Many people understand the benefits of regular massage, and massage is increasingly incorporated into health care environments.

Spa marries these two concepts — massage as preventive health care — and offers a plethora of employment opportunities to massage therapists.

But there’s a problem: Spas are in dire need of qualified massage therapists. There are an estimated 38,000 unfilled service provider positions, of which 18,400 are full-time and 19,600 part-time positions. Massage therapists account for the largest number of unfilled positions that spas are currently trying to fill, a total of 19,150, representing almost 50% of all unfilled positions.

The 2018 ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study showed that 40% of spa employers have an issue with hiring qualified, experienced, passionate professionals. The availability of professionals is not matching the growth of the demand in the industry. Specifically, shortages are reported for massage therapists.  

“The shortage is at a critical level in our industry. We need well-trained therapists who want to stay in the industry,” said Allan Share, president of the Spa Industry Association.

Spa-Going Statistics

One way the public experiences massage is while on vacation at spas and health resorts. The spa industry has grown and continues to grow as the health benefits of spa-going are better understood.

Statistics from the International Spa Association (ISPA) show the public increasingly going to spas for their personal well-being. The ISPA 2018 Spa Industry Study reported that total spa revenues for 2017 were estimated at $17.5 billion, increased from $16.8 billion the previous year. The total number of visits to spa establishments is estimated to have risen from 184 million in 2016 to 187 million in 2017.

Most people who visit spas purchase massage services (67%), followed by skin care (35%) and nail services (30%), according to ISPA’s Consumer Snapshot Vol. 1X, released this year.

What You Get Out of Working at a Spa

As a spa recruiter, I sometimes wondered if massage therapists understand the benefits of working in the spa environment. This article will provide you with the information you need to make an educated decision about career paths at spas.

Before diving into the details, I will say this: Working in a spa offers schedule flexibility, free education, a beautiful work environment and consistent income.

Working in a spa can also take your private practice experience to the next level. You have no overhead of rent, bills, products or supplies, and no need to do your own taxes — or bear the burden of booking appointments. The spa environment is set up to be relaxing, with beautiful interiors, a serene, natural setting, state-of-the-art equipment and pristine workspaces.

Working in a spa also has competitive pay structures. Many spas have standard hourly pay plus a commission based on the percentage of the cost of service. Some have a guaranteed gratuity that is automatically added into your payment. They also have additional benefits based on full-time or part-time status.

The annual compensation level of full-time massage therapists was $43,800 across all spa types, according to ISPA’s 2016 US Spa Industry Study Compensation supplement. (The average was higher in resort and hotel spas, at $52,700, compared with day spas, at $42,400.) Full time at spas is, generally, 30 to 34 hours per week.

In addition, spas provide free continuing education on a variety of modalities. Spas need to train therapists for their menu of services, which include various massage modalities and body treatments that can extend a massage career. Being trained in hydrotherapy or body wraps, for example, can add to longevity, as these types of treatments create a break from repetitive movements.

You will get a variety of different people on your table at a spa, and that’s a great way to home in on your skills. Working at a spa will also introduce you to different products that can benefit the provider as well as the guest.

“When I got into this business almost 30 years ago, the mantra was ‘educate, educate, educate,’ Share said. “Nothing has changed; we need to make sure therapists are properly trained and developed because they are important members of the team.”

Types of Spas

Spas offer a multitude of services. Guests can learn about and experience a variety of healthy lifestyle choices, which can include nutrition or dining options, meditation and spiritual offerings, indoor/outdoor activities and workshops.

A large percentage of resort and destination spa guests receive massage locally, and would like to receive something different when they are away. Some people find a resort to be a safe place to receive their first massage.

Guests go to day, resort and destination spas for an experience, whether they are going for vacation or an enlightening lifestyle change. Guests on a vacation may look to just get away, relax and rejuvenate, or they may want to learn about health, fitness, wellness, prevention or spiritual growth.

Typically, spas’ offerings are available to staff as well. Massage therapists have the opportunity to learn about and practice modalities they ordinarily would never be exposed to, such as advanced massage techniques, water therapies, aromatherapy, Ayurveda, body treatments, movement, sound, visual intentions and unique cultural rituals, depending on the spa’s location.

Benefits & Challenges of Working in a Spa

Benefits

• You won’t be alone; you will be part of a team and will learn from peers and supervisors.

• Benefits at some spas include health insurance, 401K, paid time off, paid CEs and disability insurance.

• Perks at some spas include use of facilities and classes.

• Flexible schedule: Part-time can be considered on-call or just one to two shifts. Full-time typically requires a minimum of 30 hours per week. Your work schedule can be day, afternoon or night because resorts have a consistent flow of guests who need massages.

• Free education for required CEs or advanced modality trainings. Opportunity to learn other skills.

• Access to a variety of supplies and equipment to provide your massages — clean linen, oils/lotion/cream, massage tools, Thai mats, salts and stones — are all at your fingertips without any cost to you.

• Competitive wage structure and paid breaks.

• Your massage schedule is booked for you.

• Your taxes are paid for you.

• Your schedule can be integrated with massage and body treatments. Body treatments can relieve your workload and lessen repetitive injuries. They may also increase your pay structure, which adds to sustainable income.

• You will have the opportunity to experience and learn about a variety of lifestyle choices, which can include healthy nutrition options, meditation and spiritual offerings, indoor/outdoor activities and workshops.

• Working in a spa environment as a therapist can evolve into other positions, such as management, education/trainer or sales.

• You have the ability to work anywhere in the world. If you align yourself with larger resorts you may have the ability to transfer to different locations.

Challenges

• Working as part of a team may not be appealing to you, if you like to work alone.

• Limited control of your schedule. Your work schedule may require you to work days, nights or weekends due to guest demands. Shift days and times may not be conducive to your personal lifestyle.

• You will work under supervision and will need to follow spa policies and procedures, and adhere to a job description and work expectations.

• An integrative approach, working alongside of specialists, management and other departments, may not be your cup of tea.

• Wage structure per massage may appear to be lower than in private practice.

• You will be expected to do body treatments and brand rituals. For the therapist who just wants to do massage every day, this may not be a good fit.

Embrace a Higher Quality of Life

Massage employment at a spa is a lucrative profession, said Shane Bird, director of Spa/EVS Operations at Turning Stone Resort and Casino in New York, New York.

“Currently at our spa a therapist is booked 76% of their schedule,” Bird said. “In my eyes, it is a win-win for those wanting a viable profession to seek out a position in the spa industry.”

We all know the challenges of our profession — possible injuries, financial instability, finding healthy employment, and being respected as a professional, to name a few. Working in a spa can eliminate some of those challenges and give you a quality of life you can embrace.

Diane Trieste is a massage therapist and has worked in the spa, wellness and hospitality industries for 25 years. Her proven success is recognized internationally as a skilled businesswoman with a diverse portfolio of operations

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