How Spa Directors Meet Their Staffing Challenges

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In the perfect spa, massage rooms are filled with happy MTs and happier clients. The director of the perfect spa sees a steady stream of repeat clients, referrals, and word of mouth business that guarantees revenue to feed the perfect budget. Cue the rainbows and sunshine…

Massage staffing is an ongoing and complex issue for spa directors. Fluctuations in the number of guests is a fact of life in the spa industry and the challenges increase in direct proportion to the spa’s level of luxury. While virtually every spa has a core team of dedicated, trained massage therapists, a spa director faces numerous complicating factors when planning for staffing needs.

Seasonality and staffing in spas

Summer vacationers and snowbirds may book numerous massages during their time away from home, but if the weather doesn’t cooperate, it can affect massage bookings negatively. Some ebb and flow are predictable, such as back to school time, holidays, spring break time, and other seasonal events. Spa directors also understand that some massage therapists may come and go as busy days slow to a trickle in the offseason, nomadic therapists head to California in the summer and Florida in the winter, and attrition picks off the uncommitted MTs who just can’t keep up.

Where seasonality is a known quantity, spa directors have access to data from past years to rely on in staffing matters. They generally plan to hire massage therapists six to eight weeks in advance of demand; in a resort community, this can create competition and even a shortage of desirable therapists. New MTs and those new to a spa environment require increased screening before hire and more training once they join the staff. There is a limited window of time to organize a solid team of therapists the director and appointment bookers feel confident assigning to guests.

The wellness industry is on the rise

As consumer interest in wellness pushes spa revenues over the $100 billion mark, spas are constantly searching for ways to provide better service, more choices, and more focus on individual guest needs in the massage room. Massage offerings become less a matter of merely filling the rooms and feeding the revenue stream than providing outstanding guest service while ensuring the massage therapists feel engaged and fulfilled. Massage therapy accounted for over 50% of spa revenue in 2014, and Zeel Spa’s National Director of Spa Operations Sandra Grignon estimates that in 2018 it will increase to as much as 80%. Finding skilled massage therapists with hospitality training equal to guest expectations can be daunting for many spa directors.

Guests are becoming more educated and demanding more than the traditional Swedish/Sports/Deep Tissue offerings. Current trends include a seamless blend of Swedish massage and Eastern stretching practices, sometimes with a touch of  Craniosacral Therapy or Tui-Na.  The goal is to offer a beautifully orchestrated massage composed of techniques selected especially for the guest on the table. Old school “cookie cutter” massages are seriously out of date and unwelcome to today’s spa guests.

Faced with guests who want the latest and best, spa directors and massage therapists alike are working hard to expand their skills and knowledge and rise to a higher level of service. In a luxury spa setting, this covers much more than an understanding of massage therapy. Spa directors, particularly those at high-end resorts and hotels and luxury destination spas, often strive for a Forbes five-star level of service, a standard that requires the spa director to be a combination of quartermaster, prognosticator, and old-fashioned chatelaine. For massage therapists, working at such a property involves much more than technical proficiency and a caring attitude.

A portrait of the modern-day spa

Successful spa massage therapists historically were hard workers who faced eight-hour shifts with no breaks, responded positively to last-minute requests for one more massage at the end of the day, and didn’t mind being called in on their day off. They wore a uniform if the spa required it, scrubs if it didn’t, and – above all – comfortable shoes. They dutifully iced their hands and shoulders at the end of the day and refrigerated their uneaten lunch in the hope that tomorrow they might have ten minutes to eat it.

Today’s workplace emphasizes team building and cooperation, and a spa is no exception.

The modern spa’s emphasis on guest service means redefining and refining everything about the massage therapist’s role, attitude, skills, and even personal appearance. Today’s workplace emphasizes team building and cooperation, and a spa is no exception. Massage therapists are valued team members who deserve respect and honor. They interact directly with guests and therefore must be at the very top of their game in listening skills, communication, empathy, and ethics. They must be friendly, professional, and personable without being overly familiar. They are expected to get along with everyone, pitch in when needed, stay on schedule, and maintain the same high enthusiasm for the eighth massage of the day as for the first.

Zeel’s spa staffing solution

The intersection of staffing challenges, a shift in the role of the massage therapist, and prioritizing guest service present a unique opportunity that Zeel Spa is exceptionally well positioned to fill. Zeel Spa combines a sophisticated tech platform with thoroughly vetted and trained massage therapists on demand. Massage therapists from Zeel’s network are skilled professionals who combine massage education and experience with hospitality training.


Find Zeel at the 2018 iSpa Conference and Expo in Phoenix, AZ on September 24-26. Zeel will be offering $40 off in-room massages to all attendees during the conference dates. 

Come and say hi and talk spa staffing — we’ll be at booth #610.


Quality service

Therapists working with Zeel Spa may accept assignments to meet seasonal demand, vacancies left by vacations or sick days, callouts, large groups, wedding parties, or the availability of extra treatment rooms. Zeel Spa can be used by brand new properties which are ramping up their staffing, spas that are in transition between directors or are experiencing rapid growth.

more info zeel chair massage

While some spas may request a handful of MTs through Zeel Spa, in some instances a spa relies on Zeel Spa for 100% of its therapists.

Zeel Spa Academy offers specialized training in five-star service to massage therapists. In a luxury environment, every detail matters. A piece of lint or dog hair on a black uniform or visible tattoos can make or break the service standard. Conservative hair, makeup, jewelry, shoes (no neon green socks, please!) and even outerwear are emphasized. The training encompasses standards of behavior, communication, boundaries, and how to handle questionable or inappropriate guest behavior are outlined.

A therapist requested through Zeel Spa arrives at the spa needing only the most minimal training such as where to park, what entrance to use, and where the supplies are.

Technological innovation

Zeel Spa’s tech platform allows a spa to prioritize therapists based on a good fit with the property, and may always meet the MT in person before approving him or her for the assignment. This approval is reciprocal, as the therapist can also review the spa.

A luxury spa can request and receive massage therapists with Zeel Spa who meet the highest standards of service and professionalism, and who will fit into the spa’s massage team with no indication he or she is not a spa employee. A guest will experience a wonderful expert massage and plan to return soon. In turn, a massage therapist can work at beautiful high-end spas as much as they desire, assured that they are valued and essential to the spa’s success, resulting in satisfaction for all.

Read more: 10 Ways to Delight and Retain Your Spa Customers

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