A Career Move to a Resort Spa: Is It Right for You?

By Ann Brown, LMT

A Career Move to a Resort Spa: Is It Right for You?

By Ann Brown, LMT

Wondering if working in a resort spa is right for you? I've been in this industry for nearly 20 years, but I have to admit – it was more of a career path that opened up for me, instead of one that I purposefully set out to make my life-long mission. It was definitely one I never expected to love so much.

I fell into the resort spa industry. I say "fell" because, when I started, I was looking for a job with flexible hours and good pay while I was finishing my MBA. My previous work had all been in sales, driven and dollar-focused. I went to nail technician school as a means to support my way to my MBA, not looking for a career in the resort spa industry. I didn't really know all the benefits of working for a large corporation, but once I started working within one of the largest resort spas in the U.S., I started to see so many other perks besides good wages and flexible hours. I had, at my fingertips, very low employee hotel rates at the other hotels within the corporate group, great pay with taxes taken out, medical benefits, complimentary lunch and uniform cleaning, and the ability to trade freely with the other licensed staff for massages, facials and all sorts of modalities I had never tried before, such as watsu, Thai, MLD, reflexology, craniosacral, acupressure and more.

I also had the opportunity to add to my spa education at a discounted rate, sometimes even earning free CEU's from training for new menu items. Training for treatments such as stone massage and classes on the principles of hydrotherapy were the perks that really opened my eyes to the BIG world of spa. When I started at my first resort spa, I have to admit my nail technician job was primarily about meeting my needs – some decent money and very flexible hours. I had my basic license, but it became quickly apparent to me that the more education I had, the more money I was going to make.

The resort spa I was working for had a couple of pedicures that included reflexology on the spa menu, but I wasn't eligible to perform them. You had to have at least 16 CEU hours in reflexology and some case studies before being opened on the schedule for these pedicures. When the resort spa offered a free 16-hour CEU class on reflexology, I decided to do it, mostly because it meant a significant pay raise per hour for me to be able to do these specialized pedicures over the basic ones.

You may have heard the saying, "When you are ready to learn, the teacher will appear." I learned so much in those two days of reflexology training – that is exactly what happened to me. I was in awe of what I learned and the potential it held. At the time, I had some minor health issues and was at a loss as to a course for my future wellness. Through this class, I immediately felt the benefits that spa therapy had upon my own health. The reflexology class set me on a path that has daily reminded me of why I am in the spa industry.

It also put my big toe in the pool of entertaining the idea of entering massage school, which was very intimidating to me. I had never been much of a touchy feely type and hadn't given much massage of any type to anyone before entering school, but the more spa therapy I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I have to admit – I was so intimidated about massage school that I pursued esthetician training first. Please don't judge me, but I was equally intrigued with skincare and really learned so much from some Eastern European estheticians I worked with, I thought I better get that license under my belt next, so fast forward four months and I finally took the plunge with massage school. I was living in Florida at the time and went to a 500-hour evening program. I was receiving treatments for my health concerns within the spa, trading with massage therapists and receiving lots of MLD, reflexology and seaweed treatments and hydrotherapy using water temperatures to aid in the exchange of fluids and to help me reduce water retention issues, and it was all working. I honestly had a hard time believing that all this natural stuff was working and making my body more alkaline, but it was undeniable how it improved my overall health. As I look back even today, it was an "ah-ha" moment in my life.

That's my story, but you may still be thinking – is the resort spa industry for you?

First, I know it can be intimidating, but you will have to push through those fears. Working with 50 to 150 staff members, some with oodles of certifications and years of experience, can be quite overwhelming. What I found is so many of them are willing to share their experience, technique and offer great advice. I am so eternally grateful for all the spiritual souls I have met in the spa/massage industry. Second, the pay and hours are really pretty good. You have no overhead, and since uniforms, supplies, business cards, linens, massage oil, equipment and clients are provided – Why not?

Many resort spas are breathtaking and so ample in room size, offering luxurious locker rooms, ergonomic hydraulic tables and more. There is so much for you to enjoy. I do understand that some massage therapists are hesitant to leave their own practice because they like the relationship they have when they see the same client weekly or monthly to better his or her health. Sometimes, in a resort setting, this is almost impossible. But I do think you have the ability to set the bar really high for resort spa clients with your massage techniques and abilities. You can set the guest's expectations and put them on a course of action for better health, for sure. All clients are looking for prevention/wellness tips and who better than to do that than a licensed massage therapist who is getting a better understanding of the client's structure/muscle/fascia during a massage, not to mind the emotional aspects the body holds.

So many people enter the massage world with their first massage on vacation, whether a resort or cruise, and why not impress them with their first experience? You have the potential to make them aware of how important massage is for their health.

Lastly, I think the career implications and business aspect of making a move to a resort spa is huge. You can potentially learn from other smart business people, not only in the massage industry, but also food and beverage or resort group sales or marketing gurus. You can learn how they operate and this can benefit you in numerous ways via networking, growing your own future business and giving a broader scope of your potential. If you are worried about the interview at a five-star property, my advice is to own it. If it seems like a good fit to you, it probably feels the same to them. Good luck – and let your journey begin.