Montage’s Patrick Huey on the need for more diversity in spa & wellness

Patrick Huey is the Corporate Spa Director for Montage International. He is responsible for the brand visions for seven current and eight opening spas for Spa Montage and Spa Pendry.

Mr. Huey has over 20 years of experience in the hospitality and spa industries. He has served as Group Director of Spas – Asia for MSpa at Minor Hotels International; Corporate Director of Spa, Fitness and Tennis for Sandals Resorts International; and Corporate Spa Director for Viceroy Hotel Group.

Mr. Huey boasts an eclectic and impressive array of skills, and holds a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in Acting, and a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University in Creative/Nonfiction Writing, English Literature and Theatre. He also serves on the International Spa Association’s (ISPA) Board of Directors.

Spa Executive spoke with Patrick Huey about the need for more diversity in spa, and about his ideas for solving the industry’s infamous staffing problem.

Can you tell us a bit about your career history and how you came to be where you are today? 

When I graduated from university, I moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. To support myself, I got a job as a bellman at the Royalton Hotel, which was part of a group of hotels that included Paramount and Morgans. These were owned and operated by Ian Schrager, of Studio 54 fame. For five years, I worked for Ian Schrager’s Hotels in several capacities – Maitre d’, Assistant Restaurant Manager, Night Auditor, Front Desk. When I moved to Los Angeles to continue acting, I wound up working as a receptionist at the Westin Century Plaza Hotel, which at that time was complexed with the St. Regis Hotel. This was the beginning of my spa career.

In 2008, I was appointed the opening Spa Director for the Viceroy Miami at Icon Brickell. Liz Clayton, the Corporate Spa Director for Viceroy at this time – had recommended me for the position. She and I met when I worked at the Westin Century Plaza and she was the Spa Director for the St. Regis Hotel. When she left Viceroy in 2009, I filled the Corporate Spa Director position, and for the last 10 years, I have been working at the corporate level.

You said in an interview that spa needs more diversity, particularly in leadership. Can you please tell us a bit more about that?

A few years ago, the ballet world was faced with the question of where were its Black Swans, and this generated much conversation in the dance and art worlds in New York. We are in a similar situation in the spa industry, where we have made great strides in educating the public about the importance of what we do, but we have not been able to have the ranks of our leaders reflect the changing demographics of our world.

These issues of diversity challenge most industries, because the answers to gender, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity are not prescriptive. They are quite complex. We can start by creating dialogue and raising awareness.  

I also notice a lack of diversity in advertising and marketing. When I meet with brands, I look at their collateral to see if they have a broad range of ages, races, genders in their messaging. Whether the model is black or Asian or white isn’t determinative for me if I will try or use a specific brand, but it does let me know if they have an awareness of the broader world. It also lets me know, if a brand has its eye on the future, and it tells me who is and who is not sitting at the table when decisions are made.

The impact of a lack of diversity is felt on the bottom line. The more inclusive we become as an industry, the more consumers will make what we do a necessary part of their lives. This creates longevity and expansive financial relevance for our industry. I also think beyond just dollars and profits, if we truly believe in the work that we do, why should we not want as many people as possible to reap the benefits of taking care of themselves?

You’re very good about posting to social media and personal branding. Is this something you work at or something that comes naturally?

In all honesty, I approach social media as if I am creating a visual diary. I think about the cities, the people, the moments that I want to remember, and this helps me to determine how, when, and what to post. I used to be a prolific letter writer, but instead I post. Posting on social media and interacting on social media feels like an extension of writing a letter to a friend.

How do you think most spas are doing at marketing themselves and their team members?

Most spas are doing the best they can when it comes to marketing. Most spas don’t have the resources for major advertising and marketing efforts. They have to rely on word-of-mouth and reputation to grow their business. Within the hotel sector, most of the marketing for spa is embedded within the hotel story, which is appropriate. I do think opportunities exist – even within structures like hotels – for spas to have their own Instagram account or Facebook page to speak directly to their consumers.

Most spas do not highlight specific therapists. This a paradigm that we may need to challenge. In today’s world, people relate to people. If a spa has a dynamic therapist, there can be value in putting that therapist forward, because that person can have a relationship with the consumer in a way that a beautifully shot treatment room can’t.

We know that staffing is a big challenge in spa. Do you have any solutions to this problem?

I think the spa industry has to do a better job at promoting the wide and varied careers available within this industry. The industry requires talented therapists, but we also need chemists, herbalists, financial leaders, operational leaders, designers, development people, architects, project managers to keep the industry moving forward. I don’t know how good we are at promoting what we can offer for careers.  

What’s something happening, like a trend, development, or movement within the industry that you’re excited about?

The trend that I see in the industry that is interesting to me is consolidation. Over the past few years, we have seen the merging of hotel brands that has been replicated in the spa world. We have yet to see the full impact of what this means for the spa and wellness industry over the long term, but we know that it is significant.

Is there anything happening with Montage that you’re excited about that you’d like to share with us?

At Spa Montage, we have focused the last 12 months on relaunching our skincare story. When I joined the company, I felt this was an area of opportunity for increasing service sales and retail sales, but I also wanted to re-engage the wonderful estheticians in our spas and challenge them in new ways. We have partnered with Valmont from Switzerland and Tata Harper from Vermont as our two main skincare lines, and the variance in the two companies’ philosophies and approach to skincare development have allowed us to speak to a broader range of consumers. We have been able to reassert this crucial aspect of our business.  We are already seeing results from these two partnerships.


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