Twenty years ago, I made the best hire of my career when I brought on Heather Mikesell as Senior Editor of American Spa magazine. After I left the magazine in 2004, Heather became Executive Editor—and in December of 2019, she took the helm as Editor in Chief. A self-proclaimed introvert, always ready for an adventure, Heather is a smart and steady force who knows how to spot a story and see it through—and she brings a real passion for spa and wellness. We spoke at length in February, before the virus hit, and recently reconnected to further the conversation.
On Twenty Years
I joined American Spa right before 9/11. Mii amo was on the cover. I can’t believe it has been 20 years! Who would have thought when you hired me? My tenure with the magazine is a large chunk of my adulthood.
Twenty years ago, the spa industry seemed quaint, so niche, and undiscovered. At that time, it wasn’t accessible to everyone; it was a special occasion kind of thing.
Back then, the brands were the big guys—not the properties like today.
9/11 changed everything. We couldn’t talk about spa in the same way. We had to shift the language about spa—you had a lot to do with that.
In 2008, the time of the Great Recession, spa became a dirty word, the last thing you wanted listed on an expense account.
Today, the spa and wellness industry have become an integral part of our daily lives. Spa matters more than ever. And the spa industry is so much savvier when it comes to business.
This crisis has revealed how important wellness and human connection is to us all. In the days, months, and years ahead, we’ll see the industry evolve in ways we never imagined.
On Touch & Healing Energy
When you boil it down, spa is still all about touch—how people touch you, how you feel, and how you interact with people—that connection with the therapist. You can be in a beautifully appointed spa and have a terrible experience, or you can be in a cave in Ecuador and have a beautiful and memorable healing experience.
I love that we’re so aware of energy in spas these days: energy of the space, of the people, and how that energy makes us feel. Those who understand it best are apt to be more successful, as they’re tapping into that something we feel but can’t describe.
You can get that feeling in a corporate spa, but the staff needs to be infused with that healing energy. You get that healing energy by hiring the right people and making sure you’re all on the same page. That’s why some spas, like Rancho la Puerta, are so successful. It’s part of their DNA.
On Treatments & Technology
I think it’s interesting that tech is being used to enhance treatments—but it should never be at the expense of healing touch. Technology can lend something, it can help differentiate your spa from others, but it’s not the main attraction. It’s not what draws people to spas. I love that everything that’s old is new again—therapies that have been around forever are gaining newfound popularity, like gua sha, for example—though I do get a little worried sometimes when I see things like crazy bruising from gua sha on Instagram. Social media has certainly changed the way we view things. It’s the most impactful technology that has made its way into spa, and it’s not going away.
I experienced lymphatic drainage at Higher Dose in Brooklyn last November and was blown away. It was fascinating, and something I believe more people need to be doing. I wanted to go deeper, so I did a story on it, but it was complicated to write. I felt like everyone was offering it, but what was real? I want people to realize that what you see on one menu may not necessarily be the same as what’s listed on another.
I love how treatment techniques from Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine evolve from the past and create value for the future. We look to the past, and we grow from that. We’re learning more about the body and how it responds to things.
On Clean & Green
I’ve become really conscious about what I buy, and the companies I’m most drawn to are those doing good for the universe, especially B Corporations. I love the passion of the clean beauty movement, and I love that its trying to create more sustainable products for us all—especially with the packaging. I feel like we need a revolution to take things even further. We’re seeing progress, which does give me hope.
On Moving Forward
While the spa industry is facing unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19, I don’t believe these challenges are insurmountable. In fact, I believe this crisis has revealed how important wellness and human connection is to us all. In the days, months, and years ahead, I think we’ll see the industry evolve in ways we never imagined. I truly believe this is a reset for us all. Instead of rushing to return to “normal,” we need to think long and hard about what that means. Most people who are drawn to the spa and wellness industry understand that we’re all connected. It’s important that we work together and share ideas to move forward. The world needs what healing spas have to offer now more than ever.
Future Goals as Editor in Chief
The sustainability issue is very close to my heart; I feel like we need to give it the coverage it deserves. It’s so important to the world we live in. You can still have a profitable business and give back to the world. When you infuse your company, your product, your treatments with that kind of positive energy to do good in the world, that lends itself to your success and people pick up on that. It’s contagious in a good way. I hope the world is becoming more tapped into that. I feel like the spa industry is like that—there are lot of people who care about the world we live in . . . that’s the premise of spa, taking care of the body, mind, and spirit and that extends to the planet around us. Do no harm. That’s always the first rule of any healing tradition.