Spa Talk with Tammy Pahel, Spa Director of Ame Spa & Wellness Collective

Photo by Âme Spa & Wellness Collective

Meet Tammy Pahel, spa director of Ame Spa & Wellness Collective at Turnberry Isle Miami (Aventura, FL).

How many years have you been involved in the spa and hospitality industry? 27 blissful years

What was the path that led you into the spa industry? Nemacolin Woodlands Resort owner and billionaire Maggie Hardy Margerko asked me to become the property’s spa director. At the time, I was running all retail on the resort property, which included two spaces within the spa and one space in the hotel. I told Maggie that although I had a business degree from Penn State, I knew nothing about spa. She asked me to make a deal with her with a handshake. The deal would include me becoming the spa director. After 365 days, if I didn’t like the job, I could go back to running retail on the resort property. The days flew by, and Maggie walked into the spa and shouted to me, “So what’s your answer?” I asked, “What are you talking about? And Maggie responded, “The spa director job. Do you want to stay or go back to retail?” Clearly, I am still here.

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

It is adding a true wellness component to the spa. Concerning integrative and functional medicine, I interviewed 10 doctors and researched their practices. I was looking for a team of doctors who wanted to make a difference in people and in their lifestyles through education, not by popping a pill. I was also looking for doctors with a great bedside manner. And I’m so proud we found doctors with such impressive backgrounds. The founder of Rezilir Health, Craig Tanio, M.D., is the chairman of the Maryland Health Care Commission and is on the faculty at Johns Hopkins, not to mention having Karen Koffler, M.D., who studied under Andrew Weil, M.D., at the University of Arizona and who was later head of Canyon Ranch’s Health & Wellness Department.

Regarding Physicians Institute, I interviewed several plastic surgeons and was looking for a partnership that sought to offer added value to the spa members and resort guests. Not only does Physicians Institute provide non-invasive treatments within the spa setting, but it also offers cosmetic surgery performed by world-class board-certified plastic surgeons, each with more than 20 years of experience in a state-of-the-art facility. This allows patients from northeast urban areas like New York City or visitors from London to have surgery at prevailing rates in Florida, which are a fraction of the cost they would pay at home. It also allows their families and them to relax and enjoy all of the amenities of the five-star Turnberry resort. Patients don’t have to go overseas or to third-world countries for cosmetic surgery, sacrificing safety for value. Preoperative consultations can be completed electronically or in person, and medical clearances can either be completed at home or by our onsite, top-notch integrative medicine colleagues at Rezilir Health. There is some geographic variation in the popularity of treatments and procedures requested by our local patients as compared to our visiting guests, but for the most part, they all want the perfect combination of surgical skill, value, and, of utmost importance, safety.

What has surprised you most about the spa world? It would be the lack of education within the spa industry.

Where do you think the industry is heading? A.The spa industry is headed in the direction of offering complete wellness experiences and options. My hope is that Âme demonstrates the viability of bringing together wellness-oriented experts from the fields of nutrition, fitness, functional, and Eastern medicine and beauty and skincare under one roof and then providing a tailored, user friendly experience to create individualized paths to wellness for each guest. I hope other resort spas will be inspired to offer similar programs around the country in the future.

What is the strangest client request you’ve fielded? In Las Vegas, a lot of people tend to believe prostitution is legal. So requests for more than massages were quite frequent.

What is the most bizarre treatment you’ve experienced? While on the ISPA Board, we had a meeting in Italy. Members of the board stayed at Grotta Giusti in Montecatini, which sits against a mountainside. The spa pretreatment was to visit the Grotto, where you were to soak in mineral springs and steam. I booked a mineral mud treatment at the spa. The mud treatment was very unusual in that mud was pumped from a vat and pumped through the spa directly into the spa treatment room. While I lay on a massage table, the therapist opened a valve that allowed mud to be released on me. Once wrapped in mud, I relaxed for 30 minutes and then showered it off.

What new spa treatment would you like to try? Whatever new experiences Sammy Gharieni’s team is creating.

What’s your go-to spa treatment? It’s the Wellness Circuit, which is a 50-minute pre-treatment to an actual spa treatment that includes the Aroma & Chroma therapy Steam Room, the Himalayan Salt Suite, and the Swiss Shower to literally prep the body and mind to make the most of their upcoming spa treatments.

What two things we don't know about you? I have a granddaughter, Ava, who turns three April 15. I have a huge faith in God.

If you could work in any other profession in the world, what would it be? I would work for the airlines. I love to travel.

How would you sum up your personal philosophy? The overall purpose of my life has been to grow, develop, and mentor people wanting to enter spa management in the spa industry. I believe passionately in giving back to the spa industry through education, which has been my focus most of my career. I have lectured at ISPA conferences, FSA events, and taught at Atelier Esthetique Institute of Esthetics in New York City. I have opened 14 spas from scratch and mentored many people.

What’s the best advice you’ve received? After I was asked to become the spa director at Nemacolin Woodlands, Mrs. Dotty Hardy (the owner’s mother) told me I should take the job as spa director even though I didn’t have experience in the spa industry. I asked her why she thought I would be a good fit and she simply said, “You would be the best spa director Nemacolin Woodlands would ever have.” I was there eight-and-a-half years. It was the foundation of my career, and the best advice I ever received.

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