Horse Sense

Alisal's  Treatment Room
Alisal's Treatment Room

Western Hospitality

Walking into the Alisal’s Fitness Center and Spa, you can tell that the planning team got it right. The spa’s barn-like structure looks as if it has stood there for decades. A check-in counter ushers guests into a living room showcasing a roaring fire in the stone fireplace. Leather sofas—swathed in blankets with Native-American designs—are flanked by weathered-wood tables displaying Remington-esque cowboy art and Mexican clay pots. A retail area features Alisal t-shirts, hats and sweatshirts, and an assortment of the spa brand’s soy candles and bath and body products, all infused with its signature Woodland Sage scent. “It’s one way our guests can take the Alisal home with them,” says Payne.

I’m aching to cozy up to that fire and crack open one of the spa’s picture books about the Wild West. But my therapist, Melissa, is already patiently waiting for me. Payne personally interviews each therapist to ensure he or she has had the required professional training (often from a top Santa Barbara massage school and then stints at one of the Central Coast’s leading hotels or spas) and lives within an hour’s drive of the spa. Therapists at Alisal must be professional and calm, but also personable and friendly. “Some of our guests have never been to a spa and they need to feel welcomed,” says Payne, who estimates a 70% female, 30% male client breakdown.

The Alisal has eight part-time therapists and each performs no more than three services daily. “Giving a massage is exhausting, and we want to ensure that our therapists are always at the top of their game so our guests have the best experience,” Payne says. “Each one of our therapists is an employee, not a subcontractor, and whatever they might miss in terms of quantity of work they make up for in quality of employment.” The strategy pays off in guest and employee loyalty, she adds. “Guests come back year after year with their families, and many will now call ahead to book a therapist with whom they’ve had a great treatment. And many of the employees say to me, ‘Thank you for the opportunity to work here.’“