23 May 2019 Leisure Handbook

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Leisure Handbook - Susie Ellis


Susie Ellis

One of the hardest-working champions of the spa industry, Susie Ellis talks to Rhianon Howells

Rhianon Howells
Ellis was recipient of the International Spa Association’s 2012 Visionary Award
Over the past decade Ellis has been on target in predicting trends such as lifestyle real estate
Ellis started her career at the Golden Door

Susie Ellis is president of SpaFinder Wellness™, the spa marketing and media company, author of SpaFinder’s Spa Trends Forecast and chair and CEO of the Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS). She’s also on the board of the Center for Medical Tourism Research and is a member of the spa advisory board for the University of California, Irvine’s, spa and hospitality management program.

Ellis began her spa career in the 70s as a fitness instructor at California’s Golden Door destination spa where she worked for Deborah Szekely and quickly progressed into management.

After leaving the Golden Door, she worked as a consultant and got an MBA from the University of California Los Angeles, before working as an assistant to two consecutive International Spa Association (ISPA) presidents. In 1995, she was recruited by Donald Trump to manage his first spa at The Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida. She’s married to Pete Ellis, who’s SpaFinder chair and the CEO and chairman emeritus of the GSWS, making them one of the spa industry’s power couples.

Spa Trends
Penning SpaFinder’s annual Spa Trend Report™, has won Ellis a reputation as a soothsayer since the first one was published in 2002. Over the years, she’s frequently been on target in identifying trends, including spa lifestyle real estate (2005), sleep health (2007) and wellness tourism (2009) – so much so that, today, its publication is eagerly awaited by both consumer and industry press.

SpaFinder Wellness™
The Ellises got involved with the spa industry early on for investment purposes, unaware it would become their life’s work. In 1995, Pete launched the online car sales and marketing company Autobytel and when he took it public in 1999, the couple invested in a number of companies – including a New York-based travel agency and magazine publisher called SpaFinder.

Today, SpaFinder is no longer a travel agency, although it still works with over 25,000 travel agents. Instead, it promotes spa and wellness experiences direct to consumerss through its website, vertical search technology, reservation system and gift card programme. More than 25,000 wellness-focused consumers visit spafinder.com each day, and over the last few years, the company has launched sister sites in the UK, Europe and Canada.

It’s this international perspective, believes Ellis, that’s one of her great advantages when compiling the annual trends report. “We have a bird’s eye seat here at SpaFinder,” she says.

It was a vision of creating greater unity in the industry that motivated Susie and Pete – along with a group of leading spa professionals – to launch the GSWS. Although many of the founders are still on the board, Ellis has been the driving force.

Medical collaboration
Although much of her time is taken up by the GSWS – which takes place in New Delhi, India in 2013 and will see the launch of an additional associated event, the Global Wellness Tourism Summit – Ellis is still the face of SpaFinder and remains very involved in the business in addition to producing the Spa Trend report. “We do three studies a year at SpaFinder,” she says, “one with consumers, one with the industry and one with travel agents, which gives us a lot of information. We can also see from our website what’s trending. Finally, we have a team who travel to spas all over the world, and I count on their input – and I always jot down trends to track.”

What sets SpaFinder’s report apart from others is the focus on emerging trends rather than established ones. “To make those sorts of predictions, you have to do a fair amount of research,” she says “and that means reading a wide variety of newspapers and publications, going to [non-spa] conferences like TED and TEDMED, and talking to many people around the world about what’s going on.”

As a result of such intense interest, the list is no longer only identifying emerging trends – it’s also driving them. Ellis says: “I noticed maybe that shining a light on an emerging trend would oftentimes accelerate that trend. So now one of the things I consider is what’s good for the industry…and if I think a trend will have a negative impact, I won’t include it.”

Medical collaboration
In addition to her roles at SpaFinder Wellness and the GSWS, Ellis has also been a driving force behind the creation of www.spaevidence.com, a website designed to help both consumers and professionals find medical evidence concerning the efficacy of specific spa therapies.

The thinking behind this venture is that the spa industry and the medical sector are natural allies, with huge potential for collaboration, however, medics require evidence of efficacy and although there is much great science available to prove the value of spa treatments, it was scattered and difficult to access, meaning collaboration was difficult to achieve. Spaevidence.com is overcoming that problem.

For Ellis, the success of the global spa and wellness industry remains a very personal goal. “What I enjoy most about what I do is seeing the growth of the industry and perhaps having some influence on that, in a positive way, for both the industry and the consumer,” she says. “That is really very satisfying.”

From Spa Business Issue 2 2012, p52

Originally published in Leisure Handbook 2014 edition

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