Rising up the resort spa ranks with The Fontainebleau’s Josie Feria
Beyond gorgeous views and a luxurious poolscape, a reputable menu of well-being services is the new ‘it’ factor for the hotel industry. In fact, the international well-being tourism market surged to $494 billion in revenues in 2013, a 12.5 percent gain over 2012, according to the Global Wellness Institute.
With more hotels adding wellness floors, expanding spa offerings, fitness centers, and healthy dining choices, what does it take to thrive in this space that caters to active and healthy guest consumers?
With 30 years of such experience behind her, Josie Feria, director of operations at Lapis, The Spa at Fontainebleau of Miami Beach, understands the trends behind this demand.
Earlier in her career, while working for the exclusive Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon and Spa in New York City - “My sense was that clients were wealthy, overachievers trying to maintain their well-being and an edge in performance. I saw a lot of Wall Street people, and socialites who cared about how they looked and were perceived by the public,” says Feria.
But over the decades, “Extremely expensive services have moved down through socio-economic groups and to the aging population,” says Feria. “More people are seeking relaxing experiences that offer the opportunity to regenerate. They’re looking to make the most of current good health and stave off illness.”
To this end, “A spa’s design concept is integral to facilitating the relaxation experience,” says Feria, who joined the Fontainebleau a year in advance of Lapis’ 2009 opening. The 40,000 square foot, two-story facility features 30 treatment rooms with restorative healing water therapies.
“Our spa is very Swedish bath house. We are free of oversized furniture, floral prints and fireplaces in our lounge. It’s very sparse. Our intent was to use beautiful materials -- blond woods, marbles, and fabulous stone on the floor as background for the enjoyment of our guests, rather than having heavy decor and throw rugs as the focus. If you look around the iconic property, which dates back to 1954, the spa is design appropriate,” says Feria.
While Lapis stays on-trend offering treatments such as, Chakras, a massage using warm candle-oil and crystals and Path to Relaxation, an exotic, seaweed-infused water journey, it’s the traditional Swedish massage that drives 84 percent of its volume, says Feria.
“It’s far higher here than at any other facility I’ve ever run. We have a lot of 20 and 30-something-year-olds who don’t have sagging skin here. Everyone wants a great massage. People are incredibly stressed and they associate massage with instant relief,” says Feria.
To stay ahead of the industry curve, Feria, an avid reader, says she peruses The New York Times daily, finding the health sections particularly helpful for trend-spotting. She also visits spas regularly, and attends the annual International Spa Association (iSpa) Conference.
But at Lapis, “We don’t ascribe to be medical in any way, as in offering bio-feedback or nutrition programs. Lots of people are already doing that very well. As a resort spa, we try to offer a bit of wellness in to people’s busy lives – whether it’s booking a one-hour massage or by using our facilities,” says Feria.
While Feria credits her upbringing for her natural graciousness and knack for making people feel comfortable, it’s her background in marketing and sales that have taught her how to grow a brand’s market share and profitability.
“I never knew a hotel operator who didn’t want to make a buck. My ability to take a marginally profitable product to immensely profitable has endeared me to my employers,” says Feria.
Feria’s 6 career advancing tips
It’s in the details. “I pay attention to what the amenities and plants look like and that guests are greeted by a gracious attendant. If I’ve go somewhere and left unsatisfied, I’m not going back. I’ve always been interested in making sure that in my presence, people had a favorable experience.”
Rise up to challenges. When opportunity knocked, Feria accepted a supervisory position over 30 estheticians, 24 facial rooms, 13 massage rooms and a yoga studio. “It was an arena where you couldn’t make any missteps. Either I was going to do it very well or back off completely. I had to immerse myself in the culture to learn and perform well.”
Value your locale. While working for The Phoenician Center for Wellbeing in Scottsdale, Arizona, “I learned to incorporate local ambiance and traditions of its desert setting in to our programming. We used cactus, jojoba and yucca plants in products and treatments. The destination gave us a key selling proposition and differentiated us in the marketplace from spas nationwide.”
Go beyond your skillset. Full-time massage therapists can earn $60,000 - $70,000 and estheticians roughly $10,000 less at Lapis. To meet this income potential, “We looking at a lot of criteria. I can train you to do a great scrub or a better massage, but not to be warm, smiley and friendly. Not everyone in hospitality is gracious by nature.”
Give to receive. Overseeing 105 employees, many of whom are typically trained and promoted in-house, Lapis has a high retention rate, says Feria. “The hotel provides daily free meals for employees as well as uniforms that are cleaned for free. We reward with gift cards for guest satisfaction and recognize exceptional employees quarterly. We bring attention to their shortcomings in a positive, effective way. People need to know when they’re doing well, but alerted when performance is not as it should be.”
Listen to customers. “I read every guest comment card and answer email off of our website. How can you know what people want otherwise? Staying connected helps us to revise services and tackle problems in innovative ways.”
Header photo credit: Phillip Pessar