Meet spa consultant Bonnie Baker, cofounder and managing partner of Satteva Spa and Wellness, who has spent the last 21 years working in the spa industry.
American Spa: What was the path that led you into the spa industry?
Bonnie Baker: After receiving my degree as an anthropologist, I went to work in community development in the rainforest of Costa Rica. During that time of working in eco-tourism and development, I had the chance to take tourists to a women’s cooperative of medicinal plants called MUSA (Mujeres Unidas de Sarapiqui, The United Women of Sarapiqui). They were growing their own herbs and making natural products for their community and visitors. These women had found strength, economic independence, and vocation through this project. I became fascinated with ethobotanicals and worked with these women in their gardens on my days off and saw how they applied their products through massage and other natural healing methods. This sent me on a search for additional education in this field.
AS: What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of working in the spa industry?
BB: Most of my journey in the spa industry has been inspiring and motivating. The most rewarding moments for me are found in creating the bespoke concepts and treatments that are rooted in cultural and natural history and seeing how guests respond to the sense of place created. I love working with therapists-in-training, especially seeing their enthusiasm at the deeper impacts their work can have on their guests. I get discouraged when we lack congruency in our operations or our training. For instance, when spa managers and therapists are not practicing self-care or creating an environment of wellbeing. I get discouraged by short-sighted vision rather than long-term value in our industry, due simply to budget.
AS: What is your proudest accomplishment?
BB: Raising my daughter is first, and I believe the best is yet to come. So far, I’m very proud of the stimulating the conversation and awareness around personal and planetary wellbeing as part of the same whole.
AS: What two things have surprised you about working in the spa industry?
BB: The overall lack of training for our spa professionals and how little we really understand about the impact our surroundings and interaction have on our health. We focus so much on products and ingredients but very little on the quality of human experience and how to control the stress-response. I see that product companies dictate much of what happens in the industry, when it should be the experiences that are guiding us.
AS: What qualities do you look for in your spa staff?
BB: Skill, commitment, integrity, and open-mindedness.
AS: Where do you think the industry is heading?
BB: I look forward to the industry heading towards deeper understanding of our ecological and social responsibilities as a means to promote wellness, really understanding that experiential feedback loop. I look forward to seeing more products, equipment, and services that merge a natural and scientific basis of health and performance. I also see us making strides in expanding spa experiences through generational needs. Additionally, I see us moving away from the heavily branded hotel spas towards more lifestyle and wellness centers and multi-functional community and local-based clubs.
AS: What is the strangest client request you’ve fielded?
BB: That I sing to a client during a massage. I told him that was not a good idea for his relaxation.
AS: What is the most bizarre treatment you’ve experienced?
BB: A shamanic healing in Mexico involving a ring of fire, and egg spirit cleansing, and a very painful abdominal massage.
AS: What’s your go-to massage?
BB: Thai massage.
AS: What’s your favorite skincare ingredient?
BB: Rosehip, frankincense, and immortelle oil.
AS: Which brands are your favorites?
BB: I like mixing and matching, but as a brand, I go to Naturopathica, Aromatherapy Associates, and other smaller brands, like Kypris.
AS: What positions have you worked in that you feel have been most influential to your career?
BB: In this industry, I have done the range: receptionist, therapist, therapy manager, spa director, and corporate trainer. Each has been influential in helping me understand the needs of the industry. Corporate trainer at the Mandarin Oriental gave me the widest breadth of understanding of global healing practices and opening spas in many destinations. It was also a time when the industry was just organizing and creating the platform for spas to become influential business centers in hotels and resort destinations.
AS: If you work in any other profession in the world, what would you be?
I always wanted to be an astronomer. I still love Star Trek. I’m more of an astrologer though.
AS: How would you sum up your personal philosophy?
BB: I need to be prepared and aligned to be a channel for a greater energy to move through and animate me.
AS: What’s the best advice you’ve received?
BB: Be more, do less. Make every day count.