10 Questions with Jeremy McCarthy

I was recently interviewed for a blog article by my friends at Spa Developments , a global spa consulting and design firm.  Since I’m traveling in Asia and haven’t had time to write an article for this week, I thought I would publish this interview and give TPOW readers a chance to get to know me a bit more.  Next week we will return to our regularly scheduled programming!

Jeremy McCarthy has had a lifelong career of pampering guests at luxury resorts in the spa and hospitality industry, including 14 years with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and 3 years opening and operating the new spa at famed La Costa Resort and Spa. Currently, he is the Director of Global Spa Development and Operations for Starwood Hotels and Resorts where he is responsible for the development of spas across Starwood’s many hotel brands around the world.

Q: As the Starwood Spa guru, what is an average working day like?

Unfortunately, I spend a lot of time in my office staring at a computer screen or on a telephone.  I think of it as managing by “remote control.”  I miss the days of working on a resort campus where I could get up and walk around a beautiful property, talk to guests, meet with employees.  That being said, I am able to rub elbows with a lot of really smart people in Starwood’s headquarters and can liaise with those who work on our hotel brand teams, marketing teams, technology channels, design, architecture etc.  A large part of my job is making sure that all of Starwood’s resources are used to drive our spa business just as well as they do the rest of the hotel.   There is no way  that I could manage our massive portfolio of over 300 spas plus another 100+ in development without leaning on all of the other resources that Starwood has driving our performance.

Q: So, your team has decided that it’s time to build a new spa or revamp an existing one. What comes after this?

First, the decision isn’t made by us alone.  Usually it comes out of discussion between our ownership groups, our property teams, our regional teams, with feedback from our customers and our associates.  Once we know a project will have a spa, we have to determine what the spa will be:  managed by us or by a third party?  One of our brands or an external brand?  These decisions vary property by property depending on the vision of the owner, the economics of the project and the demographics of the location.  Assuming it will be one of our branded spas, we approach it with an intense design focus.  We believe that ensuring the spa is set up right in the beginning is a critical part of its future success.

Q: Our Spa Projects site is uniting Spa Professionals from around the world. What, in your opinion, is the up and coming place for new Hospitality developments?

China, India, Russia, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi are all somewhat hot right now in terms of an infusion of new spa and hospitality projects.  A lot of our new development has been, and continues to be in Asia (with a lot of that in China.)  But I am excited to see the wheels turning in North America again.  A lot of spa projects that were “on hold” for the past few years are starting to move again, and Starwood is seeing both new hotel developments in the U.S. as well as owners desiring to convert their existing hotels to one of Starwood’s brands.  Our reputation for strong brands and our ability to drive business through channels like our SPG loyalty program create opportunities for us even in a down economy.

Q: What would you like to see more of in the Health and Wellness Industry?

I see the Health and Wellness Industry, taken broadly, as highly segmented into three divergent categories. 

1.  There is the “health care” component, which is “evidence based” (interventions and services are substantiated by research on large populations) but mechanical and bureaucratic in it’s delivery and failing to take into account the holistic nature of human health. 

2.  Then there is the “spa” side of the coin which is highly holistic, considers lifestyle and transformation that extends beyond a mere physical intervention, and delivers healing experiences that are enjoyable and that people want to have more of.  The spa world, however, is all philosophy and no science. 

3.  Finally, there is the “medi-spa” side of the industry that is more scientific but less holistic.  The medi-spa arena focuses on  superficial treatments to enhance beauty and appearance.  I classify “anti-aging” into this section since most anti-aging treatments only impact the “appearance” of aging, rather than truly extending human flourishing into more years of the lifespan. 

I would like to see more convergence in the Health and Wellness Industry with more places for healing that are scientific in their approach, holistic in their scope, and nurturing in their delivery.  There are very few entities that live in this sweet spot.

Q: Can you describe your spas in 3 words?

No.  🙂

I couldn’t capture our whole portfolio in three words because it is so diverse.  Our brands are segmented by different lifestyle categories so each brand is unique.  As an example, Heavenly Spa by Westin I would describe as “uplifting, sensory, relaxation,” Explore Spa by Le Meridien could be “explore, discover, together,” and AWAY Spa by W Hotels could be described in two words: “detox, refuel.”

Q: Recently there has been an increase in the Garra Rufa Fish spas for feet (where fish nibble at the dead skin), what is the most unusual Hotel Spa Treatment you have ever encountered?

I’ve had the “fish reflexology” treatment and laughed my head off the whole time (ticklish!)  That probably would win the prize but I also enjoyed a treatment called “Hydro Rush” at the Kohler Waters Spa in Wisconsin which included being vigorously doused by alternating buckets of hot and cold water.  I laughed my head off in  that one too!

Q: What is your favorite Spa treatment?

I just like a really good massage.  I enjoy Thai and Shiatsu but mainly I like to be in the hands of someone really competent who uses their experience and intuition to adapt the massage to what I am needing at that moment. 

Q: There are many emerging design trends for Spa, are there any that really stick out for you?

Given that most of the world has just come out of an economic pummelling and are cautiously trying to determine how to move forward, I’m seeing a trend towards smaller spas.  I’m embracing the challenge to explore ways to take smaller spaces and create rich, meaningful experiences for our guests.  The guest doesn’t know how many square feet or how many treatment rooms a spa has so the key is to make the spa experience just as good in a 200 square meter spa as it is in a 2000 square meter spa.

Q: On vacation, you are most likely to be:

a)      On the Golf Course

b)      At the Spa

c)       Lounging by the pool

Answer: d)  “Other”  (Doing something active like surfing or hiking.)

Q: Jeremy, we know you have a keen interest in Psychology and we enjoy reading your blog entries on www.psychologyofwellbeing.com. How would you say the Health and Wellness sectors combine with the field of Mental Health?

 My real interest is in holistic wellness.  The reason I study and write about psychology is because I feel like that is the part that is undervalued in most health models.  Even in the spa industry, where we talk a lot about “body, mind, spirit,” we could do better at really understanding the science behind people’s mental and emotional states or their sense of meaning and spirituality.  I like figuring out how people tick and understanding “the ghost in the machine” that drives wellbeing.  The blog pushes me to continue researching these areas, but it also connects me with a great community of like minded people who are also passionate about human wellness. 

In our society we tend to compartmentalize both health and science into different “departments” so mental health and physical health are viewed separately.  Unfortunately, this glosses over the complex interactions that we all experience between body, mind and emotion.         The scientists like to simplify down to categories that are easier to measure, while the holistic approach is to embrace the complexity, but don’t bother with trying to understand it or measure it using the scientific method.  I think there is room to do both: accept the complexity of human nature and keep pushing the science to evolve so our understanding of it continues to grow.

14 Responses to 10 Questions with Jeremy McCarthy

  1. Lisa Sansom May 24, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Lovely interview – and how nice to get to know you further through this method! Enjoy your travels and I look forward to more of your posts when you return!

  2. Todd Kashdan May 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    Nice job, you deserve all the attention you are getting.

  3. Sara Firman May 24, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    A great quote from you that I shall share! ‘I would like to see more convergence in the Health and Wellness Industry with more places for healing that are scientific in their approach, holistic in their scope, and nurturing in their delivery.’ With the proviso that the science be in its pure form, unadulterated by economic or commercial interests. Some are making a valid distinction between materialistic/ reductionist science and holistic/ quantum science.

    I also love that you bring out the value of small (and exquisite) which is something I’d love to see explored further. I recently came across a group who are adding to the word ‘sustainable’, the word ‘sufficient’, and examining what that means.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on the GSS especially. Safe and happy travels.

  4. Marie-Josee Shaar May 25, 2011 at 9:49 am #

    Loved the interview as well! I also agree with the comments above. Looovely!

  5. Wanda Love May 28, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Always inspiring, Jeremy!

  6. Charlie Wills May 28, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    Hope all is great,
    Found you through the Global Spa Summit web site. I was really starting to wonder where someone that thinks like you exsisted in the Corporate spa world. Thanks for that breath of fresh (Heart Coherency) air. As you articulated so nicely about the Mind, Body and Soul (aka Heart Brain and Nervous system) with the fusion of spa and science as Sara also said “everyone is different”. I was wondering how we can Link up and move this all to a higher level? Using as Sara mentioned CAM’s, Heartmath Brain wave entrainment etc.

    Would Highly appreciate a way to carry this conversation further if you would please by emailing me if possible?
    I will say that the 2 spa’s I worked at in 2010 were both in the top 10 Tripadvisor Awards for Relaxation and Spa, in the Mexico and Caribbean category.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Charlie Wills

  7. Louisa Jewell May 30, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Great interview Jeremy! As usual, you are so inspiring. To be honest, I thought surfing would be higher on your list! Thank you.

  8. Jeremy McCarthy May 30, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    Hi Louisa, You know me too well. Actually that was a multiple choice question so they suggested A,B or C and I had to add “D-Other” which should be at the top of the list!

    Thanks, J

  9. Louisa Jewell May 31, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Oh that’s why! I get it now.
    Hope you are enjoying your time in Asia. Us Canadian folks are very keen to hear you speak in September! More deets to come.

  10. Ruth Webber June 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Thanks for explaining the Spa World more completely. Remember those of us who are over 80, perhaps with high blood pressure or allergies. We may enjoy a spa massage without perfumes or too much heat. Calmness, quiet care will be appreciated.

  11. Jeremy McCarthy June 17, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    Thanks Ruth, I appreciate your words of wisdom which I will share with others in the industry!

  12. GarraRufainsurance August 29, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    I’m surprised just how so many fish pedicure spas have sprung up in the uk without looking fully at the possible health risks to clients, or insuring against them.

  13. Erich Hotter February 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    I find your interview very interesting and also encouraging. during my long career in tourism (I have been running Austrian National Tourist offices in London and Munich and the tourist board of Styria) I got involved in the regional Spa industry as a researcher, consultant and trainer.
    At the time I tried to champion the kind of holistic wellness you are asking for – and failed. The reason being, that most costumers would not really care for such a structured concept but opt for a few massages and cosmetic treatments. Wellbeing ultralight as it were …
    Do things change now? Is there a market emerging for this kind of product?
    As you may see on my website (www.hotter.cc) I am involved in burnout-research and prevention. We cooperate with two Austrian spas which try to get their guests interested in testing, seminars and counseling.
    Although burnout is a central topic in the media over here and people talk about it everywhere – so far our partners have not been able to get one single group of customers together ..
    Do you have evidence to the contrary? I would be very interested to hear from you.

  14. Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremymcc) February 7, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Hi Erich, It is challenging. I don’t have any easy answers for you. The system works against selling wellbeing in this way. Culturally, people would rather enjoy life now and pay for it later rather than focus on prevention. Sad, but true.

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