In November 2018, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) published its 2018 'Global Wellness Tourism Economy' report. It found that wellness, hospitality and travel are now converging in unprecedented ways, from the ‘healthy hotel’ concept going mainstream to airports, airlines and cruises injecting unprecedented levels of associated programming, to the profusion of ever-more creative destinations, retreats and tours.

The wellness concept is transforming almost every aspect of travel and wellness tourism, GWI concluded, and “will only grow faster in years ahead as it lies at the powerful intersection of two massive, booming industries: the $2.6-trillion tourism industry and the $4.2-trillion wellness market”.

Succeed or secede

The stats certainly back that up. Wellness tourism grew from a $563-billion market in 2015 to $639 billion in 2017, or 6.5% annually, more than twice as fast as tourism overall (3.2%). It’s forecast to grow even faster through 2022 (7.5% yearly), to reach $919 billion. The US still leads the way in terms of wellness tourism revenues ($242 billion annually), but Europe accounts for the most wellness trips, with $292 million. Nobody, however, can match Asia-Pacific in terms of growth, with wellness trips growing a staggering 33% in the last two years. This is a truly global trend.

Once the preserve of the elite, hotels of all types and in all segments are therefore now looking towards leveraging the growth in wellness travel to generate increased revenues. A rise in activity does not necessarily equate to a rise in quality, however, and Susan Harmsworth has been in the game long enough to have seen her fair share of failed ventures. “One should either do a spa well or not do it at all,” says one of the most influential individuals in the sector, who set up ESPA in 1993. Merely offering a couple of massage tables and a sauna simply won’t cut it amid so much competition.

Today’s guests expect extensive wellness programmes and spas have become bona fide revenue spinners, but it’s difficult to maximise those opportunities if you don’t involve experts from the get go.

“It must be built as a revenue-generation operation,” insists Niamh

O’Connell, group vice-president of guest experiences and wellness at Rosewood Hotel Group. “That means, normally, a feasibility study needs to be done by the operator, together with an assessment to determine whether or not the spa should be built.” O’Connell has overseen the launch of Rosewood’s new ‘integrative wellness concept’, which debuted in 2017 at the group’s Phuket property. Known as ‘Asaya’, the idea is to “fuse alternative therapies; lifestyle and nutrition coaching; educational wellness programming; fitness activities; specialised healing treatments; and a dedication to pure, authentic ingredients; and thoughtful design”.

Savvy software savants

Rosewood Hong Kong, opening in March 2019, will host the first urban outpost. Translated from Sanskrit, the term mean setting an intention or hope, to propel selfchange and transformation. Set over two dedicated floors, the Hong Kong spa will revolve around specific individual wellness goals, supported by alternative therapies and rituals, enriching fitness and lifestyle activities, healthy eating plans, a dedication to pure, authentic ingredients and specially designed social spaces for relaxation and reflection with a membership programme that aims to build a sense of community for local residents and hotel guests.

The concept is based on a 'software' approach to guests, explains O’Connell. “Operators are more savvy now, so it’s not about simply building a facility – the hardware,” she says. “They are spending more time on analysing and planning what goes into fulfilling a guest journey in order to provide a flawless experience.”

However, the definition of wellness – still a relatively novel term in Europe in this particular context – is also expanding, says Harmsworth. Operators need to be aware of changing guest expectations, rather than just sticking to buzzwords.

“We have seen a change in attitude towards wellness over the past ten years, but I advise our spas to use ‘wellness’ with caution,” she says. “We are finding hotel operators are either taking well-being, wellness and lifestyle issues much more seriously, or it’s being driven more by marketing and terminology.

“The danger is that it doesn’t always meet guests’ expectations. I believe we shouldn’t overpromise, and should always be able to deliver.”

There is some contention over whether the spa should be considered an amenity. For Andrew Gibson, vice-president of well-being for Accor Luxury, it’s terminology that sells the spa short.

“It is certainly not an amenity,” he says. “If designed and located intelligently, a spa and its related services can be a valuable attraction for a hotel.”

Gibson, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the spa sector, cites the 'halo effect' spas can have on today’s operators. According to research conducted by Accor, spa users spend double on food and beverage, and stay more than half a day longer on average than other guests.

“They have a higher overall spend in every area of the hotel,” he says. “Our conclusion is that the high spenders are likely to use a spa.”

O’Connell and Gibson are excited by the trends they are observing. According to O’Connell, “Hotels are identifying deeper and more diverse layers in the market.”

For instance, operators that offer the best facilities tend to understand that wellness is often an extension of guests’ daily health regimes, which may include consciousness and mindfulness techniques, or personal trainers.

“Consciously and unconsciously, wellness is becoming more significant in our day-to-day lives, in the ways we work, eat, sleep and socialise,” she says.

“Operators must be able to appeal to diverse lifestyles. This includes consciousness and mindfulness products and services. Other important elements might be environmental aspects, animalfriendly awareness, and food-related aspects such as organic foods, or sustainably harvested food with less of a carbon footprint.”

Take holistic orders

In Gibson’s eyes, the holistic approach favoured by many of today’s leading hotels means the spa is not just limited to a single physical space. Wellness can encapsulate several features simultaneously, from water and lighting to the aroma of one’s room. “The most exciting trend by far is the development of wellness into every aspect of hotel operations,” he says.

“Guest room design is changing dramatically, with different companies taking a variety of interpretations of what this means.

“Technology and robotics will also play a part in the development and improvements of wellness services in the hotel. Our vision is to have our guests leave the hotel feeling better than when they walked in.”

Above all else, hotels are improving their wellness offerings for the right reasons. In addition to staying abreast of guest demands and trends, this entails paying heed to financial viability – which hasn’t always been the case in the past, says Gibson.

“In the past 20 years, knowledge on design, positioning and performance of the spa has improved,” he explains.

“With some exceptions, most spas are built with realistic financial expectations, whereas just over a decade ago they were still being built based on comparisons with the competitive set, or on ego.”

“We went through an era of quick fix, where time-poor guests were looking for shorter treatments and instant results,” reflects Harmsworth. “However, we are already seeing a move away from this as a result of our modern lifestyles.”

While technology and robotics will undoubtedly play a significant role in the development of wellness services, there will always be guests who regard spas as a means of temporarily escaping smartphones and social media.

“Overuse of technology seems to be having negative short and long-term effects on our health, so we need to address that in our hotel spas in particular,” says Harmsworth.

Nouveau niche

Perhaps the biggest decision for operators to make is whether they carve out a niche for their well-being offering, or strive for something with more universal appeal.

“Traditional luxury hotel spas will continue to have their place in the market, as many guests will continue to seek a restful and relaxing destination,” says O’Connell, “but if operators can execute them authentically, there is a place for wellness facilities in the market. Once an operator identifies its place in the market, it will find the space and clientele that are right for it.” The one thing operators can’t afford to do, says Harmsworth, is offer a spa programme that is neither one thing nor the other.

“We see the market segmenting now, which I think is a good thing for clarity for the guests,” she says. “If you’re going to carve out a niche, it must produce results. If it’s nutrition-led, for weight-loss or a healthrelated programme, it really must work; many of those on offer are just tokenistic. The most revenue will still be from massages, facials and general spa treatments. In the wellness sector, you have very specialist areas, such as complementary health, acupuncture, osteopathy, nutrition and cancer treatments, so you need to have the market to make it profitable. It’s not something you can compromise on,” Harmsworth concludes.