Picture the scene. You’ve just enjoyed a delicious, healthy lunch and, en route to the greenery-bedecked spa, you’re mentally running through the list of preferences you entered into the hotel’s wellness app a few hours ahead of your treatment. Music? Check. Scent? Check. Previous shoulder injury? Check. Desired outcome? Check.

When you emerge, rejuvenated, from your (locally inspired) massage, you might go for a yoga class, or spend the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool with a pina colada.

Either way, you’re secure in the knowledge that, whether you’re in the hotel’s traditional wellness space or not, everything – from the menus to the quality of the light and air – has been designed with wellness in mind.

“It’s about creating that larger platform where everything is connected to human wellness and bringing that all together,” says Melissa Walker, director of global brand wellness at Hilton.

“We’re focused on making sure we deliver programmes and spa menus that play into that larger narrative of being well all the time, rather than just focusing on two weeks out of the year.”

Getting personal

As ‘being well’ is different for everyone, more hotel groups are starting to use technology to try and personalise the wellness experience for each guest. At Hilton, this will – eventually – be realised through an app.

“We really think customised experiences are key to people – being able to schedule an appointment, being able to indicate what type of music you want in your treatment room and what scents you want to experience, being able to pick the temperature of your room, pre-select your therapist and let them know if you’ve hurt your back or what pressure you’d like for your massage,” Walker says.

The app the group is developing will not only let guests book and pay for their appointments, but also select their preferences ahead of time.

“Traditionally, you’d fill out a paper form, but that doesn’t give your therapist a lot of time to visualise what kind of experience you’d like and what kind of energy you’re looking for,” Walker says.

Personalised wellness experiences also lead to better results, says Dr Jason Culp, a leading naturopathic doctor and head of research and development at Chiva-Som, an awardwinning holistic wellness resort in Thailand. At the same time, wearable technology and biometrics now mean it’s attainable for everyone.

“The spa and wellness industry has been taking advantage of this trend by using devices to evaluate sleep, stress levels, stress-coping skills, cardiovascular fitness and even caloric tracking for sustainable weight loss,” he explains.

“These measurements induce selfparticipation and empowerment in one’s own wellness journey, and through the collection of data from clients you can assess whether their wellness programmes, therapies and/or services are effective in promoting wellness or at least accomplishing what they are meant to do.”

Pushing the boundaries

Kathryn Moore is the founder and managing director of recruitment, training and consultancy company Spa Connectors. She says more travellers are looking for experiences through which they can either learn something about where they are or rediscover or even challenge themselves.

One of her most recent projects – the spa at Carpe Diem Beach Resort & Spa, a soon-to-open hotel in the Maldives aimed at families and groups of friends – is a case in point. “The spa concept is all about challenging the status quo,” she says. “The point of going in there is to push your own boundaries.”

On top of massages, options for guests will include bouncing on the trampoline, lying in the foam pit, sliding into the ocean, receiving a treatment while hanging in an aerial yoga swing or getting their colours done. “We want people to go in there and come out feeling like they’re a different person,” Moore says.

More traditional wellness destinations such as Chiva-Som are also focusing more than previously on self-discovery. “We have a wide array of therapies for promoting optimal emotional health, including movement therapies and reflective therapies," says Culp.

"Although mental and emotional health are incorporated into all of our retreats, we have also developed two that focus primarily on emotional health – natural renewal and emotional well-being," he continues.

Changing the spa story

The spa and the gym have traditionally been two separate spaces, but there’s a move within the hotel wellness space to bring them together. “It’s not our place as operators to decide that the fitness people need to go to one side of the hotel and the spa people need to go to the other,” Walker says.

The first thing we always suggest is to do your market research – know your competitive set, know who is coming to stay in your hotel and create a concept based on that. Don’t just do wellness for the sake of doing wellness.
– Kathryn Moore

“Our job is to create that continuum and connection so that each guest decides what they need and we make it easy for them to access that.”

Hilton is also working on changing the story around spas. “They’re not just places to go and pamper yourself. They’re needed for self-care; this is part of being well,” Walker explains.

More than that, Culp adds, spa and fitness are a great example of a complementary relationship. “Fitness helps with toning and strengthening the muscles, while a spa helps relax and release muscular tension,” he says. “One modality alone can provide significant health benefits but multiple modalities combined can enhance these positive effects.”

Beyond spa and fitness, wellness is increasingly being integrated into every aspect of the hotel experience. Westin, with its six pillars of wellness – feel well, work well, move well, eat well, sleep well and play well – is one of the best examples.

“They want you to be able to travel well,” Moore says. “It’s not a case of getting in at midnight and the only option being a club sandwich.

You can also go to the 24-hour gym. "It’s about accessibility and making it as easy as possible for people to tap in and get their wellness fix.”

Architecture also plays a role in wellness. “There isn’t anything more important than designing the space from the inception of a new project and pulling in all the wellness elements from an infrastructure standpoint – such as natural light, the inclusion of biophilia and also the air quality and outdoor spaces,” Walker stresses.

“The external environment has a major impact on one's health, which is why it must be considered in designing ‘wellness spaces’,” Culp agrees. “Some spa and fitness areas have gone so far as to fully incorporate vegetation in the gym and therapy rooms, surrounding the client in nature throughout their wellness activities, but even colours and sounds have the ability to stimulate or relax.”

According to Moore, the problem with talking about general wellness trends is that not everything will work in every hotel.

“The challenges hotels face are different for each region; there’s no blanket solution for all,” she says.

“It’s very important that when you look at trends, you’re looking at the trends for where you are and who’s coming into your hotel. What do they actually want?

“The first thing we always suggest is to do your market research – know your competitive set, know who is coming to stay in your hotel and create a concept based on that. Don’t just do wellness for the sake of doing wellness.”

Identifying the right trends

The spa concept for the five-star Mövenpick Hotels Apartments in Downtown Dubai, for example, couldn’t be more different to its counterpart at the brand’s Bali resort.

“In Dubai, we only had 200m² and, after running the numbers alongside the market research we did, we created a salon/spa hybrid concept. We maximised every square metre to generate revenue and guests will be able to have multiple treatments at once,” Moore says.

“In Bali, we came up with an indigenous Indonesian concept featuring treatments from different islands across the archipelago.

"We wanted to do something different and wanted guests to be able to learn something rather than just having the usual Thai, Balinese and Swedish massages.”

Culp says it’s also crucial to evaluate the longevity of a wellness trend before thinking about implementing it.

“We first identify its fundamental goal and then ask whether it surpasses what’s being done already and, if so, in what way does it add to the well-being or our clients.

"Lastly, we ask whether the benefits are sustainable for our clients,” he explains. “If we are unable to discern any additional or sustainable benefits to the client, we will reject the trend, even if it’s considered the latest fad in the industry.”