Spa and wellness consultant, Irisha Steele, talks mentoring, guest experience, marketing, and more.
Irisha Steele is a seasoned spa and wellness professional. After several years working with some of the top hotels and resorts, she recently launched her own consulting firm, Irisha Steele Consulting LLC.
Having learned from some of the best around the world, Irisha Steele has expertise in marketing, guest experience, and coaching team members. We asked her about all of this and more.
Please tell us about your career trajectory and how you came to be doing what you are today.
I studied criminal justice and psychology but at age 18 I knew that my true calling was in the spa industry. While in college, I worked part-time at a day spa where I fell in love with the spa industry. After graduating from college, I worked at a non-profit organization, but I always dreamed about returning to the spa world.
One day while walking in Boston, I saw a Bliss Spa being built and applied for a front desk job. I went from being a non-profit business manager to a spa front desk agent. I felt like I was taking a step backwards but I was happy. I worked my way up from front desk agent to spa supervisor and eventually to spa manager at the W Boston, where I stayed for four years. Following that I became Spa Director at the St. Regis Aspen.
Five years later I traveled to Bali, Indonesia to host a wellness retreat and wound up getting stuck there for nine months due to Covid! I took this opportunity to further my knowledge and experience in holistic wellness with the spa experts in Bali. When I returned to the US I worked at a small boutique property in Sonoma County and recently, I made the decision to start my own luxury spa wellness consulting firm, Irisha Steele Consulting LLC.
What is your role and what does it entail?
My role has a range of responsibilities, but my primary focus is to offer guidance and support to the hotels and spas I’m offering my expertise to. I like to think of myself as both the cheerleader and quarterback for spa development. From the operational side, I assist with business development, including marketing, licensing, equipment and computer systems, menu development, protocols, systems, business planning, financials and staff management.
What makes a great guest experience?
Slowing down. I never understood why there is a rush or fast-paced environment in a spa setting. I encourage everyone to slow down, to be more present. This makes people feel more cared for, and prevents the feeling of being transactional. It also helps build connections with guests.
I also believe a peaceful and calming atmosphere with skilled therapists who genuinely love to personalize their services makes a great guest experience.
Can you share some marketing tips for spas and hotels/resorts?
Build a strong(er) online presence. I often advise my clients to create fresh content and leverage social media to connect with potential guests and build brand awareness. High-quality visuals are a must. One client updated her TikTok account and we created ASMR content for facials and scalp treatments. These videos generated a lot of traction and guests would even ask about the “TikTok facial” when calling to make reservations.
Don’t forget about your locals. Connecting and marketing to the local community is important. As a former spa director, I made it a point to attend local events, volunteer, and offer local discounts to encourage community engagement. I understood the importance of keeping the spa busy during slow periods, and engaging with the local community was a great way to achieve that.
Do you have ideas for solving the industry staffing crisis?
I have been successful in using mentorship to attract and retain employees. As a member of The Northern California Spa Network, I participate in monthly meetings with other spa professionals. We often discuss the power of mentorship and its importance in keeping our industry alive. I am grateful to have had mentors who helped me progress from a front desk agent to supervisor, then to manager, director, and now consultant. In return, I have made mentorship a significant part of my hiring strategy. As a spa director, I provided mentorship and leadership development for all team members. I’ve lost count of how many team members I have promoted into different and/or leadership roles. One of my greatest success stories involves a massage therapist who was highly talented but wanted to advance further in his career. Through mentorship, he was promoted to lead massage therapist. We worked together to develop his skill sets, and he eventually became a Spa Director at a luxury wellness retreat center. I was extremely proud of him.
Do you find yourself leveraging technology lately and how do you feel tech fits in the wellness world?
Wellness and technology are so interconnected now. Personally, I’m always looking for ways to make my life more efficient. I’ve had the opportunity to visit several wellness centers that leverage technology to support guests. Sensei is one of the most innovative centers I have come across, and their use of technology to create wellness experiences is truly inspiring.
What are you excited about in the hospitality/spa/wellness world right now?
A focus on spiritual wellbeing. I’m excited to see more acceptance for spiritual wellbeing in the spa industry. Three years ago, when I was working on a spa menu, we developed a service called Spirit Path. It was a 90-minute treatment designed to uplift your spirit and realign your physical and energetic bodies. It included singing bowls, energy work. At the time, I received a lot of pushback on the service because it was perceived too spiritual for a hotel spa. Now, more and more spas are creating a place for spiritual wellbeing. I am seeing more breathwork, meditation, energy healing, and gratitude practices offered through spas and hotels.
What are you working on that you’re excited about?
I am excited to be currently involved in a new spa development at Dawn Ranch, which is located riverside at the edge of Guerneville in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. As a resident of Sonoma, I am grateful for the opportunity to co-create a magical spa in my own neighborhood. Working with the owners and general manager has been an amazing experience! Their focus on the guest experience has made my job easier and has allowed me to be more creative. Nature has been a significant source of inspiration for me, and the fact that the property is over 15 acres of ancient giant redwoods, sprawling meadows, and a vintage orchard feels like a dream come true.
Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at book4time.com.