Industry Leader: Rianna Riego, Spa Director La Costa Resort and Spa
Rianna Riego is the spa director of the internationally acclaimed Spa at La Costa, a 43,000- square foot spa located at La Costa Resort and Spa.
Prior to her post at La Costa, Riego enjoyed eight years in the spa management field at some of the most celebrated resort spas in the country. Most recently, she worked with the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa in Tucson, AZ to develop the concept for the three-story, full service Hashani Spa. Prior to that, she launched the opening of the 13,000-square-foot Spa Esmeralda at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa in Indian Wells, CA. Riego also worked as a task force director for Marriott Spas in need of pre-opening and troubleshooting services, served on the advisory committee for Marriott Spa Design and Operations, and trained new spa directors at for the company. Riego began her career in 1984 as assistant public relations manager of the Manila Hilton International in Manila, Philippines and was promoted to public relations manager of the hotel in 1986.
Riego graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines, Diliman in Manila where she graduated cumlaude and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Marketing.
SpaFinder: How did you get your start in the spa industry?
Riego: In 1997, after having worked in public relations, sales, and retail in the hospitality industry for more than 15 years, a friend solicited my assistance in taking over the Four Seasons Day Spa in Maui which then took care of all facial and salon services. At the time, I was an art consultant but needed more to occupy my time so I gladly agreed to consult. I was involved in lease negotiations, setting up the accounting and retail systems, and interviewing all the staff. Naturally, I had to read up on skincare and was fortunate enough to have friends in the industry who mentored me. That day spa more than doubled the earnings of the previous operators and sparked my interest in the industry.
SpaFinder: What makes your spa successful?
Riego: La Costa Spa has built its reputation on being the first resort spa in the United States. Built in 1965, it catered to the elite and was very exclusive. Even when its facility was run down prior to KSL taking over and renovating it, the loyalty of the locals and its members remained intact. Today, we have built on that foundation with a beautiful Coastal-themed spa that has as much outdoor space as indoor. Guests love to stay the entire day and take advantage of our facilities. At a time when real estate is at a premium, La Costa spa offers the space that most spas cannot afford. That combined with the skillset of a staff of 125, a third of whom have anywhere from 15-35 years of experience with this spa and a regular clientele to show for it, have been the ingredients to this spa's success.
SpaFinder: What's the most important decision you've made for your business?
Invest in the future. In every spa I have been, I have focused on mentoring and sharing knowledge with those who have the passion for the business because we have to develop the leadership pipeline for this industry. With so many spas being built, owners are forced to hire people who have not succeeded in their previous spas, or promote people who might have the potential but not the knowledge. But the spa industry is such intense work for the spa operator, that it can wear that person down so fast. I believe in creating succession plans down to the hourly associate and personally guiding them through their development. I also believe in sharing with colleagues who reach out to me.
SpaFinder: What are the challenges you face today?
The industry has grown too fast and almost every place that has a treatment room is considered a spa. In attempting to educate our consumer base, we are not giving ourselves enough credibility by not taking our business of wellness seriously. In the food industry, there are gourmet restaurants and fast food chains. Consumers are able to differentiate and justify the pricing. However in our industry, consumers don't quite understand because we haven't made that true distinction among ourselves.
SpaFinder: What is the trend that you believe will change the spa industry?
Riego: The focus on wellness and future legislation towards healthcare will be instrumental in where our spa industry directs its energies. Aside from all the spa communities, several healthcare organizations are already integrating spa into their post-recovery regimens. In Europe, this has always been the trend and may be a possibility for this country.
SpaFinder: What is the trend that you see emerging in the med spa industry?
Riego: I cannot pretend to really know the answer to this question. What I have noticed is that non-med spas are now integrating more clinical approaches to their treatments in response to consumer preference. I have also noticed that guests no longer ask for the more agressive treatments like they used to because they might prefer to take a less invasive and higher maintenance approach. That said, the med spa industry may have to integrate a more holistic approach to their treatments.
SpaFinder: What advice do you have for spa owners and operators?
Riego: Keep it simple. If you run reports on which treatments sell, you will find that the most basic are always the most popular. You still have to keep the fun and alternative treatments to spice up the menu, but in essence, focus on your basics. At La Costa, we found that by offering 100 minute alternatives to our staples like deep tissue and even thai massage, guests are happier and come back because they actually see results.
SpaFinder: What business achievement are you proudest of?
Riego: I am proudest of all those that I have mentored, from directors to hourly associates whom I have personally staked an interest in and spent time helping them in their choices. When I see where they are now and what they have achieved, I feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments.
SpaFinder: Let us know about a great experience you had at a spa other than your own.
Riego: My very first spa experience was in 1993 at the Grand Wailea Spa. I had no expectations. At the time, an attendant escorted you through every segment of your hydrotherapy circuit which was an hour long prior to the treatment. I remember sitting in one of the baths after having sat in the whirlpool, done the cold plunge, had the loofah scrub, tried the swiss shower and the roman waterfall. And I thought to myself, "I feel like a queen". I have since used that example to every staff I have managed by telling them that we need to make every guest feel like royalty before they even have their treatment. Only then can we really say we've hit a homerun.
SpaFinder: What are your thoughts on SpaFinder and its relationship to the industry?
Riego: Spa Finder has certainly revolutionized the way spas reach out to consumers. I know that most of us in the industry depend on Susie Ellis' editorial and yearly trend articles to make our decisions with respect to what we offer in our spas. It has also given everyone a more global perspective of the industry and continues to educate everyone on what's out there.