Tourism & hospitality

Redefining wellness

Since the start of the pandemic, hotels have needed to be creative and adaptable, in many cases putting the accelerator on trends that were already underway. We run through some of the key changes shaping hotel spas and amenities in light of Covid-19.

Almost two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, hospitality has been altered in far-reaching and perhaps irrevocable ways. The full implications may only become apparent in years to come, but it’s clear this is already a changed world.

This is particularly obvious when we look through a spa and amenities lens. For understandable reasons, guests continue to be concerned about contagion. Ensuring nobody catches Covid-19 will remain the priority, with ripple effects across everything from cleaning protocols to the rollout of contactless services.

But the pandemic has also affected hotels in subtler ways. Guests are becoming interested in wellness more generally, especially as it pertains to mental health. And while the sustainability trend is only tangentially related to Covid, words like ‘responsible tourism’ are now much more than buzzwords.

Below, we run through some of key trends in the spa and amenities space, which have been given an extra push by the pandemic.

Contactless services

The move towards a contactless hotel experience was already underway before Covid, with a number of brands rolling out contactless check-in. Back then, the motivation was simply to save time for tech-savvy travellers, who would rather head straight to their room than queue at the front desk. There was a lot of talk about gearing yourself towards a so-called ‘millennial mindset’.

The pandemic, however, has dealt a blow to brands that prided themselves on the human touch. Contactless services are now perceived first and foremost as a safety issue, rather than a matter of brand positioning, and no-touch operations are the norm. Brands are adopting digital keys, in-room dining with QR code menus, self-service kiosks and creative means of delivering contactless housekeeping.

It’s hard to say how much of this will be retained in a post-Covid era, but with the technological infrastructure in place, brands will at least have the option of going contactless throughout the guest stay.  

Hands-off spas

Spa services suffered greatly in the early days of the pandemic. In the US alone, revenues fell from $19.1bn in 2019 to just $12.1bn in 2020 – and within the hotel sector specifically, revenues dropped by nearly half.

Even once spas reopened, guests were cagey about returning. Spas responded by stepping up their cleaning and sanitation regimes, offering private sessions in the wet areas, removing high-touch items and enforcing social distancing.

Hands-on treatments like massages and facials became less attractive to some, although others were reassured by the presence of face masks and other protective clothing. Meanwhile, hands-off treatments began to make an appearance on spa menus. Resorts have started offering the likes of cryotherapy sessions, flotation tanks and shamanic sound healing, with a view to helping people relax in a Covid-safe way.

Eco-conscious travel

For many people, the pandemic has functioned as a moment of reset, and a chance to think about what matters most. Research suggests that, as a collective, we are more concerned about sustainability, climate change, and ethical consumption than we were pre-pandemic, and we are drawn towards brands with a similar ethos.

Hotels are responding in kind. At the most basic, this involves being savvy about energy and water use – for instance using LED lightbulbs and even placing solar panels on the roof. In the F&B space, it means thinking harder about the provenance of their food, minimising food waste, and in some cases pivoting to plant-based menus.

The big sticking point here is plastic waste, which dramatically increased as the result of the pandemic. Single-use plastics, previously on a steep downward trajectory, were suddenly everywhere in the form of packaging and disposable utensils. Moving forward, hotels will need to rethink this approach and consider what can be done to cut plastic use even while assuring optimal hygiene.

For their part, brands have expressed a willingness to get back on track. Marriott, which for the past few years has looking to swap single-use toiletries with large bottles, has said it is still “committed to reaching its goal”, while Mandarin Oriental hopes to eliminate single-use plastic by the end of Q1 2022.

Back to nature

Guests are becoming more interested in nature and the great outdoors, and not only because viral transmission is lower outside. Since the start of the pandemic, many people have turned to nature for solace, while developing a new appreciation for activities like gardening, hiking, biking and wildlife watching.

Hotels that have outdoor spaces have been making the most of them, to the point of creating outdoor meeting rooms. Many others are bringing greenery into the lobby and implementing elements of biophilic design.

Meanwhile, location is more of a selling point than ever before. The figures suggest that hotels located in national parks, or other areas of natural beauty, have weathered the pandemic better than most.

Hotels are also stepping up their provision of outdoor activities, which could include everything from kayaking to guided birdwatching to ‘forest bathing’. Even inner-city hotels have started to include outdoor fitness classes in their programming, while highlighting nearby parks and hiking trails in their marketing materials.

Digital wellness

Since the start of the pandemic, even the most tech-resistant of us has needed to get used to digital forms of interaction. If something can be done via a screen, chances are it has been done via a screen – and although the likes of Zoom aren’t universally beloved, they have certainly played an important role during an era of physical distancing requirements.

Within the wellness space, fitness classes have migrated online and guided meditations increasingly come courtesy of an app. Therapy and life coaching sessions happen remotely, while enterprising massage therapists have started providing self-massage classes via Zoom.

It’s no wonder that hotels have jumped on the digital wellness trend. During the early lockdowns, when they weren’t allowed to open at all, some found creating online content to be a valuable revenue stream. For instance, Six Senses took its on-property wellness programming and moved it online, providing at-home workouts and video tutorials for guests anywhere in the world.

Even once guests were welcomed back into the premises, digital wellness programming remained a big draw. Rather than entering the hotel gym, a guest might have a yoga mat and some hand weights in their room, along with a selection of online fitness classes to choose from.

At luxury hotels, that extends to connected in-room fitness equipment, such as a Peloton bike. Peloton saw record sales in 2020 and is now eyeing hotels as a probable growth sector.

“Making fitness more accessible beyond offering 24/7 access to a fitness center should be a goal for every property,” said Mike Flanagan, chief growth officer at fitness company LifeStart. “Autonomous solutions where guests can book a private training pod with professionally streamed classes, meditation or even personal training will be enhancements that can be made to provide the best experience for guests.”

Although digital wellness may run counter to another trend – the idea of the ‘digital detox’ – the pandemic has highlighted the fact that technology isn’t all bad. The conversation today is less about disconnecting altogether, and more about using tech for healthier ends and developing a better relationship with one’s devices. 

Post-Covid R&R

The pandemic has left many people feeling weary, burnt out and even traumatised. With that has come an appetite for getaways that specifically target rest and recovery.

Hotels, then, have been getting creative with their wellness offerings. A number of resorts have started offering Long Covid packages, which aim to help people suffering with the after-effects of the virus. These include SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain, Lanserhof Lans in Austria and the Rakxa Spa in Bangkok.

These packages are at the pricier end of the spectrum, and are probably out of bounds to the average exhausted guest. However, there are other ways that hotels can promote themselves as offering some much-needed R&R. Many have begun to offer mindfulness, meditation and yoga as a means of calming Covid-related anxieties.

Others are heightening their focus on sleep. ‘Circadian Sleep Cycles’ was one of Spafinder’s top wellness trends for 2021, and some hotels are placing a good night’s sleep at the core of their marketing proposition. Equinox Hotels in New York offers a ‘proprietary sleep system’ in each of its rooms, while LA-based Hotel Figueroa has launched a custom Rest and Recovery Suite, complete with a custom pillow and a muscle massager.

“The Rest & Recovery Suite is specifically designed to soothe pandemic-rattled psyches and counteract what experts are calling ‘coronosomnia’,” said Connie Wang, the hotel’s managing director.

Some final thoughts

At this point in the pandemic, it seems that ‘wellness’ has begun to mean something different, with important implications for hotels. Whereas in the past, ‘wellness’ might refer specifically to your fitness programming or certain treatments, today it is something much more comprehensive. Increasingly, it is seen to encompass sleep, access to green spaces, and a sense of integration with the natural world.

At the same time, wellness retains the specific connotation of cleanliness and avoiding disease. At least for the duration of the pandemic, hotels will need to pay attention to both aspects of wellness – the holistic and the antiseptic – with a view to giving guests full peace of mind.

This roundup appears in the Winter 2021 edition of Hotel Management International

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