Spa Talk with Michelle Ryan

Michelle Ryan

Meet Michelle Ryan, spa director of The Spa at Ashford Castle (County Mayo, Ireland). 

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

15 years


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

I began my career in the leisure industry, because of my love of sports. Looking for new challenges in 2001, I saw the growing development of spas in Ireland. As a result, I trained as a beauty and holistic therapist. I loved the industry so much I jumped at the chance to work with a renowned product line and open a spa and leisure club within a four-star hotel. I then went on to complete three more leisure and spas projects. Opening The Spa at Ashford Castle was my ultimate challenge.


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

For me, the most challenging aspect is ensuring that I choose the right staff. We need to work and gel as a team, as that drives performance. As a businesswoman and visionary, I am sometimes required to make decisions my team may not understand. But for me, the most rewarding part of my role is to see the team enjoy their work and our guests enjoy their experience. We aim for 100 percent satisfaction. That's what keeps us coming back to work every day. I love it when guests comment that they have been to spas all over the world, and this was the best experience they've ever had.


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

It’s surprising how fast-paced the industry is. Despite the new and ever-changing therapies, I feel that guests will always revert to what they know and what will deliver the best results for them.


What qualities do you look for in your spa staff?

We search for attributes, such as skill level, education, and, of course, presentation. Our therapists understand the concept of providing world-class guest service. They are articulate and have received intense product, treatment, and Red Carnation Hotel training. They should also have knowledge of the hospitality industry. Candidates must be flexible and able to work during peak times, such as weekends and holidays. We always look for team players. For me, a team member that is always smiling is halfway there.


Where do you think the industry is heading?

I think the industry will continue to grow. After the downturn in Ireland, spas were considered a luxury, but now with markets improving throughout the world, the industry is seeing growth again. Thanks to disposable income, we are seeing our guests spending again on treatments and retail. At The Spa at Ashford Castle, we are focused on wellbeing and health, trying to relieve their stressful lives.


What new spa treatment would you like to try?  

Bamboo massage


Tell us two things about yourself we don’t know.

I’m a 3rd dan in karate and was an international Irish swimmer.


How would you sum up your personal philosophy?

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition—lead by example with kindness, passion, and compassion.


What’s the best advice you’ve received?

A setback is never a bad experience, it’s just a learning curve. Having served in a role that I loved during the recession was challenging, but I will always remember to pick myself up and brush myself off and the phrase: What’s meant for me will not pass me by. And now look where my journey has taken me…to Ashford Castle.