Q & A with Leslie Johnson, spa director of Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

Leslie JohnsonMeet Leslie Johnson, spa director, Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort 

How many years have you been involved in the spa/hospitality industry?

30 years

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

From a very young age, I've been intrigued with the human experience and the inter-workings of the mind-body connection. My personal exploration through traditions and the many tools available to understand human energy has helped me to gain a better understanding of our commonalities and my relationship with myself. The world of spa gradually unveiled itself to me as a natural fit with my desire to be in service to others, and I’ve continued to watch and participate in the expansion of the wellness self-discovery adventure.

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

I’ve been surprised and excited to see how rapidly the spa industry has evolved. As it was a distant vision in previous decades, it has been a revelation at how quickly the general population has received the connection between spa experiences as it relates to general health. It’s great to see how large organizations have incorporated wellness options for employees to maintain and support preventative health measures and address stress management, along with medical facilities introducing massage and other modalities into their care programs. 

Where do you think the industry is heading?

I feel that new scientific findings, such as gene mapping and international research being done by the Human Genome Project, will present us with strategies for taking individual wellness customization to a new level. Understanding ourselves from the inside out and having the knowledge of our physical and mental predispositions will transition naturally into practical tools for working with clients in the spa community. This will be an opportunity for our industry to provide specific beneficial options to support desired health and lifestyle goals. Continued initiatives with sustainability will offer wellness awareness and nutrition solutions to a broader spectrum of the population.

What qualities do you look for in your spa staff?

I focus on attracting individuals who are comfortable with change, passionate about life, and committed to living their values. A unique aspect of spa is that every guest has different individual preferences. I look for team members who are outcome oriented, have the ability to utilize their creative abilities, and work as a knowledgeable team. When the staff creates a very personalized experience and an exceptional memory, guests can’t wait to return.

What is the strangest client request you’ve fielded?

It is interesting that so many guests enjoy making both their cell phone and computers part of their treatment experience. 

What is the most bizarre treatment you’ve experienced?

I experienced a full body micro-current treatment where wires covered my body and were then topped with a full body clay and seaweed plaster that fully hardened. It worked! When all was chipped away my body felt—and looked—like I had ridden a road bike 75 miles.

What’s your go-to spa treatment?

I find that cranial sacral work is an excellent relaxer. It helps you to get back into the flow. 

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

As program director at Miraval Life in Balance (Tucson, AZ), I grew professionally and personally with the task of creating environments and opportunities for others to experience mindful moments.

How would you sum up your personal philosophy?

My intention in each moment is to ease resistance for others and myself in the hope that we flow together rather than push against the current.

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

Exploring without a destination, hiking, connecting with dear friends I've met along my spa journey, and trying new contemporary restaurants. I love to hang with my kids and grandkids.

What about your new position excites you most?

I am excited about the possibilities of developing fun adventure activities, lifestyle programming, and one-on-one trainings. I cherish the opportunity to inspire participating guests and leave them with memorable impressions of their stay here at the Arizona Biltmore.—Compiled by Jessica Morrobel