In Search of Hotel Excellence: Interview with Gloria Ah Sam, Spa Director at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Gloria Ah Sam is the Spa Director at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a 5-Diamond resort nestled within the pastoral mountains of Southern California.  As a destination spa, Spa Ojai has received numerous accolades for its unique treatments that blend new age aesthetics with locally sourced, organic produce as well as traditions from the Chumash, Ojai Valley’s indigenous people.  Spa Ojai fashions itself as a ‘spa university’ where, although the treatments are the main draw, there’s also an organic restaurant, Café Verde, and an Artist’s Cottage and Apothecary with holistic classes for guests to improve their wellbeing through self-discovery.


Tell us a little bit about your background. When did you join Spa Ojai and why?

Gracious hospitality has been in my career path beginning in the late seventies when I was a flight attendant.  Back in the days of intense customer service training and fierce competition, passenger complaints were not taken lightly and there was always someone waiting in line to fill your position.  When the US government deregulated the airline industry in 1978 only airlines who earned customer loyalty survived.  This is something that I have never forgotten.

After a 15 year airline career, I decided to ‘stay grounded’ and I discovered an interest in the skin care, hair care and beauty business.  I worked in luxury retail for six years before landing a position as the Retail/Front Desk Director for the first Aveda Lifestyle Salon and Spa in the state of Hawaii.  This was my first hands-on experience combining spa and salon operations with the ‘front of the house.’  Within a year, I was the General Manager overseeing the entire operations. I later moved on to manager the Abhasa Spa at the Royal Hawaiian Resort, and then spent three and a half years as the Spa Director at Halekulani.

The move to Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in March of 2009 completes a career goal of mine to offer complete wellness experiences in a luxury environment.


Please give readers a brief overview of the Spa Ojai operation, insofar as overall facilities, treatments and services.

The Spa Ojai Village consists of a 31,000 square-foot spa facility, two spa pools, fully-equipped workout room, Mind and Body class studio, nail salon, Spa Boutique, Café Verde and an Artist’s Cottage and Apothecary.  We also feature a communal sauna experience called Kuyam.  Inspired from traditional healing cultures, this treatment combines essential oil infused clay therapy, dry heat therapy and inhalation therapy.  The men and women’s locker areas are well appointed with guest amenities, steam rooms, saunas, whirlpools and relaxation areas.

We offer a full range of treatments in our spa menu of services.  We feature seasonal inspired ingredients representing the bounty of Ojai Valley.  Mind and Body classes are scheduled throughout each day including such classes as yoga, meditation, spinning, boot camp, body hoops, daily walks and water aerobics.  Classes in watercolor, silk scarf painting or basic drawing provide ways for our guests to unleash their creativity and have fun with paints, colored pencils or pastels.  Create a personal Mandala and receive feedback on the universal meaning of color, symbol, number and placement to provide insight into one’s deeper motivations.  Craft a unique blend of essential oils as your very own signature fragrance in our Apothecary.


Can you tell us about some of Spa Ojai’s awards and the reasons it is continually honored with these accolades?

Spa Ojai is recognized as a benchmark facility for its architecture and design, its art program, Kuyam experience, seasonal treatments and Apothecary.  We don’t simply offer a spa treatment, but offer options for our guests to embrace a wellness-balanced experience.  Consumers as well as industry experts continue to recognize not only our points of difference, but the personal attentiveness each guests receives while in our care.

Sampling of accolades include: Forbes 4-Star Spa, Spa Magazine Best Spa Cuisine, SpaFinder Best Spa with Golf, Ojai Valley News Reader’s Choice-Best Spa in Ojai, Venture County Star Reader’s Choice-Best Day Spa, Travel + Leisure Magazine Top 10 Hotel Spas in the United States, Conde Nast Traveler Magazine Top 25 North American Resort Spas, Shape Magazine #1 Spa, USA Today 10 Best Spas.


Can you give us some examples of key differentiators between Spa Ojai and competitors?   

We create memorable experiences with heartfelt intentions and perform extraordinary services.  We nurture our associates and core values which perpetuates a culture of respect, professional behavior and passion for everything we do.


How you have applied learning from worldwide examples of exceptional spa programs and services?

We find inspiration in our team’s diversity and training certifications from various schools in the United States, India, Bali and Europe.  We work with our vendor partners to stay abreast with product and new equipment development.  Our ISPA membership and marketing research help keep us connected to the pulse of a worldwide health and wellness industries.


What are the economics of a large-scale hotel-spa operation?  What are some of the unique aspects you face operating as part of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, versus an independent entity?

Being associated with a 5-Diamond resort gives us an unbelievable amount of support from other departments at the Inn including engineering, housekeeping, uniforms, central reservations, public relations and our sales and marketing team.   We have 24-hour access to these various departments to assist us in maintaining our facility as well as promoting and selling our treatments and programs.


Recently, Spa Ojai has been noted as having among the best cuisine of any spa in the country. Tell us more about the philosophy behind your restaurant, Café Verde.

It’s a dream come true to be located in the heart of such a thriving agriculture center.  Locally grown and often organically grown produce is available year-round.  In addition, our Executive Chef has a garden on property where he grows a variety of tasty sensations including heirloom tomatoes.  Café Verde compliments the Spa Village by offering freshly squeezed juices and nutritional packed smoothies.  The philosophy behind Café Verde is to serve fresh, organic when available, locally grown when available and seasonally inspired, flavorsome cuisine.


It seems as if every hotel or resort has a spa of some sort. Where is the spa industry heading? Has the industry reached a point of saturation?

The number one reason a person visits a spa is to reduce stress.  Spa treatments are no longer viewed by the majority of consumers as a simple pampering experience.  In today’s fast-paced environment, I believe that people worldwide will continue to seek ways in which to reduce stress.  Day Spas are more plentiful than ever and can be found in even the smallest of communities.  Providing a complete menu of spa services in a luxury hotel or resort is expected and appreciated by the guests we serve.

Spa goers are become more sophisticated and experienced.  Spas that do not connect with their guests will not survive.  Spas that do not deliver professional, quality services will not survive.  Spas that are not managed properly will not survive.


What does the future hold for Spa Ojai?

Anything and everything is possible.  Our business has made a healthy recovery since the downturn of the economy in 2009.  We listen to our guests and have responded with menu changes, a resent ‘facelift’ renovation, new Mind and Body classes, creative value priced packages, loyalty programs and creative art class options.  We honor our past traditions while keeping our hearts and minds open to new products, innovations and trends.  We stay focused on why we do what we do and our goal remains the same – to deliver extraordinary guest services and memorable experience for all guests, each and every day.

(Article published in eHotelier on January 4, 2012)

Larry MogelonskyIn Search of Hotel Excellence: Interview with Gloria Ah Sam, Spa Director at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa