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This Guy Created His Dream Travel Job: Meet the Spa Whisperer

Jo Piazza
Managing Editor
June 25, 2014

People often dream of leaving it all behind and finding a job in the travel industry. At Yahoo Travel we are profiling people who work in all fields of the travel industry—small jobs, big jobs, any jobs. This week we talked to Nigel Franklyn, the Spa Whisperer (it’s a thing!).

The Spa Whisperer at Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives. (Photo: Nigel Franklyn)

Nigel Franklyn wanted to change his life. Making that decision led him on a journey to create his dream job.

We don’t all wake up one day and think: This is what will make me happy. Franklyn did. 

He was working as a journalist and a model in London, New York, and Los Angeles when he attended a conference on spas. Franklyn had always enjoyed spas. Who doesn’t? But he didn’t know too much about them. A chance meeting there landed him a job working with the skincare company Jurlique, helping develop their spas throughout the U.S. 

Five years later, he had an epiphany. He would become a Spa Whisperer.

Spa Whisperer? That’s not a job! It wasn’t a job. But Franklyn dreamed it and the inspiring thing is, now he is living it. For the past eight years he has worked as an independent spa consultant with Sodashi, going into some of the best spas around the globe and working with their managers and staff to maximize the spa experience for guests.

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We got the chance to catch up with Franklyn during a recent trip to the Maldives where he was working with the spa at the Four Seasons Resort at Kuda Huraa. As we floated underneath a sunset in the Indian Ocean, he told us about crafting his own dream travel job from scratch (he is on the road 10 months out of the year). We told you his life was amazing!

Yahoo Travel: You know that Spa Whisperer sounds like something made up. What exactly do you do?

Nigel Franklyn: I did make it up! What I do is go into spas and evaluate what is happening there and how they can be better and how they can fully develop the ultimate spa experience. I leave what is working alone and then I fill in the blanks. Filling in the blanks is what makes a very unique and memorable spa experience. The real spa experience is what happens off the bed. I do all the emotional work. I make sure the staff connects with the guests and with the spa’s vision. I teach the therapists how to help people surrender themselves to the spa and to the spa journey. I think of myself as a coach.

This boat takes you to the spa at the Four Seasons Maldives on the island of Kuda Huraa. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

YT: A spa coach?

NF: Spas are vulnerable places. You’re naked. I work with the therapists to help them make people feel comfortable and safe when they’re at their most vulnerable. I mean, you look like sh*t in a spa and you are (hopefully) so relaxed you want to chase imaginary butterflies. These days my own journey is manifesting into spa design and menu design and all aspects of the spa industry, but I always make sure my therapists are connected, inspired, and organically aligned to whatever it is we do together. After all, my spa therapists are my biggest advocates and my biggest and best support in creating something extraordinary and also, perhaps more importantly, something sustainable. My goal is to be one of the world’s top spa consultants, and that is not something I can do alone. 

YT: So you are a therapist for therapists. What about the ambience of a spa. How do you influence that?

NF: I make sure that each and every space feels like a treatment room, especially the reception area, which is often used as an office in the middle of the spa and messes up the flow completely. A good example of the tiniest detail I tweak out on is the smell. In a spa, smell is such an important thing, since people become more sensory when they are in an emotional and relaxed state. I am a very earthy person so I like grounding smells. Lemongrass has become such a thing in spa and I have never understood it. People need to feel supported and grounded, not purified and elevated. I like lemongrass and it has great benefits, but I don’t want it in my spas. Every little thing has to support the experience and vision, otherwise the journey is fractured and everything falls short of absolute bliss.

Related: Take a Day Trip From NYC to This Incredible Spa

The Amanoi overlooking the spectacular Vinh Hy Bay in Vietnam. (Photo: Nigel Franklyn)

YT: What has trained you to be so successful at doing this? You consult for some of the top spas in the world like Four Seasons, George V, Paris; Four Seasons, Hampshire, UK; Four Seasons, Kuda Huraa, Maldives; all Aman Resorts globally; Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, Australia; the Siam, Bangkok; Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives; Trisara, Phucket, Thailand; Chi Spa, Shangri-La, Sydney; Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong; Four Seasons Istanbul at Bosphorus,  

NF: I had no formal training and I think that is what makes me so good at what I do. I hadn’t learned anything that would get in my way. I work on pure instinct. I never do the same thing twice. I don’t have a set schedule or a set plan before I go in to a spa, much to the worry of spa directors who haven’t worked with me before. I go in and I listen to people, I see what is happening and then I go with my gut. There is no way to plan for what I do. Every spa offers a different aspect of healing and well-being and energy, and my job is to go in, find it, and bring it forward. It’s the only way to create an organic design, business plan, and strategy. 

Related: Get Your Zen On at These Top Health Spas

Amanpuri in Phuket, Thailand. (Photo: Nigel Franklyn)

YT: Was it always glamorous?

NF: No, not at all. I didn’t create this job at this level. Who would fly me around the world like this without a history of success under my belt? When I first started out as a consultant it took years to gain the trust of the industry. One of my first jobs was for a spa in Orlando, and I stayed in a dingy motel in Kissimmee, just so that I could work with them. It’s important to understand the spa industry at every level. There is no such thing as five-star healing. You need to come in to this from the ground up, and you need to bring the ground with you along the way. 

YT: What’s the toughest part about this job? Is there a tough part of the job?

NF: I get very emotionally attached to everyone — all my therapists and spa directors. I cry a lot. I get very emotional. When I am leaving a spa I am never ready to let go. In bringing people out of their comfort zones and showing them their own light and their innate strengths (which they ofter consider their weaknesses), there comes a great responsibility in not abandoning them. I have a great need to stay connected and stay in easy reach of everyone I work with. I adopted the mantra, “leave no therapist behind!” But I feel like I am always leaving something behind. It’s tough being the the Spa Whisperer sometimes — I promise! 

Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, Australia. (Photo: Nigel Franklyn)

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YT: How often do you travel and how long do you spend in a spa?

NF: The first time I go to a spa I stay there for about two weeks. For the Four Seasons, George V in Paris I go twice a year and stay for three weeks at a time. The George V is obviously an incredibly important hotel and spa on the global stage, so they get a lot of my time. Generally though, I find 10 days or two weeks to be enough time to create something amazing, but my schedule is now so intense that often that is all the time I have to offer. I continue to work closely with my spas even when I am off property. Most of my spas are on opposite sides of the world from where I might be at any one time, so I am always Skyping at 2 and 3 in the morning with my clients and with my therapist. I have about 60 spas now so I am always on the road. I travel for about six months and then I go home to San Francisco for a month to recharge my own energy and play with my amazing dog, Maggie. Then I pack my bag head out into the world again for another six months.

The Four Seasons George V in Paris. (Photo: Nigel Franklyn)

YT: Do you get sick of being on the road?

NF: No! No! No! I have completely manifested my dream life. How can I get sick of something I created? This isn’t even a job any more for me. Sometimes my friends ask me how I can put my life on hold to travel so much. I tell them that my life isn’t on hold. This IS my life. I am having a mad love affair with the world and the world is having a love affair with me right back. A long, long time ago — and for reasons I can’t even begin to explain — I threw my life into the universe and the universe hasn’t let me down yet. I am not on the road, I am the road, and I am out there fighting the good fight — but you’re right, the battlefield is a pretty luxurious place to be these days.

Follow Nigel’s travels and spa advice on Twitter @spawhisperer or on Facebook at The Spa Whisperer

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