This time of the year, just when the winter is starting to loosen its grip, I tend to get a bit nostalgic and start thinking about my days at Soneva Fushi. Five years has already passed since I left the cold and dark Sweden, for living on this hideaway-island. Talk about contrasts, leaving Stockholm (in January 06), which was all covered in snow and less than 20 hours later, landing at a sunny Male airport, having no idea what to expect.
I was about to start one of my biggest job challenges, being Spa Manager for Six Senses’ flagship property; Soneva Fushi, located in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Walking out from Male airport, almost blinded by the bright sunlight, I was met by the Six Senses’ airport rep who welcomed me and said: “Great that you are here, they are longing for you at the spa”, the previous spa manager just left! It is a tough job, just so you know it….” Ok, thanks for the information…as I was not already nervous.
How on earth did I end up on this part of the earth? A few days ago I had finished my final tasks at the L’oréal office in Stockholm and here I was in the somewhat chaotic city of Male, trying to open a bank account and get a Maldivian phone number…
It all started when I was reading about Eva Shivdasani (founder and owner of Soneva Fushi) and her passion for sustainable design and barefoot luxury. This was 6-7 years ago and at this time Eva Shivdasani was not so well known in Sweden as she is today, but I must admit that I was mighty impressed about what she had accomplished. I also had a desperate longing to leave the cold and long winters and escape to a place where the sun would always shine. So, here I was, about 8 months later, after the first initial email to Six Senses, via interviews and meetings in London, and then finally in the Maldives, with shaking legs…I truly felt like Bambi on ice.
After a short sea plane ride (luckily my first sea plane ride was not a bumpy one) I had finally the Kunfunadhoo island right in front of my eyes. Before actually arriving to the island’s main jetty I took off my shoes, just like all guests, but the difference for me was that I did not see my shoes for the next coming 3 months.
The Beauty of the Kunfunadhoo island
Just another hour later I was already in my new office, meeting the spa team with therapists from India, Bali, Thailand and Maldives and I started to feel somewhat relived, the people were so friendly and curious. Khun Som, the Assistant Spa Manager was the one to do the hand over, and we tried desperately to find time during the days to go through documents, reports, SOPs…but most of the time was “eaten up” by “hands on tasks”, such as meeting guests, chasing engineering to do maintenance, helping therapists to settle in, meeting visiting travel agents, chasing shipments and product deliveries, cooking at staff parties…etc etc (Yes! On my first evening I ended up cooking at the monthly staff party on the beach)
I was thrown right into to the operations, and when Khun Som left about 6 weeks later for another property I felt like I had been on the island forever.
Time flew and there was little time to reflect, the first time I left the island (for a short trip) was after about 3 months, I went to Male and got very surprised by how strange it felt to wear shoes again and to see cars and motorbikes everywhere. It is amazing how fast you adapt to a new environment and forget about the outside world.
The days as a spa manager started early: before 8 am I was in the spa checking my emails, checking that all guest bookings were ok, making sure that the treatment rooms were nice and tidy and that there were no technical problems. Then jumping on my bike to arrive in time for the daily HOD (Head of departments) meeting, a short morning brief to go through the list of arriving and departing guests, going through all guest comments (positive and negative) and all other issues or events for the day. Some days we had the meeting right on the beach; having a job meeting in the bright sun, seeing a dolphin family pass by, well those days I always thought; I must have the best job in the world!
The day would continue with the daily brief for the spa team. We went through issues, bookings, sales and budgets. I did not spend many minutes in my office during the day and in the evening just before sunset I would always wonder how fast the day had passed. During the last evening hours I would do admin. work, which is of course way too late, my eyelids would be very heavy around this time of the day. The last thing on my daily to-do list was to write a personal welcome letter to each guest that was about to arrive the next day! Around 8 pm I would meet up my husband in the staff canteen for a quick dinner and then some nights I would go on with a MOD shift (Manager on duty) or the weekly cocktail at the sandbank.
My time as a spa manager was intense, fun, demanding and challenging. I was in paradise and it was so beautiful. Watching the sunset or going for a swim just before it was pitch dark are precious memories, as well as the friendships that I made during my time at the island. The spa team was fantastic, hard working, had the right attitude and great massage skills (although there was never enough time to actually benefit from working together with some of the best spa therapists in the world).
Looking back at this time I feel that there are of course some things that I would have done differently or things I would have liked to know about before I went there, as it would have made my time as Spa Manager a lot easier. So if you are considering taking the next step and going for a Spa Manager position (especially to a resort spa) check my list for some advice:
- Even though you have manager experience from other fields, or you are a therapist and know spa very well, go for an assistant spa manager position first, it is the best way to learn the job!
- Make sure you have a “mentor”, at least during the first year as a spa manager, it can be a manager-colleague that you trust or a spa manager in another resort, but I recommend that it is someone that understands the business and someone that you can discuss your challenges with.
- If you are working as an Assistant spa manager or you are in a similar position, take a spa manager education before stepping up as a spa manager. It gives you invaluable tools for the future. You get know-how for HR issues, budgeting, strategic work, marketing work and most of all; you avoid mistakes that others have done.
- Make sure to allocate time every week for planning marketing and sales activities, staff issues and follow up work. Block a few hours every week in your calendar when you close the door to your office and work efficiently and focused with these issues.
- Be honest to yourself, it might sound amazing to live on a Robinson Cruise island, but are you sure you can give up your spontaneous restaurant or cinema evenings, or your own privacy? If not; maybe a spa manager job in a city is better suited for you.
- Do some research before applying for a position, which spa- or hotel companies would you like to work for, what are their values, are they walking the way they talk?
- Make sure you have a signed contract and no question marks before you are boarding the plane to your destination.
- Make sure you take time for yourself; it is easy to get absorbed by work, especially living on the same tiny island, as your job place. Make sure you treat yourself with good food and exercise and try keeping your physical activities as regular as possible. This is essential as you will need all the energy to manage the spa operations.
- It is all about humans! Both in the guest relations but also with the staff. If you are not interested in relationships and people, don’t bother becoming a spa manager. You have to love being around people, and you have to invest a lot of time and spirit in you spa staff, if you don’t have a happy team, you don’t have a great spa!
- Take the chance! The job is fun, you learn something every day and you make people happy! Most of the people that walk out from a spa are walking out with a big and restful smile…
P.S Prepare yourself for a Spa Manager job in the best possible way – check out our Spa Manager Education at http://www.raisondetrespas.com/services/educaton-training/ or contact Anna-Cari Gund; firstname.lastname@example.org for more information