An Interview With Ellen McGinnis and Trish Turner of the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville, North Carolina

By Lynda Solien-Wolfe, LMT
May 29, 2009

An Interview With Ellen McGinnis and Trish Turner of the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville, North Carolina

By Lynda Solien-Wolfe, LMT
May 29, 2009

Mountains. Water. Sky. The Grove Park Inn and Spa has all that and your own piece of heaven, located hillside in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Ashville, N.C. Built below the main inn, the spa is camouflaged by a subterranean design. It blends gracefully with the surrounding beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, weaving together the elements of water, sky, fire and rock. The centerpiece is the pool area: accented by high stone walls, fireplaces and waterfalls, it creates a feeling of your own sanctuary of peace and relaxation. This was my favorite area; I could be found floating and listening to the underwater music in the mineral pool most of time.

During my visit, I received two of the spa's exclusive signature treatments from the "Heaven Series." First, I had the "Fire, Rock, Water and Light" treatment ($250 for 80 minutes), which included a full-body exfoliation; a buttermilk-and-honey whirlpool bath; a body wrap; and a waterfall Vichy shower massage. They even applied fresh, locally harvested honey to my face during my bath! Next, I had the "Sanctuary of the Senses Facial" (also $250 for 80 minutes) This was truly a relaxing experience. I almost fell asleep, but fought off the temptation, because I didn't want to miss a thing! This was the most extravagant facial I have ever received; it included paraffin to my hands and feet and massage techniques choreographed to music of the mountains. I even got to take the CD home, so I can emerse myself in the memory of the experience whenever I want.

After a wonderful day at the spa, I had a chance to sit down with Spa Director Ellen McGinnis and Massage Therapy Supervisor Trish Turner to ask them a few questions about the spa, and about their views on the massage and spa industry.

Lynda Solien-Wolfe (LSW): Hello, Ellen. Thanks for your time today. My visit has just been a blissful experience!

Ellen McGinnis (EM): Glad to hear your enjoying your visit! How were your treatments?

LSW: They were fabulous! I had the Fire, Rock, Water and Light Treatment - it was like nothing I'd ever experienced. My therapist really paid attention to all the little details, making it a very relaxing 80 minutes for me.

EM: Glad to hear that.

LSW: When was the Spa at the Grove Park Inn Resort built?

EM: We opened Feb. 28, 2001. The spa took 23 months to build.

LSW: What type of spa is this property?

EM: A resort spa.

LSW: How is a resort spa different from other types of spas?

EM: A resort spa offers relaxing or rejuvenating treatments, rather than wellness or lifestyle-changing activities. We only have an average of 1.8 days to capture each guest, whereas a destination spa such as The Golden Door or Canyon Ranch offers packages that range from a week to a month. A spa used to be for only the rich and famous. The creation of a resort spa allows average vacation-goers the chance to pamper themselves without spending a lot of time or money.

LSW: Who designed this spa?

EM: Robert LeBlond from Calgary, Canada.

LSW: Didn't Robert also design the Solace Spa at Banff Springs in Canada? The Solace is one of my favorite spas, and I noted many similarities between the two spas, particularly with respect to the pool area.

EM: Yes, he also designed that spa.

LSW: What is the square footage of the spa?

EM: 40,000 square feet.

LSW: How much did it cost to build the spa?

EM: Over 40 million dollars.

LSW: How many treatment rooms do you have?

EM: We have 22 indoor treatment rooms; four manicure stations, two pedicure thrones and two outdoor treatment pagodas.

LSW: How many water features does the spa have?

EM: Almost 20, if you count the features outside the spa. The tunnels have four different water features that include the "weeping wall" and the "hidden cave." Both male and female sides have hot and cold contrast pools. The main pool area consists of two waterfall massage pools, a warm mineral pool and a lap pool blanketed with 6,500 fiberoptic stars. The outdoor whirlpool is one of our most popular locations. Both the mineral pool and the lap pool have underwater music playing constantly.

LSW: Does the spa offer a signature treatment?

EM: Our " Heaven Series" treatments are the best Grove Park has to offer. Each treatment was designed uniquely for the spa and incorporates elements indigenous to the Western Carolina Mountains. The Fire, Rock, Water and Light Treatment (one of the treatments you had today) feels like an entire day at the spa! The guest experiences a sugar scrub and a buttermilk-and-honey bath, followed by a body wrap, waterfall massage and so much more!

LSW: What unique amenities does the spa offer?

EM: We have many unique amenities. To name just a few: three fireside lounges; flavored water; herbal elixirs; cookies; chocolates; trail mix; and fruit are available to our guests. Locker rooms are stocked with amenities such as shampoo; lotion; shower gel; razors; toothbrushes; and mouthwash. Each guest receives a silky robe, slippers and a locker with a personalized code. In addition to the pools, guests can enjoy the eucalyptus steam rooms, inhalation room, dry sauna and sundecks.

LSW: What percent of services are massages?

EM: 56 percent.

LSW: How important is massage to your spa business?

EM: Very important. It is the staple of the resort spa business.

LSW: Are your massage therapists employees here?

EM: Yes, the massage therapists are employees and employee shareholders of the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa.

LSW: How many massage therapists do you have on staff?

EM: When fully staffed, we have 44 therapists.

LSW: What are some of the benefits massage therapists receive as employees?

EM: Health insurance; employee shareholding; options for life; vision and dental insurance; paid vacations; and personal time. We also supply uniforms (and uniform service); training; vision-shared bonuses; lunch; and free and discounted products and services resortwide.

LSW: What type of training do massage therapists receive, and do you offer continuing education?

EM: We provide a six-week training program. Therapists attend a new-employee "welcome" seminar before they even are placed on the spa's schedule. Each therapist trains as a spa concierge, then enters the mentor program. This program introduces the therapist to each area of the spa's services. Additionally, therapists must complete department classes such as: Spa 101; Spa Services;World Class Guest Service; Power Booking; and Retail Sales. We have started continuing education classes; they are open to our therapists and therapists outside of the spa. Our plan is to expand our continuing education classes in the future.

LSW: What is the starting pay for a massage therapist, and how is a therapist compensated?

EM: Compensation depends on experience and education, and ranges from $10 to $16 an hour, with a 15 percent automatic gratuity for services and 5 percent to 15 percent commission for retail sales.

LSW: What do you look for when hiring a massage therapist?

EM: Skill level and education are important, bit we place as much emphasis on presentation. Our ideal therapist is someone who understands the concept of providing world-class guest service and is professional, articulate and resort/hospitality trained. The candidate must be flexible and able to work during peak times, such as weekend or holidays. Were also looking for people who excel in a team atmosphere. Above all, they must embrace our "culture and vision."

LSW: What do you find is the best method for finding quality massage therapists?

EM: Recruiting from schools is one of the most effective ways to find quality instructors. We also do mass mailings to therapists who live in surrounding states.

LSW: How long have you been in the spa industry, and how long have you been the spa director at the Grove Park Inn?

EM: I have been in the industry for over 20 years. I came to the Grove Park Inn while the spa was under construction, and I'm getting ready to celebrate my third anniversary with the spa.

LSW: What is the most challenging and rewarding part of being the spa director here?

EM: The most challenging part is definitely making everyone happy all the time! As a businesswomen and visionary, I sometimes have to make decisions the staff does not understand. It is also challenging to find and retain qualified staff. The most rewarding aspect is seeing guests' positive experiences! 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. The staff gave me a bathrobe for our first anniversary that said "Director of Memories." That sums it up for me ... I cherish that title!

LSW: What direction do you see the spa industry taking in the next 10 years?

EM: That's a great question. If you'd asked me that question 12 months ago, I would have said that things would continue to boom. Resort spas are getting bigger and fancier and the medical-spa arena is continuing to expand. I'm not sure what will happen with the war. We experienced our most profitable year to date in 2002, and so far in 2003, we have exceeded predictions. It is my hope that people will look to massage and the spa experience as a necessity, not a luxury. Now, more than ever, people need to take care of themselves and be nurtured.

LSW: What is your favorite treatment to receive?

EM: I love them all! It really depends on my mood. Regular massage is a must, but I love the "Sanctuary of the Body Senses" body treatment and the "Color Treatments."

LSW: Ellen, is there anything else you would like to add?

EM: Yes, I would. We have an incredible facility in a beautiful setting, but it is the people who make this place special. I have an incredible staff that is able to actualize the vision of the spa every day.

I also had the opportunity to interview Trish Turner during my visit:

LSW: Good afternoon, Trish. Thanks for taking time out of your day to meet with me.

Trish Turner (TT): You're welcome, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Grove Park Inn and Spa.

LSW: What spa training do you have? How did you get started in the spa industry?

TT: I have had the opportunity to work for three major resort spas (Luxor Spa in Las Vegas, Nev.; Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Ariz.; and now here in Asheville, N.C.) I also worked at a day spa in Orlando, Fla. I was fortunate to have been offered a position right out of massage therapy school with the Luxor Resort (a friend that I worked with at another company referred me for a massage therapy position at the Luxor).

LSW: What are the duties of the Massage Therapy Supervisor?

TT: My duties include interviewing new applicants; weekly scheduling; product ordering; organizing and overseeing training; and annual reviews.

LSW: How long have you been the massage therapy supervisor at the spa?

TT: Since September 2000.

LSW: What is the most challenging and rewarding part of being the massage therapy supervisor here?

TT: The most challenging part is scheduling 44 massage therapists. The most rewarding aspect is working with such a diverse staff and interacting with guests after they have received their treatments (seeing their pleasure!)

LSW: What is your favorite service to perform?

TT: Hot stone massage and any of the booster wraps we offer.

LSW: What direction do you see the spa industry taking in the next 10 years?

TT: I think the industry will continue to grow and become more popular. I believe the educational standards for hiring therapists will increase as well, because spa-goers are very savvy now. They are looking for new, exiting treatments that are not offered by their therapist at home. People are beginning to view spas as a way to relieve their stressful lives, and not just as a luxury. I think we will see more emphasis on hydro/helio therapies (a more European approach to water and heat therapy treatments and more water amenities for the guests).

LSW: Anything else you would like to add?

TT: It would be nice to see more massage therapy schools offer spa training classes in such areas as body exfoliations, balneotherapies and wraps. Because the massage industry is growing so quickly, the need for specialized training is high. Currently, we require our therapists to complete continuing education in five additional modalities (outside of their original training), so the higher the education level, the more marketable you are. This is a refreshing trend, and it allows for many new types of education (both therapeutic and spa-specific). I love this industry, and it is nice to have the options we have in this professional field!

LSW: Thank you both for having me as your guest and for sharing your views!

For more information on the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa, visit the Web: