AccorHotels’ Daniel Poulin on what makes a successful spa director

Daniel Poulin Spa Executive

Daniel Poulin is the Director Spa & Fitness, North & Central America, AccorHotels.

He oversees 18 spas, which include the world-renowned Fairmont properties, 60 fitness facilities, and hundreds of recreation programs. Fairmont spas have won many accolades, including a Forbes 5-Star rating for the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, San Diego. Three Fairmont properties also recently earned spots on Spas of America’s list of North America’s Top Spas of 2018.

Mr. Poulin’s career in the fitness and spa industry spans over 30 years, and he holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and a Master of Science degree in Nutrition with a specialization on exercise and breast cancer.

We spoke with Mr. Poulin about the personality traits that make a successful spa director, and what he’s doing to deal with the staffing shortage in the industry.

What is the secret to being a successful Director of Spa and Fitness?

On a popular reality show they always say that you have to bring your charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. This, I think, is what I’m bringing, and what I expect my team of 18 fantastic spa directors to bring.

We are in the people business, so we have to be charismatic and engaging. Charisma also relates to relationship building. I’m a big believer in relationships. Uniqueness is being able to bring your personality — what makes you yourself — to the job. I think that’s important as well. Nerve is, for me, the ability to think outside the box, to not be afraid of challenge or to speak up. And, obviously, talent is something that you bring with you, and we expect you to bring that when you are coming to our property, but it is also something that I work very hard in developing in my team.

You’ve also mentioned the “Hospitality Quotient.” Talk to me about that.

Danny Meyer, who owns the Gramercy Tavern in New York City, talks about “hospitality” versus “service.” In his words “Service is what you do to someone,” the procedures you have in place. “Hospitality,” on the other hand, is what we are doing to make people feel the experience.

The Hospitality Quotient, the HQ, is extremely important in our field. First and foremost, we are in the people business, and we use our spas, fitness and recreation programs, and facilities as our tools to connect with our guests. So, our spa directors need to be at a very high HQ in order to deliver on the experience.

How do Fairmont spas stand out? What makes them unique or special?

Fairmont is all about turning moments into memories. This is based on four pillars:

Authentic Experiences: You don’t go to a luxury spa to receive a massage. You go to a luxury spa to have an experience.

Nurturing Environment: We create a sanctuary for our guests that is also social. That means a fun and social place that is safe, comfortable, welcoming, caring, clean, and uncluttered.

Guided Journey: We guide each guest through a spa experience customized to their needs. The Guest Journey is authentically linked and seamlessly touches our five senses in each stage — sight, touch, taste, sound, smell.

Energized People: We measure our success by the level of positive energy in the spa. We look for the positive effects of people with good energy coming together. We call it the “synergy of energy.” That’s what makes us so unique.

How have your degrees in Nutrition Sciences and Exercise Sciences helped you succeed in this industry?

I think it gives a certain weight to the programs that we launch because I make sure they are not just fads. Spa and fitness it one of the trendiest industries in the world.

For example, something that is a meaningful industry development, rather than a trend or fad, is cancer awareness. The 2017 Global Wellness Summit identified cancer as something that should be addressed in spa and fitness, and that is what we are going to do. My Master of Science degree was on breast cancer and exercise. That means that I have extensive research on this, which allows me to get involved in a way that is coming from a place of education and understanding.

Let’s talk about the ever-present issue of staffing and turnover

This is such a well documented issue for the spa industry. The new generation in North America doesn’t seem to want to go into spa therapy, or if they do, they want to open their own business. I approach massage schools and try to engage with them and inform them about the great opportunities we have. I think it’s important in terms of educating people about the benefits of working for a large hotel chain.

We need to be prepared. Last year, ISPA conducted a lot of research on this and the anticipation is that in a few years we may not be able to run our spas due to lack of therapists. So, we’ve been working with Zeel, which is the Uber of massage. And if things continue in this direction, and we aren’t able to find therapists in North and Central America, we’re going to have to start hiring from abroad. In other parts of the world being a spa or massage therapist is still a profession that is very highly regarded.

Can you talk about any new developments or plans with any of your spas?

There are far too many to fit in here! Accor has recently made some exciting purchases, including Mövenpick and 21C Museum. 21C is a very cool concept – the hotels are actually art museums. I’m very excited about that because it’s an aspect of wellness that we don’t see often: mindfulness is the idea of stopping and taking the time, in this case, to look at some art. They also have spa and fitness.

We also have some great openings in 2019, like the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles. That is an iconic building that’s being completely gutted and rebuilt and will be opening in 2019 with an unbelievable spa, very cutting edge. It’s going to be a flagship for Fairmont. We also have our first SO/ opening in Havana, in Cuba. SO/ is the cooler sister of Sofitel. It will have obviously a spa and fitness so that’s very exciting.

Those are just a few of the many things I’m really excited about.


Spa Executive magazine is published by Book4Time, the world’s most innovative spa, salon, wellness, and activity management software. Learn more at