23 May 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Spa Business
2023 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Deborah Szekely

Spa People: 20th anniversary issue

Deborah Szekely

Nobody should ever be lonely and we must help those who are, especially in later life

photo: Rancho la Puerta
No one should ever be lonely, says Szekely, and spas can help address that photo: Rancho la Puerta

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
My daughter. But beyond that, it’s the role I’ve had in politics. I’ve always been involved and when I was in my 60s, I ran for Congress. I didn’t make it, so I moved to Washington and ran a federal agency and created the Congressional Management Manual – a 300-page book about how to run a congressional office which is now in its 17th edition. Nothing like it existed at the time and I’m very proud of the impact it’s had.

And of course I’m very proud of The Ranch, because my husband and I started it from scratch. We actually came up with the idea of the fitness spa – there was no such thing at the time. We had a mountain, fresh air, a river and a creek and guests had to bring their own tent and paid US$17.50 (£13.30, €15.80 ) a week to pitch it. And we had lectures – my husband spoke every day at 4pm under the big tree and everyone attended. Then we’d all have dinner later under that same tree. So the importance of the mind and the wisdom of the elders was always key.

How can the industry realise its true potential?
To go outward, we first have to go inward. Staff have to be given time for massages and exercise classes for themselves, so they know what they’re talking about.

We have a whole wellness programme for our employees that includes access to treatments, a doctor, family counsellor, psychologist and nutritionist. Being involved with staff creates a sense of loyalty. In our case, we have those whose grandmothers were employed by Rancho la Puerta and they’re happy and proud to work for us.

Spas also need to reach out to become part of the community, which is another way to focus first inwards, then outwards. As it all spills over into the guest experience.

How do you hope the industry will look in 2050?
I hope spas will be out of business because everybody is living the right way! I hope they’ll work better together, support one another, train each other’s staff and share new ideas. I also hope there’ll be less of a separation between spa life and everyday life.

Is there anything you still hope to accomplish?
At my age of 101, no. But I still contribute through the Center for Science and Public Interest. The most important thing is for the food industry to clean up. We have a right to eat food that’s good for us and not full of chemicals.

Any further words of wisdom?
Throughout my life my friends have been my most important support system. Nobody should be lonely and we must help those who are, especially later in life. Here at the Ranch, everybody makes new and soon-to-be permanent pals and they often come back together at the same time. We change people’s lives – we offer so much to learn it’s like a week of college. You’ll experience things to think about long after you go home. And then, when that begins to fade, it’s time to come back again.

Read more: www.spabusiness.com/deborahszekely

More from spa industry leaders...

In celebration of Spa Business’ 20th anniversary, industry leaders take a look at how far the sector has come since the magazine’s inception in 2003, share personal career highlights and reveal their plans and ideas for the future.

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Originally published in Spa Business 2023 issue 3

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