Interview with Karen Cosgrove, Spa Director of the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

While vacationing in the Big Island of Hawaii, I spent 5 heavenly days at the Four Seasons Resort in Hualalai, soaking up the sun and enjoying the sensation of having sand underneath my feet. I’m generally a big explorer on my vacations but the Four Seasons offered so many great activities and services that I didn’t leave the property during my stay.  The adventures would have to be saved for Maui; this portion of my trip was all about having no agenda and unwinding from all the running around I do in NY.

Well I picked the perfect place.  The Four Seasons Resort offers guests a sports club which includes a strength gym, cardio gym, rock climbing wall, half basketball court, sand volleyball court, outdoor lap pool, work out classes (including fitness, yoga, and pilates), tennis courts, golf course, hikes, as well as a full service salon and spa.

Considering the array of options (especially on the spa menu), the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is the ultimate destination for wellness and relaxation.

Having taken full advantage of the amenities the property had to offer, I was very excited for the opportunity to interview the woman largely responsible for making this establishment so great, Hualalai Director of Sports and Spa, Karen Cosgrove.

Pretty Connected (PC): How long have you been in the spa industry?

Karen Cosgrove (KC): I have been in the spa industry for 11 years. I spent 3 years in the Middle East in Qatar and Egypt, 4 years in the Caribbean before ultimately coming back to the US, where I worked in California and Arizona before moving to Hawaii.

(PC): How long have you served as the Spa Director at the Sports Club and Spa Director at Hualalai?

(KC): Since 2008.  I was recruited by a former colleague, who was working here at the time.

(PC): What is the best part about working at the Hualalai?

(KC): The property is amazing and because of the extent of the facilities available, the best part about working here is being able to make a difference for people on their vacation. We’re able to help with discomfort, relaxation, and give guests the opportunity to release, and learn more about wellness. We offer real healers and therapists, many of whom bring something from the local culture and healing practices of the Hawaiians such as the Lomi Lomi massage.

[Lomi Lomi Massage description from the spa menu: This traditional Hawaiian massage is a sacred healing art handed down from generation to generation by Kupuna (elders).  Techniques are rhythmic and unique to each therapist integrating use of elbows and forearms.]

(PC): How many massage therapists do you have on staff?  Are most of your employees local? Full-time? Part-time?

(KC): We have a core group of 6 full-time therapists, in addition to 10 part-time, and then a group of 16 casuals (therapists on call). Total staff of the Sports Club and Spa is around 100.  Roughly 40% are local.

(PC): How do you select your therapists? What are the most important things that you look for?

(KC): Fortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of turnover here; I’ve only had to hire 2 people.  When selecting a new member of the team, I look for applicants with the most experience and talent in the array of services we offer and that they fit into the culture of what Hualalai represents.

(PC): The spa was renovated last year, what changed?

(KC): The renovation was done in two phases.  Phase one, which was completed in December 2008, focused on the interior spaces; we converted the administrative offices into a retail space, added a new spa reception and lounge, as well as the apothecary and salon (which originally was run independently).  In the locker room, we added new lockers, vanity, and enhanced the indoor and outdoor showers.  We also incorporated an extra indoor treatment room.

In phase two we added the Waiea (water of life) garden with a stream and waterfall and four new hales. Phase two was completed in August 2009.

(PC): How many treatment rooms do you have?

(KC): 20 treatment rooms.

(PC): Tell me more about the new Apothecary and what ingredients are kept in the jars.

(KC): The way the Apothecary came to be, was as an opportunity to introduce guests to something traditional from the Hawaiian culture, that has always survived off the sea and land.  We consulted the Kupuna (elders) on healing traditions and what was used by the ancient Hawaiians to treat different ailments.  That’s how we started sourcing local ingredients including the (4) healing salts, plants from the island, spirulina (from right off the coast of Kona), purifying and detoxifying limu (Hawaiian seaweed), dried hibiscus, crushed macadamia nut, and local pikake (from the jasmine family), as well as many more.

Everything in the apothecary is 100% pure, raw, and natural, with no preservatives.

(PC): Are any of the ingredients used in the services unique to Hawaii?

(KC): 95% of the ingredients are unique to Hawaii, the rest are sourced based on their therapeutic properties.

(PC): Do you offer a signature treatment?

(KC): I created a signature treatment called the “Mahuaola” (being healthy).

[Mahuaola description from the spa menu: Only at Hualalai can you experience this unique treatment. Natural elements are used; cleansing sea water, a fresh scrub made from Hawaiian ingredients and ti leaves to envelop you and help the detox process. Cast your cares out to the sea . . .]

I would also consider anything from the Apothecary to be our signature treatment, since it’s very unique to this spa and customized for our guests with all those beautiful local ingredients.

(PC): What percent of services are massages, facials, nails, hair?

(KC): 70% massages, Rest facials and body treatments 20-30%.

(PC): What is the most poplur treatments?

(KC): Massages. Generally the Swedish or the Lomi Lomi.

(PC): What are your busy seasons? How much in advance should someone book?

(KC): Festive (December 19th – January 3rd) as well as the month of August are our busy seasons.  Guests generally book up to a year ahead.

(PC): What is a typical day for you?

(KC): No day is ever the same. I do walk thrus to check the facilities making sure everything is up to standards and have daily meetings with managers. As the creative force behind the spa, it’s my responsibility to keep on the cutting edge of the industry, and stay informed so I can give guests a variety and something special, as well as offer unique seasonal treatments.

(PC): Any future plans?

(KC): Just to fine tune the menu, see what are guests are enjoying build off of that. Also to continue to add to our Apothecary and source more ingredients.  As of the new year every treatment will have a tie in to the Apothecary and the Waiea Garden.  There will be a small menu of mini services and snacks offered in the Waiea Garden.  To begin the relaxation process, guests who arrive early for their appointments (or once they conclude their session) are invited to wait in the Waiea Garden, and offered refreshments and a surprise foot refresher or face spritz. We serve pure coconut water and a refreshing hibiscus beverage and treats made by our chefs, which include marinated local fruits and energy bars.

We concluded our interview in the Viai Garden, where I was pampered with a foot refresher and treats. It’s truly an euphoric garden that transcends the magic of the island.

I was very impressed by Karen’s passion for wellness, and her dedication to really giving every customer a memorable Hawaiian experience that really embodied the amazing resources the island had to offer.

Thank you Karen and the entire staff at the Four Seasons for helping me relax and for making me feel so welcome.

During your next trip to the Big Island, be sure to visit the Four Seasons, located at Hualalai on the Big Island.  By then their services may be open to the general public, but either way call ahead to book a service.

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