Spa Life Interview: Sue Harmsworth MBE
Recognised as one of the world’s leading spa and wellbeing experts, Sue Harmsworth’s innovative, inspirational and forward-thinking approach has helped shape the luxury spa industry into what it is today. Her pioneering approach combined with her passion and vision has underpinned the success of health retreats, luxury spas and wellness destinations globally and led her to the creation of ESPA, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month.
How did you get where you are today?
I’ve had a passion for health since childhood – my grandmother was a herbalist and my mother was in medicine, so it’s always been an inherent interest of mine. My early career in the 60’s began in health and beauty journalism, though a deeper interest in spa therapies soon developed and I opened my first business, a salon in Toronto, in the 70’s, where I learnt therapy from a medical perspective through my Eastern European therapists.
On my return to Europe in 1980 I managed a Thalassotherapy Resort in France and then spent four years as GM of a destination wellness resort in the UK. I founded my own spa company in 1988 and launched ESPA the brand in 1993.
Back then, the spa industry back didn’t exist in the way that we know it today. Those experiences gave me the vision of combining health and beauty, mind and body, natural and scientific. It sounds so straightforward now, but it was quite revolutionary at the time!
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I’m passionate, driven, high-energy, and what you see is what you get.
What’s the piece of advice that’s stayed with you throughout your career, and why?
My father always told me; "You can achieve anything through hard work and you should learn something new every day". He also told me to listen!
What's your ethos?
I believe in having a positive mental attitude. Wake up every day and be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t have.
What is the proudest moment in your career?
It would have to be receiving my MBE because it was recognition of a lifetime's work and it came from outside of the industry.
What are your beliefs about work, and life?
Master the things you find difficult and don’t avoid difficult situations. Be financially responsible, treat everyone equally and give people the benefit of the doubt. Always aim for 120% and be honest! Be true to yourself and treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s a small world, what goes around comes around.
What challenges do you see ahead? How will you tackle them?
My whole life has been a challenge. Every day is still a challenge! Living day-to-day in politically uncertain times makes it difficult to make a long-term business plan so it’s important to remain as flexible and versatile as possible to deal with the uncertainly of the current global economic climate.
What trends do you see emerging in the spa industry?
We are seeing a rise in negative stress and anxiety as a direct result of an increase in technology in our lives – people are finding it harder than ever before to switch off.
We have to educate clients; give them the tools to live life with as little stress as possible and one of the key challenges we face is helping people to manage their stress – it’s all in the education.
As a result we are seeing a greater demand from our customers to find balance in body and mind through skincare and treatments so it’s becoming increasingly important for these to not only deliver a physical result on the skin but to also have an emotional response such as helping to aid relaxation and sleep.
What’s your most memorable experience in this role?
The most memorable thing will always be the thousands of people ESPA has touched globally, from therapists and staff to clients. It really is amazing the number of people who come up to me when I’m travelling to talk about their experience with ESPA whether that be through our training or having experienced a treatment.