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Orla Gallagher, Spa Manager
Tourism & Hospitality

Orla Gallagher, Spa Manager

Orla Gallagher works as the Spa Manager for the Sirana Spa located in the Sheraton Hotel in Athlone. She holds a Social Science Degree and has Diplomas in the following areas; Nutrition, Herbal Medicine and Spa Management. She also has an array of complementary health subjects such as Thai Massage, Iridology, Colon Hydrotherapy, Homotoxicology etc. She is also working with the Athlone Institute of Technology in devising the first Spa Management Degree course in Ireland which will be available in September 2009.

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first question!

What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?

I have made two major decisions in my career to date, firstly while studying for my degree and intending to go into social work I decided to do a private course in nutrition and herbal medicine. This was a turning point for me as I discovered that this is where my passion was.

Secondly another difficult decision I have made which has brought me to my current career was deciding to split from my business partner and persue a career in spa management within the hotel sector.

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

While I like to think that I have made my career choices solely based on what I have wanted, I must confess that my mothers caring/nursing background has had an influence on me and I share her interest in health and well being.

Ironicly in high school my career guidance counsellor advised me to look into a career in nutrition however I thought she was joking as I was a little chubby at the time. My friends are all in the caring field some are nurses, social workers and health promotion workers so they are a great support when you need to bounce ideas off other people.

How did you go about getting your current job?

I initially applied online for my current position and then went through three subsequent interviews.

I did actually enjoy the interviews as I saw it as a challenge and the fact that the hotel group organised a spa treatment for me after each interview was a really nice touch. I didnt find the interviews daunting because I have previous experience of being on an interview panel and know that no one wants you to fail they are merely questioning you to try and draw out all the knowledge you already have.

Describe a typical day?

A typical day begins with the set up of the spa before guests arrive. This means ensuring that the therapists know what treatments they will be having that day and can stock their roooms accordingly. The morning goes so fast as there is lots of preparation that goes into helping people relax. When treatments are happening I will usually be organising sales, contacting groups and initiating bookings or working on spa accounts or any staff issues that may arise.

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

Spa Marketing/ promotion, staff management, development of treatments and spa operational protocols.

What are the main challenges?

Constantly staying one step ahead of new spa trends and developments, and staying competitive in a growth industry.

What's cool?

The "Cool" aspects of my job incude Sheraton Hotel discounts all over the world, discounted spa treatments, free leisure membership, free training and getting to be the first to try out new products and treatments is pretty cool. I also have to say our hotel social club is pretty cool you are never short of a party to go to and there is always something happening.

What's not so cool?

One of my main tasks, which is a vital yet I dont enjoy it that much, would be the management of the laundry! There just seems to be so much. I sometimes feel that I suffer with irritable towel syndrome because the sorting of clean and dirty laundry is endless! However I love the feeling of the cosy warm robes straight from the dryer.

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

Energy would be my main skill, however I feel that my passion for health and wellness helps me to get great enjoyment from my position. I love finding out about new treatments and incorporating them into the spa menu and offering people something unique. I also believe you need to be a real people person and have empathy as you are often told alot of personal client issues in confidence and you must be confidential with this. It is great to work in a sector which is closely linked to the caring.  I find it very rewarding helping people on whatever level I can via listening or doing a treatment.

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

At school I studied psychology and communications studies which I feel has stood by me and helped me with interacting with guests and staff.

I have also completed private courses in complementary health which I have enjoyed and have helped me greatly when I now have to devise unique treatments and explain the active ingredients in products to customers. I believe I choose well for my current career but believe that working part time to fund my study also helped me build my confidence for the world of work beyond college.

What is your education to date?

To date I have a degree in social science, diplomas in nutrition, herbal medicine, spa management and an array of complementary health subjects (it seems I am always studying) such as Thai massage, Iridology, colon hydrotherapy, homotoxicology etc. I love finding out about new treatments and like to be the first to experience things.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

The spa management course which I completed via correspondence has been very useful as it gave me a great basis for understanding the profession, how to do accounts, devise a treatment plan, customer service, human resourse issues and how to create balance in our working life.

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my career so far has been working in conjunction with the local college to create a spa management degree.

This course will begin in Athlone in September and is the first of its kind in Ireland. I am delighted that this will be on offer as when I initaily went to find a course there was nothing available so I had to do a correspondence course. I am looking forward to meeting the new students as they will be doing work experience within Sirana Spa and the Hodson Bay Spa so they get to experience a spa first hand.

I am also very proud of my past businesses and being ambitious enough to follow the subjects I am passionate about and not settling for a 9-5 job.

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

I have a great interest in health and well-being which helps when you are relating to guests. I am very ambitious and creative which has helped when devising the perfect treatment for VIP guests. I have an irritatingly high level of energy so I tend to be the first into work and the last out, but I dont see the time going as I am so busy, my days fly by.

What is your dream job?

My dream job would be to work as a spa consultant/critic and travel to exotic destinations to review the spa's of the worlds in top hotels.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Working in the hospitality industry, does mean that you are often working when friends and family are off work however, all your work collegues are in the same position so there is great friendships formed and you are never short on others to go out and socialise with on your days off.

I enjoy having days off mid week as it means the shops are quiter etc. Working for a large group like the Sheraton means you also get great discounts on their hotels worldwide so I have had the opportunity to stay in some luxury hotels and enjoy the better life. Obiviously working in a spa has a few other perks like discounts on products and treatments which I enjoy from time to time.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

If considering a job in this field I think its best to have a therapy background or a caring background. Be prepared to work hard, it takes alot of effort to help create the perfect environment for others to relax in. Work well with others and help your collegues it makes for a friendly workplace and you never know when you will need their assistance. An interest in sales and marketing would also be avantageous, as you must be competitive with other spa's offerings.

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

Energy, flexibility and passion for our career

What is your favourite music?

Whatever is on radio not fussy- must admit not keep on relaxation music when not at work.

What is your favourite film?

Green Mile -love Mr Jingles

What is your pet hate at work?

Not keen on sound of high heels going clipping in through the spa, I dont let to much bother me- life is too short to stress the little stuff.

What is your star sign?

Aries- but if I read my horoscope and dont like it I pretend im a different star sign, mad I know!

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

I am always studying something, I have recently signed up for a cancer care course which will mean that I will be qualified to massage anyone going through treatment. I love the feeling of wellbeing and relaxation that you can help to give someone with massage and would find this course very rewarding.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Working in a salon would help prepare for this position. I would advise anyone starting out to start as an attendant, try reception and therapy before entering into the spa management field as you will have a greater understanding of the mechanics of the spa and staff tasks.

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