Former Spa Manager at Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa

Life is often bewildering and always uncertain. It’s cruelly indifferent to people’s goals, their dreams. It’s perfectly understandable that some end up bitter and resentful from bearing the brunt of life’s vicissitudes. Rochelle Moreno could have been one of them. Her dreams had to take a back seat when she was very young. The cards seemed stacked against her but Rochelle’s is a story of dogged perseverance. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Oh, and a bit of luck, a little help from friends.

Hotel Insider: I guess it’s every therapist’s dream to have their own spa. You have one in the Philippines, right?

Rochelle: Yes, in Dasmarinas, just outside Manila. But we had to close it down because my partner had to move elsewhere and I wasn’t always around either. So, it became very difficult to manage. But it’s always been a dream of mine, to have my own spa. I still want to do it one day. I’ve been in the business since 2003. Oh, and before that, I worked on a cruise ship.

Hotel Insider: That’s pretty cool. How was life on water?

Rochelle: It was great. All in all, I spent seven years on cruise ships.

Hotel Insider: Seven years!

Rochelle: [laughs] Yes. It worked out well because it forced me to learn Spanish, Portuguese and a little French.

Hotel Insider: That’s totally worth seven years at sea.

Rochelle: Yes, very much so. I was with an American cruise ship company called Regent before I moved to Pullmantur Cruises, a Spanish company. All my colleagues were Spanish and none of them spoke English. So, it was me who had to adjust. In my first two weeks, they told me I had to learn Spanish or else I’d be on my own.

Hotel Insider: Very harsh.

Rochelle: Yes. So, I talked to my manager. I told her to give me a handout for everyday spa conversations and she gave me one every day and every week until I became fluent.

Hotel Insider: Was that your first job away from home?

Rochelle: No, my first job abroad was actually in Saudi Arabia.

Hotel Insider: Saudi Arabia. It seems a bit strange, spas in Saudi.

Rochelle: You’d think, right? But I was at a resort in Jeddah, privately owned by a Saudi sheikh who was into sports. He loved to play football so I’d help him stretch and do some physical therapy before he played, like strengthening exercises and manipulation techniques. I trained as a physical therapist, you see.

Hotel Insider: Yeah, you studied physical therapy in university, yes? And you were working in a hospital for a while too.

Rochelle: Yes, physical therapy is a five-year course back home. But it wasn’t what I wanted to pursue initially.

Hotel Insider: What did you want to study?

Rochelle: I really wanted to become a doctor. But in the Philippines, medical school is expensive and I my family wasn’t well-off. My mother is a teacher and my father is a farmer. And I have three siblings. So, I had to give up on that dream. My other dream was to become a journalist like you.

Hotel Insider: [laughs] Right.

Rochelle: Seriously. I was the assistant editor in chief of my elementary and high school newspapers. I participated in competitions like news writing, feature writing and I won quite a few. I went to regional press conferences. But again, I had to rule out journalism because there’s no money in it, at least in the Philippines. I had to think about my three siblings, about getting them into university so I gave up on that dream as well. But I was curious about physical therapy, it was very new at that time, back around 1995. I was admitted into a very prestigious school in Manila, the Far Eastern University.

Hotel Insider: What was the draw for you?

Rochelle: When I studied physical therapy, I really got into the science behind it – human anatomy was something I found really fascinating. I enjoyed the course overall, it was the closest I could get to being a doctor, and I did quite well. So, soon after graduation, I was employed at a big hospital.

Hotel Insider: Yeah, what was that like?

Rochelle: I worked there for over a year as a physical therapy staff and was assigned to geriatrics and paediatrics departments. So, mainly, I was focussing on patients who’d suffered strokes and burn victims. What I was doing was helping patients rehabilitate, get back to normal life. Even though the pay was very low, I have to admit it was incredibly rewarding to see someone whom I’d treated start doing everyday stuff. I had this sense of fulfilment, you know. It’s like ‘Oh! My patient can walk again’, or ‘My patient can write again!’. So, I stayed with the hospital for over a year. But then I had to shift careers. It was a hard decision because I really liked my work but I had pressing family matters.

Hotel Insider: What really prompted the career change?

Rochelle: Studying is expensive and my siblings needed to study if they were to have good opportunities. We have free universities back home but students would still need basic living expenses covered. So, that was my rationale. Also, I had friends who were physical therapists who’d already found work in spas, and they convinced me that it was much better, that they had better working conditions, better lives and of course, much more money. And I had a chance because when you apply with big wellness companies in the Philippines, they’d always give preference to physical therapy graduates. It’s because of the fact that you have a medical background. When someone visits the spa, it’s not always because they’re tired physically – sometimes they’d have something wrong with their body and us physical therapists can help them with that.

Hotel Insider: And then you changed careers and went on a cruise ship.

Rochelle: Yes, but first I went to Saudi. You know how it is there, right? It’s very strict and it wasn’t the kind of life I wanted though the pay was good. And yes, I joined a cruise ship company, learnt a few languages.

Hotel Insider: Would you like to add Dhivehi to your repertoire?

Rochelle: [laughs] Yes. I know a few words already. I’d learn faster if I had Maldivian colleagues here at the spa.

Hotel Insider: Speaking of which, how would you describe your approach to wellness here at Hideaway?

Rochelle: Our commitment is to give the highest quality of treatment to our guests. We take care of them from the moment they step into the spa. Wellness isn’t just about the physical aspect – the mind needs to be healthy too. We’ve recently got an Ayurvedic expert who’ll be with us for a few months, teaching us Ayurveda, which can have beneficial effects on both body and mind. Plus, we’re also going to incorporate moringa in our treatments, it’s to lend them a local touch as well reaping moringa’s obvious benefits.

Hotel Insider: Really good to know, Rochelle. Before we part, do you have a word of advice for young women who want to make it in wellness?

Rochelle: I have three questions actually. Is it their passion? Are they persistent, do they have the persistence to grow in this industry? Do they care about the wellness of others? If they answer yes to all three, then this is where they should be.

Hotel Insider: Thanks so much, Rochelle, it was great chatting.