and professional ethics, even in challenging situations.

Staying true to myself also means embracing my unique strengths, talents, and perspectives. It encourages me to be confident in my abilities and to bring my authentic self to every endeavor. By honoring my individuality, I am able to contribute my unique skills and ideas, fostering creativity and innovation in my work. Furthermore, staying true to myself allows me to establish and maintain genuine connections with others. It reminds me to communicate openly and honestly, while also actively listening and respecting the viewpoints of others. By being true to myself, I can build trust and cultivate meaningful relationships with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders.