Spa attendants work in hotels, resorts, and salons. They are specially trained in facial, body, and water treatments. They assist massage therapists and estheticians, and prepare and clean the treatment rooms and tables. They provide spa customers with refreshments, towels, washcloths, and robes. According to the International SPA Association, there are 280,700 people employed by the more than 12,100 spas in the United States.
History Spa Attendant Career
Fossils prove that even the mammoths of over 20,000 years ago enjoyed a good spa treatment. The town of Hot Springs, a small resort village nestled in the hills of South Dakota, features a fossil excavation site. This site serves as evidence that mammoths were attracted to the area’s pools of warm water. Humans share this attraction. Native Americans considered natural hot springs to be sacred healing grounds. Throughout Europe, the ancient Romans built colossal spas, including the Baths of Caracalla, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Only its ruins remain, but these baths once featured hot and cold baths, a swimming pool, a gymnasium, shops, art galleries, and acres of gardens.
Although spas fell out of favor during the Middle Ages, by the 17th and 18th centuries they had once again become popular in Europe. An interest in making use of natural resources for healing and relaxation spread. By the late 1800s there was hardly a well of natural spring water in the United States that a businessman had not capitalized upon. At the turn of the century in the United States, people visited resorts and spas (with or without natural hot springs) for exercise and relaxation. By the 1920s spas had become popular retreats for the wealthy. Since that time, spas have diversified their services and attracted a wide range of visitors. Today’s spas have clients ranging from busy professionals looking for several hours of stress reduction, to families looking for healthy vacations, to pregnant women seeking relaxation, to men looking to keep fit. According to the International SPA Association, there were more than 136 million spa visits in the United States in 2003.
The Job of Spa Attendants
From the ylang-ylang plant to the lomilomi massage, spa attendants are teaching vacationers a new language of health and rejuvenation. Although there were only 30 spas in the United States in the late 1970s, the number now has grown past 12,000. More than 7,000 of these are day spas, where clients can check in for an afternoon of relaxation and rejuvenation. The remainder are resort/hotel spas, which welcome clients for longer visits. Spas and resorts have cropped up around natural hot springs, the seaside, the desert, the mountains, and even the plains. Some spas are designed to meet very specific needs, such as weight management and holistic wellness. While most spas offer the usual facials, body wraps, and massages, many are expanding to include “mind/body awareness” as people flock to spas for both physical and spiritual needs. In some spas, you can schedule hypnosis, yoga, and dream therapy sessions right after your horseback riding, tennis game, and round of golf. So the duties of a spa attendant can vary greatly from location to location. Spa attendants are also finding work outside of the vacation industry, at salons and day spas, as cosmetologists recognize the need to expand into other areas of beauty care. In addition to actually performing treatments, spa attendants devise special treatment plans for individual clients. They also schedule appointments, order and sell products, launder linens, and clean all spa areas. They offer advice on treatments and skin care products.
Craig Rabago works as a men’s spa technician for the Ihilani Resort and Spa in Kapolei, Hawaii. Ihilani means heavenly splendor, and it is part of Rabago’s job to help guests realize this splendor. “I create an atmosphere that is heavenly for them,” Rabago explains. “I’m of Hawaiian descent and a local. I give people a warm welcome and make them feel at home.” Rabago has been trained in a variety of services, including seaweed wraps, salt scrubs, and thalasso hydrotherapy (a fresh seawater massage). The Ihilani features a fitness center and separate spas for men and women; each spa includes a sauna, steam room, needle shower, hot tub, and cold plunge. For the popular “cool ti leaf wrap,” Rabago prepares a table in one of the spa’s private rooms, spreading out the long, frond-like Hawaiian ti leaves and treating them with special oils. When the guest arrives for his wrap, Rabago gives him a robe and sandals and shows him to the lockers and showers. When the guest is ready for the treatment, Rabago then brings him to the treatment room and directs him to lie back on the table. As he explains the treatment, Rabago rubs the guest’s skin with oils and lotions, making sure to pay special attention to sunburn, dry skin, and other trouble areas. He then wraps the guest in a damp sheet. Rabago leaves him wrapped for 25 minutes, checking in occasionally to make sure the guest is comfortable. In between treatments, Rabago must take linen inventory and keep the spa areas clean. He also does a fair amount of work on the computer. “But taking care of the guests’ needs—that’s my priority,” Rabago says.
The Ihilani capitalizes on its locale, providing treatments with fresh seawater, sea salt, seaweed, and Hawaiian plants. In a different kind of environment, a spa and resort may provide very different services. Mud baths, natural hot spring whirlpools, volcanic mineral treatment— resort owners around the world develop their spas with the natural surroundings in mind. This results in very specific training for spa attendants. “The training was time-consuming,” Rabago recalls. “The spa techs train with each other. We put in lots of hours of practice before we actually go to work on a guest.”
Spa Attendant Career Requirements
To prepare for work as a spa attendant, take high school courses in anatomy, physiology, and biology. These classes will give you an understanding of the human body and muscle systems. Chemistry will prepare you for the use and preparation of skin care products. Health courses will teach you about nutrition, fitness, and other issues of importance to the health-conscious patrons of resorts and spas. Because so many spas offer treatment for both the body and the mind, take some psychology courses to learn about the history of treating depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional problems. Finally, take computer classes, which will allow you to become comfortable using this technology. If in your future job you need to keep track of spa supplies, you will probably be using a computer to do so.
In addition to these classes, you will benefit from having CPR and first aid training. Check with your high school to find out if it offers such training or contact organizations such as your local Red Cross. Many spas require attendants to know CPR and first aid, and your training will give you an advantage when looking for a job. Currently no specific postsecondary training program exists for spa attendants. Most spas put new hires through their own attendant training programs. Any work experience that you already have in a spa, therefore, will make you an appealing job candidate. During your high school years, try to get a summer job at one of the many resorts across the country. Spas often hire extra help to deal with the increased number of guests during this peak vacation period. Although you may only be working with the laundry, you will have the opportunity to see how a spa or resort is run and find out about the many different jobs available.
Some spas require their attendants to be certified cosmeticians or massage therapists. In such cases, education beyond high school is required. If you know of a specific spa at which you wish to work, ask about the hiring policy for attendants. Cosmeticians receive their training from cosmetology schools; massage therapists are educated at schools of massage therapy. Licensing requirements for these professionals vary by state, and you should know what these requirements are before you begin a program of study.
Craig Rabago of the Ihilani advises that a good spa attendant should “be happy, courageous, and ambitious.” Guests of resorts and spas expect to be pampered and welcomed and can only fully relax during a spa treatment if the attendant is calm and considerate. Be prepared to serve your clients and to remain friendly and helpful. “But don’t be timid and shy,” Rabago says. “This is a good way to meet people from all around the world. You can broaden your horizons.”
Any shyness and excessive modesty may also prevent you from performing your spa duties properly. You’ll be applying lotions and oils to the naked skin of your guests—if you are uncomfortable, your clients will detect it and become uncomfortable themselves. You must take a professional approach so that your clients feel safe and at ease. You should have a good “bedside manner”—the calm, comforting approach health care professionals use. Self-confidence is also important; you must convey to your client that you’re knowledgeable about the treatment.
Exploring Spa Attendant Career
One of the best ways to explore this type of work is to get a part-time or summer job at a spa. You may be surprised by the number of spas in your area. There may even be a resort on the outskirts of your city. Look in the yellow pages under “Beauty Salons and Services” as well as “Health Clubs” and “Massage.” (Many of the listings under “Spa” are only for hot tub dealerships.) Visit a salon or day spa and ask to interview someone who works as a spa attendant. Some attendants may allow you to shadow them for a day or two. Larger salons may have openings for part-time attendants, allowing you to gather firsthand experience.
Many resorts across the country advertise nationally for summer help. Check the classified advertisments of vacation and travel magazines. You could also select a resort and spa from the pages of tourism publications, such as Islands, and call the hotel directly to request information about summer jobs. Spa Finder magazine also publishes a directory of spas.
If you are unable to find a job at a spa, consider a part-time or summer job at a local hotel, beauty salon, or tanning salon. In any of these locations you will gain experience working with guests and providing for their comfort. Nursing homes and hospitals also employ high school students to provide clients or patients with personal care services. Working at a retail store specializing in products for skin care and beauty, aromatherapy, and massage can teach you about various spa treatments and products and help you decide if you are interested in this line of work.
If you have the money, consider making an appointment for yourself at a spa in your area. You may not be able to afford a vacation or full-day treatment, but even an hour spent as a client at a spa can give you an impression of what working in such an environment would be like.
The International SPA Association estimates that, as of 2005, 280,700 people worked in the spa industry in the United States, which is up from 151,000 in 1999. Spas have grown at a very rapid rate over the past five years, and they should continue to do so as more people begin to value the benefits of spa visits. The primary employers of spa attendants are hotels, resorts, salons, and, naturally, spas. Increasing numbers of salons are adding spas to their facilities to maintain a competitive edge; this will lead to increased opportunities for spa attendants throughout the country, mostly in larger cities and metropolitan areas. The same is true for hotel spas. Many spas, however, are clustered in resort areas with attractions like hot springs and consistently pleasant climates.
Many spa attendants receive their training on the job, but some background experience in health care or cosmetology may help you in landing that first job as a spa attendant. Craig Rabago, for example, worked as a surgical aide before going to work for the Ihilani. “The work is related,” he said, “but it’s a very different atmosphere.” He learned about the spa job from a listing in the newspaper. If you are not particular about your geographic location, check travel publications for listings of resorts and spas and contact the spas about job openings. Spa Finder, both online and in their print directory, lists spas according to their specialties and locations.
A degree from a cosmetology or massage therapy school can be valuable when looking for a job in a spa. Many of these degree programs require fieldwork, or hands-on experience, and will put you in touch with salons and fitness centers. Without a degree, you may be limited in the spa treatments you are allowed to perform. But as more and more individual hair stylists and beauty salons open day spas to accommodate all the needs of their clients, both licensed and unlicensed spa attendants will find more job opportunities.
The longer an attendant works in a spa, the more he or she will learn about the services provided there. The attendant will also have more opportunities to expand upon the on-the-job training and potentially be allowed to perform more treatments. Though attendants typically start off with only an hourly wage, they can eventually receive commissions and tips. The more guests an attendant works with, the better tips and commission he or she will make. In a salon or day spa situation, the clientele will include regular customers. If they are happy with an attendant’s work, they will request that attendant’s services specifically and thus increase the attendant’s income.
Attendants who complete further formal education also become qualified for more advanced positions. Those who attend cosmetology school to become cosmeticians typically take classes such as anatomy, chemistry, and physiology. They are qualified to work on the skin, giving facials, body wraps, and makeup applications, and may also do hair removal by waxing or plucking. Nail technician programs offered through cosmetology schools or nail schools qualify the graduate to give manicures and pedicures. Attendants who are particularly interested in fitness may want to consider advancement by getting an associate’s degree from a fitness program. Courses for such programs include muscle conditioning, nutrition, and injury prevention. Those interested in massage may seek advancement by completing a massage therapy school program, which will qualify them to give different types of massage. These programs include course work in anatomy and physiology as well as provide hands-on training.
Some attendants advance to become spa program directors. As program directors, they are responsible for adding new services, training spa attendants, determining what skin products to use, and controlling other details of the spa’s daily practices. Those who wish to run their own business may eventually open their own spa.
Salaries for spa attendants vary greatly across the country, so no significant salary survey has been conducted in recent years. Spa attendants make from minimum wage to around $10 per hour. Salaries vary according to work environment (a large resort will pay more than a small salon) and the spa attendant’s responsibilities. Spa attendants are either paid by the hour or by commission (a percentage of the spa treatments performed). Spa attendants also receive tips of between 10 and 15 percent. Some spas automatically bill guests an additional percentage to cover the tip, so that the guest doesn’t have to worry about having the money on hand to give to the attendant. With tips from a wealthy clientele and a commission on higher-priced services, a spa attendant at a fine hotel will make much more than an attendant in a smaller day spa. Employees of spas are likely to receive better benefits than many of their counterparts in the cosmetology field. Spa attendants working at hotels may also receive a variety of perks, such as discounted spa treatments, guest rooms, meals in the hotel restaurants, and travel packages.
Working among vacationers in a sunny, scenic part of the world can be very enjoyable. Most spa attendants work within well-decorated, temperature-controlled buildings, with soothing music piped through the speaker systems. Fresh fruit, tea, and other refreshments are often readily available. Spa attendants work directly with a public that has come to a resort to alleviate stress and other worries, making for very relaxed interactions. Some hotel spa attendants even live on the premises in special employee quarters, or in nearby housing, allowing them to live close to the beaches, mountains, or whatever natural beauty surrounds the resort.
Because spas usually open in the wee hours of the morning and close after dark, spa attendants may have to work long, irregular hours. Depending on the codes of the spa, they wear uniforms and jackets. They also wear gloves if their skin is sensitive to some of the products.
In a local beauty salon, a spa attendant tries to maintain a similarly relaxed environment in the few rooms dedicated to spa treatment. The rest of the salon, however, may be noisy with waiting customers, hair dryers, electric clippers, and music. The salon may also affect those with allergies to chemicals in hair treatment products.
Day spas, which may be located in large cities, typically strive to maintain a serene environment for the clientele, from the reception area, where soft music may be playing in the background, to the private treatment rooms, which may have soft lighting. While the spa attendant may work in these areas, he or she is also part of the activity behind the scenes, often working with damp laundry, cleaning supplies, and spa products.
Spa Attendant Career Outlook
The International SPA Association reports that spa visits are on the rise in the United States, with clients making nearly 136 million spa visits in 2005 alone. This increase can be attributed to the growing appreciation for the benefits of spa visits, the increased number of day spas, and increased popularity of spas among men. In fact, many spas are adding treatments specifically for men. These expanding facilities and new treatment options should translate into job opportunities for everyone working in this industry, including spa attendants.
In addition, the public is becoming more health conscious, and people are looking to spas for both enjoyable and educational vacations. Some spas are specializing in teaching guests new patterns of diet, exercise, and skin care. A number of health care professionals are even predicting that spas will be covered by health insurance plans; doctors will write prescriptions to patients for spa treatments. To compete with other spas, and to satisfy returning guests, spas are likely to offer even more diverse lists of services and treatments. The spa attendant will have to keep ahead of health and beauty trends and be capable of adapting to new programs and methods.
Anticipating a future of one-stop beauty treatment, the owners of hair and beauty salons are dedicating rooms to spa treatments. For the cost of a little remodeling, hair salons can stay competitive with local day spas, as well as generate more business. Spa attendants may find their best job opportunities at these salons, where they can earn a good commission and establish a client base.