Generation bliss14 October 2019
Reams of materials have been produced outlining how hoteliers can better appeal to the dominant millennial demographic, but little of the conversation has surrounded what this generation is demanding from the spa and wellness space. How does one entice younger guests through wellness and how big a selling point can it be? Abi Millar talks to Irene Forte, group project and wellness director for Rocco Forte Hotels, and Simona Migliniene, project manager at spa and wellness consultants The E77 Company, to find out more.
“What do millennials want?’ is an oftrepeated question, prone to keeping hoteliers up at night. After all, the one thing everyone can agree on regarding millennials is that this demographic has some spending clout.
In the US, millennials have already surpassed baby boomers as the largest demographic, and they are thought to have the most annual buying power of any generation before them. Given that millennials also, notoriously, value experiences over things, they’re a lucrative customer base for hoteliers that get it right.
This has spurred major transformations across the hotel industry, with many features that once seemed radical (think self check-in and 24/7 connectivity) now the norm. If millennials want personalisation, instant gratification, a seamless travel experience and immersive product offerings, then hoteliers would be unwise not to provide that.
All this said, there are a few areas in which the millennial spend remains rather less discussed. One of these is the spa and wellness arena – something traditionally associated with an older, wealthy clientele. It’s only relatively recently that millennials have begun to have an impact in this space.
A shift in perception
As Simona Migliniene, project manager at spa and wellness consultants The E77 Company, explains, perceptions of what constitutes a spa hotel have shifted over the past five years.
“For one thing, spa and wellness is no longer considered a luxury item – more and more spa and wellness services providers make an effort to offer services for everyone,” she says. “Wellness has found its way to our everyday-life routines, and the biggest future and present users of wellness services are the millennials.”
At present, The E77 Company is working on a spa hotel in Lithuania specifically designed for millennial guests. Due to open this autumn, the Spa Hotel Esé will feature mineral water pools and baths, four treatment rooms, a healthy food menu and a selection of themed guest rooms. It is also being dubbed a ‘true Insta-hotel’ because of its social media-friendly spaces.
“The Lithuanian word Esé, or essay in English, is a personal story, individual observations and reflections,” explains Migliniene. “Spa Hotel Esé is an ongoing creation of a story – an opportunity to create, compose, be together and share in social media. The very first spa hotel designed for millennials in Northern Europe, it will serve as a point of art – no boring plain walls here.”
She maintains that what millennials are looking for in a spa is good quality at the right price point. They are reluctant to use lower-quality spa services, as well as unnecessarily expensive ‘gilded’ treatments, and are seeking something more than a massage or aromatic bath.
“A spa needs to be balanced between all the needs that are important to them – physical activity and sports in the open air, healthy food options, a clean and modern wet area, inexpensive group treatments and massage,” she says. “Currently under construction, Esé will include a variety of saunas, top spa treatments, a gym, yoga and meditation classes. For millennials, there has to be a balance between passive spa treatments and physical activity.”
Outside of the spa itself, she thinks it’s important to provide good conditions for remote working, a functioning bar in the evening and amenities for families with young children. With the oldest millennials now in their late 30s, many do travel with children, and family-friendliness is often a priority. The Spa Hotel Esé has a separate hotel wing for young families, and aims to ensure a relaxing spa break for kids and adults alike.
It’s easy to see how hotels of this kind may form a template for what’s to come. For sure, younger travellers might be loath to splurge on luxury treatments or well-known brands, but they are very interested in ‘wellness’ as a concept and many envisage their vacations as a mode of self-care.
“Millennials use wellness services in a variety of ways based on their individual needs, tastes, beliefs, time or climate,” says Migliniene. “As the concept of wellness is very broad, it allowed us to take a very creative look at this theme when creating a concept for Spa Hotel Esé.”
Mind the gap
In a SpaFinder report from 2016, a generational divide was evident. Asked about the importance of different wellness elements (healthy food, fitness classes and so on), millennial and Gen X travellers rated all 16 elements as more important than baby boomers did. For instance, baby boomers rated ‘outdoor adventure programmes’ as 7.3/10 in importance, while for the younger cohort it was 8.5.
Arguably, older travellers would find it less intuitive to group together ‘wellness elements’ in this way, seeing little commonality between a spa treatment and ‘voluntourism’. For younger travellers, on the other hand, wellness may be envisaged as a way of life.
Irene Forte, group project and wellness director for Rocco Forte Hotels, launched Rocco Forte Spas in 2015 with millennial guests in mind. She defines the term ‘wellness’ as “the unity of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health”.
“We really wanted to cater to the growing demand of health-conscious guests,” she says. “With our Rocco Forte Wellness concept, guests can find wellness at every touchpoint in our hotels, whether in-room, in the outlets, in the spa or in the gym. It fuses together proven science and technology with inherited wisdom and an affinity for nature across Rocco Forte Spas’ Nourish, Fitness, Community and Sustainability programmes.”
As she explains, the ‘Nourish’ programme brings together fad-free thinking on nutrition with locally sourced ingredients. The ‘Fitness’ programme includes scenic jogging, cycling and trekking tours, personal training, and yoga. ‘Mind’ includes meditation classes and in-room sleep kits, while ‘Community’ and ‘Sustainability’ reflects the idea that holistic wellness extends beyond the individual into their environment.
The spas themselves, key to the wellness concept, are inspired by the Forte family’s Mediterranean heritage.
“They are colourful, with natural materials, and Irene Forte Skincare is central to them,” says Forte. “Stepping into a spa must feel like you are entering a different world, with a different atmosphere to the rest of the hotel. In general, we want guests to be able to continue their existing healthy routines or learn something new, and leave us looking, feeling and being better.” Rocco Forte Hotels is in essence a family business, run by Sir Rocco Forte along with his sister Olga Polizzi and his children Lydia, Charles and Irene. As Forte explains, the special thing about intergenerational collaboration is that she and her siblings can bring fresh eyes to the business, with the support of their father and aunt.
“This is what we have done in our different areas of expertise,” she says. “I launched Rocco Forte Spas to try and meet the needs of my generation. This has now been developed further into Rocco Forte Wellness.”
It is interesting to compare Rocco Forte Wellness – a luxury experience accessible only millennials with more disposable income – with the more affordable Spa Hotel Esé. In many regards, the underlying thinking is the same, suggesting that the so-called ‘millennial mindset’ is applicable across all price points.
The connectivity conundrum
Perhaps one point of differentiation is the approach to social media. Forte agrees that social media is important, particularly when it comes to influencing a millennial to choose your property in the first place. But she thinks that many travellers in this bracket are really seeking a digital detox.
“In terms of our wellness offering, while we create experiences that are worthy of social media, we also want to try and encourage individuals to disconnect and switch off,” she says.
Migliniene, by contrast, feels that millennial travellers are looking to stay connected and tell a story. And aside from social media posting, they definitely want to get everything done online.
“We even have the possibility of checking the busyness of the pool online and then deciding when to visit, because why should you jostle among many others when you can freely do a butterfly stroke?” she says.
This highlights an interesting paradox in the millennial approach to wellness – a hankering for authentic, offline experiences sits alongside a desire for connectivity and convenience. While the former is perhaps more conducive to ‘wellness’, the latter is hard to shed for a generation that grew up with the internet. It will be up to each hotelier to work out which of the two to emphasise.
What seems clear is that hoteliers do need to start thinking about that question. As the millennial demographic becomes more dominant, the spa and wellness space will need to consider their predilections.
“Millennials are obsessed with wellness,” points out Forte. “In the past, spas were always a bit of an afterthought, but for my generation wellness is a daily, active, pursuit.”