Tourism & hospitality

Just as well

The global wellness industry is now valued at over $4 trillion, with an increasing amount of focus and money being invested into hotels’ spa offerings. But, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, what are hotels and brands doing to differentiate their wellness offerings from their rivals and what trends are emerging on the horizon? We speak to Rosewood’s Niamh O’Connell and Anna Bjurstam of Six Senses.  

In recent years, the global wellness industry has been growing at a dizzying rate. Valued at $3.7 trillion in 2015, it had jumped to $4.2 trillion by 2017, according to research by the Global Wellness Institute. Comprising everything from traditional and complementary medicine ($350bn) to wellness tourism ($639bn), ‘wellness’ is not so much a single industry as a cluster of related themes.

Of course, wellness overlaps with health – and when it comes to sectors like ‘preventative and personalised medicine and public health’ ($575bn) the lines grow especially blurry. However, wellness as a concept is broader and more diffuse. It’s less about treating diseases and more about promoting overall wellbeing; less about conventional medicine, and more about mixing and matching different approaches.

“The wellness market has dramatically transformed the way we live day-to-day, with more of a focus on how we treat our bodies, what we put into them and on our mental and emotional wellbeing,” says Niamh O’Connell, group vice president of guest experience and wellness at Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. “Given their busy, over-connected lifestyles, consumers are increasingly seeking mental and emotional time out and support while away from home.”

Beyond the call of duty

The opportunities for the hospitality sector are clear. Of all the different markets that fall under the wellness umbrella, the fastest growing is the spa industry, which saw 9.9% yearly revenue growth between 2015 and 2017. In second place is a related category – wellness tourism – which is growing at more than twice the rate of tourism overall.

This means, for hotel companies that get it right, there’s big money to be made. And increasingly these days ‘getting it right’ means going beyond the usual template of hotel plus gym and spa.

As Anna Bjurstam, vice president of spa and wellness at Six Senses, explains, hotels can set themselves apart by positioning themselves as ‘wellness destinations’.

“The market is very competitive when it comes to treatments, so most hotels have massages, facials, nails etc, but few have figured out how to do it on a scalable way when it comes to wellness,” she says. “There’s no other chain that has a systematic approach, with a quality system of wellness programmes running through detox and back pain and sleep programmes and weight loss that are similar in each location.”

Six Senses’ offering, she explains, involves precisely that. Its Integrated Wellness programme extends from cotton bedding in the bedrooms, to sustainably sourced meals in the F&B areas, to bespoke wellness screenings in the spas. Guests can take part in specific programmes too, such as ‘sleep and resilience’ or ‘trim and fit’.

“Our sleep programmes for instance take place in the hotel rooms and not so much in the spa,” she says. “You evaluate your sleep through technical devices – how much light sleep you get, how many times you’re awake in the night etc – and housekeeping and front office become sleep ambassadors who can guide the guest.”

In the spa area itself, each Six Senses hotel offers a mix of base services (common to all locations) and treatments that are specific to that hotel.

“There’s a certain quality when it comes to a Six Senses spa that the guests are familiar with, but then we also have local spa experiences and treatments,” says Bjurstam. “For China, Chinese medicine, for India, Ayurveda, and so on. It depends on what the local resources are – in some locations like India it’s incredibly diverse, while others like Maldives are less diverse so you draw on other inspiration as well.”

It’s an approach that has proved enticing for investors as well as guests. In February 2019, IHG acquired the brands and operating companies of Six Senses for $300 million in cash, plugging the group into its luxury portfolio.

Everywhere is local

Elsewhere in the luxury space, Rosewood too varies its offering significantly between locations. The company has two wellbeing brands: Sense, a Rosewood Spa (its original spa concept) and Asaya (a ‘global wellness concept’). Launched at Rosewood Phuket in 2017, Asaya is a shining example of the current ‘integrative wellness’ trend.

“Asaya is a holistic approach that encourages self-change and transformation through the setting of wellness goals, integrating wellness for the mind, body and inner self,” says O’Connell. “Asaya supports each guest’s transformation by working across five key pillars – physical therapy, skin health, emotional balance fitness and nutrition, and community. With a flexible and bespoke approach incorporating traditional and alternative therapies, Asaya aims for a more long-lasting and meaningful change for our guests.”

The Sense brand, by contrast, comes closer to what you’d picture when you hear the word ‘spa’. Offering what O’Connell calls ‘a sanctuary of simplicity and purity’, each spa is heavily inspired by the local culture. For instance, the Hmong Experience at Rosewood Luang Prabang involves herbal treatments sourced from the nearby forest. And the Kuxtal Sensory Garden Ritual at Rosewood Mayakoba Mexico pays homage to Mayan shamanic medicine.

“The entire concept is based on a ‘sense of place’ – our guiding principle that ensures all our hotels are deeply connected to their locale,” says O’Connell. “In-depth research is conducted to uncover ancient techniques that have transcended generations but may have been lost over time. This dedicated research allows the local teams to revive lost remedies and restore these practices, enhancing the authenticity of the wellness experience.”

Perhaps what unites Rosewood’s and Six Senses offerings – along with others like them – is this sense of mixing the very old with the very new. Today’s spa guests, more often than not, are seeking a respite from the demands of modern life, which means the likes of Ayurveda and shamanism hold a deeply rooted appeal. And a number of retreats bill themselves as offering a digital detox.

On the other hand, people are interested in the potential of technology to minimise their stresses. Over the last few years, there has been a growing focus on the ‘quantified self’ – the attempt to know ourselves better through technological means. This means sleep programmes like Six Senses’, along with personalised nutrition and fitness programmes, are very much in vogue.

“Biohacking’s another big thing – various tricks on how to hack your wellness and biology,” says Bjurstam. “Then medicine and wellness are coming closer together, so brain health is huge, along with menopause and hormonal wellness programmes.”

In some cases, a spa might bridge the old and new by applying modern science to ancient practice. To take just one example, some wellness destinations are now experimenting with transcranial direct current stimulation and other technologies, to deepen guests’ meditation practice. According to the Global Wellness Summit, which lists ‘meditation goes plural’ as a wellness trend for 2019, meditation and mindfulness more generally are set to benefit from neurological research.

“Definitions will get sorted out, the research will focus on specific types and outcomes, and it’s only this that will take meditation from hyped fad to an evidence-based medical intervention,” said Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, at the 2018 Global Wellness Summit.

Using one’s head

On a similar note, Six Senses is looking to bring together neuroscience and neo-shamanism with its ‘Grow a New Body’ programme, launching in three locations in June. This programme will combine everything from LED therapy and intermittent fasting to practices touted as ‘healing the luminous energy body’.

“The programme will look at the electromagnetic field outside your body and how that relates to health and wellness, bringing it together with medicinal practices into one programme,” says Bjurstam. “I believe energy and shamanic medicine is going to be big in future.”

Another big trend is active travel. Last year, Rosewood London debuted fitness retreats that combine training, treatments, nutrition and personalised assessments.

“We are moving away from spa-focused wellness, to fitness focused holidays that appeal to both the individual and group traveller,” says O’Connell. “Due to heavy work schedules, guests have less time to dedicate to wellness, therefore programmes offering a variety of classes that incorporate mindfulness practices, are rising in demand.”

Then there’s ‘beauty from within’ – i.e., exploring how what we put into our bodies can affect our outer appearance. Both Six Senses and Rosewood have developed programmes that couple nutrition with beauty treatments.

“Health is seeing a shift towards holistic programming – nutrition combined with topical care,” says O’Connell.

With so many different (albeit related) trends in motion, it’s an exciting time to be involved in the wellness sector. This is a growth industry that rewards creativity, and the movement towards ‘integrative wellness’ has created a wealth of opportunities for spas. All this said, the challenges should not be underestimated.

“Our guests today expect so much more than they did 5-10 years ago, and it’s become about much more than pampering and enjoying and relaxing,” says `Bjurstam. “People today are quite educated – they know about nutrition, they know about sleep, so you need to stay on top of all those things that are evolving. It’s a completely different world today from when I started.”

This article appears under a pseudonym in the Summer 2019 edition of Hotel Management International 

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