Spa Talk With Kristi Dickinson of Anara Spa at Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa

Kristi Dickinson has been in the spa and hospitality industry for 25 years. Her extensive background includes roles as general manager at Canyon Ranch Wellness Retreat (Woodside, CA); director of spa and wellness at Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa (Rancho Santa Fe, CA); and spa director roles at The Mayflower Inn & Spa (Washington, CT), Montage Deer Valley (Park City, UT), and the The Peaks Resort & Spa (Telluride, CO). Dickinson is trained as a massage therapist, manual lymph drainage therapist, and is also a spin and yoga instructor. Dickinson was raised on a farm and is passionate about the healing power of nature. In early 2022, she joined Anara Spa at Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa (Koloa, HI), where she is currently the spa director. Learn more about Dickinson, the path she took to where she is today, and her thoughts on the future of spa and wellness.

Photo credit: Kristi Dickinson

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

I had the opportunity to travel to the original Golden Door Spa in Escondido, CA, and experience the week-long destination spa program. There, I found my purpose in helping others find the path of wellness and decided to focus my career in the spa and wellness segment of the hospitality industry. I had the great fortune to work for a resort with a Golden Door Spa and learn about destination spas from the pioneers.

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

The most challenging part is the ever-changing landscape. As a spa leader, you must be a lifelong-learner. You have a duty to vet the latest trends and not only keep your guests and team safe, but provide them with the best-possible results. It is a challenge I embrace. The most rewarding part is the people. I experience awe, pride, and overwhelming gratitude on a weekly, if not daily, basis being surrounded by such selfless and fascinating souls. I came back to being a spa director after being a general manager because I really missed the dynamic of a spa team. We are so united in our purpose and I am honored to be the conductor of these beautiful orchestras. The vast majority of our team has been with Anara Spa for decades and have relationships with guests that span the same timeframe. It’s a remarkable thing to see the impact on our guests’ spirits with this level of emotional connection.

What is your proudest accomplishment? 

My proudest accomplishments include earning the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for The Spa at Rancho Valencia; taking a break from management in 2013 to learn more about the science of spa by attending massage and yoga school; studying advanced modalities under the brilliant Anne Bramham, founder of the Advanced Spa Therapy Education & Certification Council; and seeing my teams through the pandemic, as it was uncharted territory, and we truly walked hand-in-hand each day with unwavering trust.

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

Spa directors must be savvy business people, mental wellness therapists, biologists, and sometimes even mechanics. I thrive in environments where I am constantly stimulated, so I love our industry.

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

I believe there will be less of a division between guest and employee. Previously, we were very focused on prioritizing the wellbeing of our guests without realizing the cost this sometimes had on our own wellbeing, like constantly fluctuating schedules and working when we felt a bit under the weather so as to not disappoint guests. The pandemic shifted all of that and our guests have realized that we are human and are much more understanding of the flexibility that is needed when humans are serving humans. What we have seen is a deepening of the respect and gratitude for our work. I am so grateful that those who have stayed in the industry during this challenging time are reaping those rewards.

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

Meeting Anne Bramham at Montage Deer Valley was a pivotal moment. I am far stronger in math than science, but Anne believed I could learn complex things like principles of thermalism, pathways of lymphatic fluid flow, and biochemical elements. She inspired me to become a practitioner. This knowledge made a huge difference in how I lead my team and the programs I develop for our guests.

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

During the pandemic, I was working 80-plus hours per week as a general manager at a tremendous cost to my health and relationships. Up to that point, I was very focused on moving up the ladder in my career. My boyfriend, Mark, was instrumental in encouraging me to take some time off and chase other dreams. We sold everything we owned and moved onto a sailboat. We spent last winter cruising all over The Bahamas and I found my authentic self again. Living on Kauai was also a lifelong dream. An opportunity arose with Grand Hyatt Kauai as an assistant spa director. I always wanted to work for Hyatt, given its reputation for a culture of positivity and growth, but making the decision to take two steps back in my career was not an easy one. I ultimately decided to put my ego aside and take a leap of faith. I am so glad I did, as Hyatt is an awesome company and Anara Spa is such a special team. The spa director opportunity arose shortly thereafter, and Hyatt has given me many other opportunities including communications chair for the Hawaiian islands’ Women@Hyatt group, and even an employee wellness benefit of surf lessons.

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

A photographer who specializes in rainbows. Nothing makes me happier than chasing rainbows.

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

I surf, camp, travel, read, and sail.

What’s the best advice you’ve received? 

When you make a decision, never look back. Just own it and go for it!