Think Running Your Spa is Tough?

Lisa Starr

An interview with Monica Barter of COMO Resorts

When you are feeling challenged by delivering top-quality spa services in a difficult business environment, consider the job facing Monica Barter, COO of COMO Resorts.  Barter oversees eight spas at COMO properties in far-flung locales such as the Caribbean, UK and Bhutan, and I was fortunate to meet her at the COMO Shambhala Estate on the edge of Ubud, Bali during the recent Global Spa Summit.  The Estate is a five-star destination for discerning travelers in the green heart of Bali, and it’s collection of individually designed “residences” and 12,000 square foot spa create a wonderful haven in the jungle.  Ubud is considered a “town,” it is really an area; the Ubud village with two main streets lined with shops, restaurants and small hotels, and a few smaller villages on the outskirts, surrounded by fields growing rice, tea and coffee.  Despite its somewhat remote location,  the guests at the Estate still expect the best in hospitality and spa treatments, no matter how hard it is to find staff.  Barter excels at creating an environment where high quality spa experiences can be enjoyed by the guests, regardless of the season, or how hard it may be to find qualified staff. 

COMO Shambhala is a Wellness Retreat, and so the focus on health and spa treatments is more evident than at some of the other COMO properties.  The Estate employs mostly local staff, which helps to connect the Estate and the community.  Although many of the spa therapists are, as Balinese, naturally intuitive healers, Barter does use her training budget to send many of them to Singapore for more advanced formal training.  Barter maintains that “What keeps people interested is allowing them to know that they have a career path with you.”  When possible, Barter will rotate staff among COMO properties, which provides both additional training and the ability to better understand the COMO group.  Says Barter, “We have guests who are COMO fans and travel to various COMO properties, and they are sometimes amazed to find therapists they are familiar with.  This, in turn, makes the staff feel involved, and rewards them for stepping out of their comfort zone.”  The Shambhala spa staff of about 30 people include yoga & pilates teachers, an ayurvedic doctor, a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, a Tai Chi master, and therapists and support staff. 

Barter usually hires staff who have some English-speaking experience, but also employs an inhouse English tutor.  COMO, like most resort properties worldwide, pays their staff a monthly salary, but they also include a monthly recognition and reward system for a variety of metrics, and staff can nominate each other.   Barter notes that they have 10 different nationalities working at Shambhala, and so the company hosts staff outings off property, where family in invited and everyone can “let their hair down.”  Because she employs so many young women in family situations, Barter actually has a staff pregnancy roster, and they follow it!

Retailing is always a challenge, as at any resort property, where guests are typically already invested in a skincare regimen.  The Balinese people are non-intrusive by nature, so the concept of retailing is challenging, but Barter encourages her staff to find one “hero” product they are comfortable recommending, which creates a layering approach for the clients; 3 different people each recommending one product can result in higher sales than 1 person recommending 3 products.  Barter relies on those staff members who are comfortable with making homecare recommendations to drive sales efforts, and this strategy allows her to meet her numbers.

Treatment Room in Kedara

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