Wellness in hospitality is often embodied through the spa, offering beautiful spaces to encourage relaxation and well-being are a part of the guest experience. As spas continue to become a staple in hotels rather than a luxury, wellness offerings need to evolve to keep up with rising guest expectations and understanding of their well-being. “In the 1980s and 1990s, having a gym in your hotel was a differentiator,” explains Emlyn Brown, global vice-president well-being at Accor Hotels. “Then that changed, exercise became more relevant [and] having a gym became ubiquitous. And then in the mid to late 1990s and 2000s, the idea of spa came in to play. That’s how you differentiate your resort from somebody else, and then, by the mid- 2000s, that became ubiquitous and another standard.”

As Brown explains, spas have become the standard luxury offering with expectations rising greatly for a specific product and experience offering: “Any hotel needs to be delivering those four or five elements [well-being, fitness, nutrition, movement, meditation] and modalities in a very specific, sophisticated way.” This adoption of wellness in the past few years, says Brown, is partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic and what he calls a “super acceleration of the adoption of wellness and well-being practice”. And while the concept of wellness is nothing new, as Brown explains, the pandemic built on the years of movement that was already building behind the scenes. “It’s been around for thousands of years, we’ve been trying to improve ourselves as human beings since the dawn of time,” Brown adds. The pandemic allowed many to step back realise the benefits of a preventative mindset rather than relying on doctors to fix everything, it also democratised wellness for more accessible wellness as well as providing ample time for people to built healthy habits. For Brown, “as challenging as Covid was for everybody on a physical and mental way, I think the outcomes and thoughts we have now will actually lead to longer term societal benefits”.

In light of this more health-focused consumer, it’s no surprise that the medical spa market is growing markedly. With a number of medical-based treatments to promote beauty and health for the guest, the market is expected rise 15% in the next decade, according to Persistence Market Research. The increased demand for medspas in hotels stems from the rising awareness of health as well as the growing popularity of digitalised healthcare communications and the availability of virtual healthcare consultations – almost 70% of public hospitals across the globe are being asked to embrace digitalisation.

One of the major focuses of medical spas combines medicine and aesthetics for cosmetic treatments, consisting of Botox injections, anti-wrinkle, acne therapy and fine line reduction therapies and fillers under the supervision of a licensed healthcare provider. “What you’re seeing is the use of equipment and technology designed to improve how people look,” explains Brown. “We were trying to solve issues of how we look through invasive treatments and now we realise we can solve it through diet, nutrition, movement, meditation, stress reduction and medical-based treatments to recreate the entire holistic approach to well-being.” As technology has advanced, many results previously achieved by invasive treatments can be accomplished using technology for a more natural look.

Looking good, feeling good

As Brown explains, the use of medical treatments in spa and wellness is rapidly becoming normalised and accessible as the industry adapts to the more conscious consumer. With the spa industry’s growing popularity, the price of treatments and experiences drops – according to the Global Wellness Institute, it reported an expected 7.5% growth through 2022 as wellness accounted for 58% of global healthy expenditures. Within this market, medical spas are taking root as a health and wellness becomes evermore significant for the consumer.

“The expectation of my guests is to have those services,” Brown goes on to say. “[The guest] understands about radio frequency, high frequency facials and about LED facial, they understand about facial mapping and how you can prevent some damage and even to a certain extent Botox, IV therapy – that’s the place we are getting into as a hotel.” But for him, the biggest opportunity within the medical spa space is recovery, as technology allows us to almost “biohack” through methods such as cryotherapy, infrared therapy, IV therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy to support recovery like an athlete: “We train like athletes, we eat like athletes, we dress like athletes, now we recover like athletes.”

That’s not to say that Brown doesn’t see the potential of medical-driven facial delivery, but rather sees the transition away from invasive types of treatments as equipment gets better as a clear sign for a healthier option that works for people. “You’ve got to work at it, you’ve got to eat properly, meditate properly but at the same time you can support that process through medical treatments,” says Brown. “I think great examples of that in the current landscape would be places like Lanza Hof, in Germany, where you’ve got the diagnostic elements, understanding the body, to then do it. You’ve got groups like LondonCryo Belgravia with a holistic recovery concept regime, you’ve got one of my favourites called Remedy Place, a social wellness club in New York, which is basically all around recovery using Eastern and Western principles to combine those into a system that actually works with people. It’s definitely there and definitely a part of what we’re integrating into our spas within our hotels globally.”

Defining features

As with all markets, the medical spa certainly has challenges ahead as it continues to grow and compete with other areas of the spa and wellness sector. The global market alone was estimated at $14.4bn in 2022 and is expected to reach $25.9bn by 2026, according to findings from ResearchAndMarkets. From Brown’s perspective, he sees competition on the horizon for medical spas, especially between the day spa and hotel spa. “I think for us, we need to determine hotel business. What are we, what do we deliver and what I see is a lot of blurring, people are running around embracing different things in order to appeal to a new market. In luxury hospitality, we are a luxury experience deliverer and I think that’s where our primary USP is. I think the day spa market for medicals can deliver things that are fantastic, and I think we can certainly deliver some of those things in our luxury hotel spas, but really, we’re about luxury experience.”

For Brown, this leads to the efficacy of what hotel spas are delivering being examined, as the younger generation are far more sceptical than the previous on what they spend. “Somebody under 30 is far more questioning and they have much more access to information in terms of what they want to do, what they’re going to get,” laughs Brown. “The public opinion about the effectiveness of certain things will definitely dictate whether people are successful or not, and that will keep people honest and it’s really a good thing.” But while the industry has some kinks to iron out as hotel spa’s and day spa’s find their footing and make sure the right people are giving the right treatments, the demand for treatments is causing the equipment to develop and get cheaper every year. “There are new things in the market that are really quite incredible, I had an experience with group called Soft Wave for a one-year facelift… Right now, it’s about $5,000 for the facial, I guarantee you in four years’ time it will be $3,000, $2,000, so it’s getting cheaper and easier to access.”

Wading in on wellness

It’s clear speaking to Brown that he is committed to supporting and promoting health, so much so that Accor has launched an award-winning podcast series called Health to Wealth. “I think any large company, any global company, has a responsibility to be using its power, its reach, in a magnanimous way to help educate and support people globally, whether you buy from us or don’t, and Accor is one of those companies,” he emphasises. “So, we wanted to raise the topic of wellness in its broader context – what is wellness and what does it mean?”

For Brown and Accor, this consists of a number of topics that focus on all the things you can do to get to a place of well-being: “We can’t be well without a well planet,” he adds. As part of the hospitality industry and a significant driver of food sustainability, this doesn’t just affect a small percentage of people but everyone. All the topics connect, whether it’s sustainability, technology and innovation, financial health or more traditional well-being – all of it, says Brown, has an impact on wellness. While the spa industry grows and evolves, it is clear to see that, for Brown and Accor at least, the path to wellness doesn’t stop at one treatment. It’s about democratising the conversation to provide real information and make things more accessible. “All of this impacts wellness and well-being for you as an individual,” Brown determines, “and wellness is for everybody.”