Panelists weigh in on the issues impacting the efforts of spas in their pursuit of top talent and the things they can do to retain their expertise
In what is one of the wealthier pockets of Toronto, a stylish neighbourhood surrounds the intersection of Bloor Street and Avenue Road. It’s home to some of the city’s oldest and wealthiest families, and it’s the tony address for the Stillwater Spa at the Park Hyatt Hotel.
Since the Spa opened in 2003, it has been a beacon of wellness and was the first large luxury spa in Toronto, according to Director of Spa Kerry Werner. In 2017, the historic hotel and spa went on hiatus, shuttering its doors to undergo massive renovations, but the planned renovations hit headwinds when the pandemic struck in 2020.
After four years, it reopened to much fanfare on June 16, 2022. For Werner, that was a big day. “I’ve never worked corporately before. I’ve always worked for private resorts. So, to come into a corporate setting where I have the full support of the Hyatt behind me has been amazing. And the fact that the culture at the Hyatt, too, is just very reflective of what I believe is important when running a business.”
Werner, who had joined the Stillwater Spa two months earlier, had worked in Sparkling Hill Resort in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley for three years. She’s had a lifelong love of learning and all things spa. She began as a registered massage therapist and broadened her expertise to include a range of modes, from Reiki to lymphatic drainage and craniosacral therapy.
“At Hyatt, we take care of people so they can be their best. It’s really representative of how things are changing in the work world now—taking cues from wellness, spas, and self-care, and realizing that if you take care of your people, your people will take care of the business.”
She’s right on the mark. A recent study out of the University of East Anglia in the U.K.—where researchers analyzed almost 298,000 online ratings by employees for 11,975 high-touch hospitality and tourism companies—found that an increase in job satisfaction was associated with an increase in “return on assets” (a measure of profitability) of between 1.2% and 1.4%.
Some might see the Stillwater Spa’s resurgence as a metaphor for the spa industry post-pandemic. It took the opportunity to refocus, reinvent, and refresh itself. “The focus on the whole re-envisioning of the hotel and the spa was to give people an elevated, luxurious experience but, at the same time, make them always feel welcome,” says Werner.
The pandemic had forced people to reassess how they lived and worked in the new norm. “I saw people being a little more open to trying things they hadn’t tried before. Maybe they’re not just going to get a normal massage. They’re going to try some lymphatic drainage or try some Reiki and try to look at different areas that perhaps they’ve been neglecting.”
Flawless interior design
The renovations provided a canvas for the flawless interior design of Studio Munge: a blend of colours, shapes, and textures inspired by Canada’s natural vistas, local art galleries, and Toronto’s creative vibe. “They wanted to bring an element of art to all the spaces for a continuous flow throughout the property,” explains Werner. The spa features curated pieces that emit a sense of calm throughout and an art installation featuring serenely floating porcelain lilies that echo the spa’s brand.
Every detail was purposefully introduced to induce relaxation. A chorus of environmental triggers—lighting, colour schemes, artwork, scents, sounds, and even the warm robes—helps melt away outside stresses. Stone, natural woods, muted colours, and pops of metallics are blended to minimize sensory overload. Werner even reworked the treatment menu, making it simpler and non-gender specific with highly personalized options.
The Spa’s practitioners will personalize each client experience to pinpoint their wellness and beauty goals—whether they have come just to relax or are looking to address a particular issue like oily skin or tight shoulders. “We encourage the body and the mind to enter a parasympathetic nervous state, so you become deeply relaxed and open to healing. You’re in this serene area where you can let go, so that by the time you get onto that treatment table, your body is ready to receive.”
Behind the serene façade
But peek behind the dreamy walls, and you’ll find spa team members hurrying down adjoining hallways, busy working to ensure nothing remains overlooked. “So, when a guest comes up to me and expresses their appreciation for the relaxation and seamless service, we’ve done our jobs, but it definitely takes a lot of effort behind the scenes,” admits Werner.
Attendants typically arrive around 8:30 a.m. and spend the next 90 minutes getting the spa ready for the first guests. Throughout the day they’ll check to make sure there’s plenty of infused water, juices, and herbal teas, as well as spa bites: petit fours, tarts, and other treats. “We asked our pastry team to come up with one or two indulgent options, along with a few healthy ‘Spa bites’ every day.” This includes little meringue-topped lemon tarts, mini moulded mango jellies, and even the occasional fluffy maple fudge. Werner explains that seasonality and creativity come into play “with the Spa bites changing to reflect the seasons and availability of local sourced ingredients.”
A typical day for Werner starts with a 20-minute subway ride to the hectic downtown core. “Because we are part of the Park Hyatt itself, every morning at 9 a.m., we hold a managers’ meeting to hear what’s going on in the hotel, who’s arriving, if there are any special guests, any site visits—really anything we need to be aware of.”
She recalls the first meetings after joining the hotel as the Spa prepared to reopen. Hotel department managers were eager to learn what was being done to reinvigorate the space. “It’s something we still ask ourselves every morning,” explains Werner. “If a guest came in, and they didn’t like something about their room or their spa experience, we bring that to those meetings. We discuss it and find solutions and creative opportunities.”
Four weeks before opening, staff were trained on skincare products; training on manicure and pedicure products followed. The spa team worked on one another, experiencing the service and then assessing how well it was delivered. Since reopening, the team relies on client feedback to ensure continuous improvements.
The Spa introduced a client survey—attached to a thank-you email—that probes for both current experiences and past ones, and if there are things that need to change. “I’ll periodically send an email to the guest to introduce myself and ask them about their experience,” adds Werner.
The rest of a typical day for Werner is spent on daily duties: checking a flurry of emails, connecting with staff, reviewing bookings. “But my favourite part of the day is wandering through the spa to introduce myself to guests, hear how their experience is going, and how they like it.”
The refurbished spa has 13 spacious treatment rooms—one of which comes with a shower—two couples suites, five pedicure thrones, and three manicure stations. In line with the Spa’s belief in simplicity, each treatment room features cabinetry that houses linens, products, and equipment. “We wanted it to feel like magic. Clients walk into this room, and it’s not cluttered, and it’s clean, and it’s simple and modern. And then, they get on the table and all of a sudden, you’ve got oils and hot towels,” says Werner.
“It’s my passion and the Stillwater Spa team’s passion to let people know that self-care is not selfish, that it’s important, and that they deserve it.”