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Hotels Spotlight Wellness
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— October 29, 2019

Hotels Spotlight Wellness

By Allan Richter
  • Wellness travel is outpacing general tourism, and hotels are meeting the challenge.

Ellen Jordan is a spa hopper. In her leisure time, the 46-year-old Southern California jeweler heads to Las Vegas to unwind with treatments or to lounge in at least three hotel spas on each visit.

Each, Jordan says, has its own appeal. She likes the service and attention to detail at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas, cools off in the cold plunge at the Spa at Mandalay Bay and is energized by the youthful vibe at Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars Palace.

“When I’ve overdone it at work and exerted myself too much, Vegas is my go-to destination to reset my health,” Jordan says, adding that she also visits Sin City to hike nearby Red Rock Canyon or take a hot yoga session. “I’m not interested in buffets. I’m not interested in shows or casinos. Vegas is wellness town for me.”

It’s little wonder that hospitality companies are taking notice of travelers like Jordan.

The wellness tourism sector was estimated at $639.4 billion in 2017, according to the research firm Global Wellness Institute (GWI)

Wellness travel grew by 6.5% annually from 2015 to 2017—more than twice the growth rate for general tourism. Click To Tweet

The institute projects that wellness tourism will grow 7.5% annually through 2022, outpacing the 6.4% annual growth forecasted for tourism overall.

Fueling the growth, says Miami-based GWI, are an expanding global middle class, an uptick in consumers interested in improving their health, rising interest in experiential travel and more affordable flights and travel options.

Further, travelers interested in wellness-related activities spend more than the average traveler.

According to GWI, domestic wellness tourists in 2017 spent $609 per trip, 178% more than the typical domestic tourist. Click To Tweet

International wellness tourists spent $1,528 per trip, 53% higher than their typical traveling counterparts.

Hotels are the biggest beneficiaries of this spending. Lodging—including destination spas, health resorts, ashrams and retreats—as well as hotels, resorts and campgrounds for both wellness and typical travelers, accounted for the biggest piece—$130.5 billion—of the $639.4 billion spent, according to GWI. Food & beverage, at $111.5 billion, holds the second-largest share.

“As wellness travel becomes more mainstream, many hotels are incorporating wellness into their design, amenities, services and programming,” GWI said in a 2018 research report, “Global Wellness Tourism Economy.”

Natural lighting is an increasingly desired feature in hotels.

Higher Expectations

A wellness angle is “definitely something that is no longer an amenity that’s nice to have. It’s something people are expecting even in non-luxury hotels,” says Meghan Carty, research analyst at Skift, a travel industry business intelligence firm in New York.

Carty points to Selina, for example.

This lodging chain—part hostel, part co-working space—offers packaged adventure and wellness outings. Selina launched in 2015 in a small fishing village in Panama and operates mostly in Central and South America.

The wellness options hotels can offer their guests are many, from amenities such as light- and noise-blocking windows and shades that help promote improved sleep, to in-room fitness equipment and videos, to healthy fare at restaurants.

To help ensure they are meeting guests’ wellness needs, more hotel properties are acquiring or partnering with gyms and spas.

The Diplomat Beach Resort Hollywood, Curio Collection by Hilton, for example, offers beach yoga and a state-of-the-art, two-story fitness center featuring an elevated cardio deck with ellipticals, treadmills and stationary bikes. It complements these offerings by partnering with CFT (Core Fitness Training), a space accessible via a short walking bridge, where guests can take high-intensity interval training and an array of metabolism-boosting, gut-busting classes.

Not only are hospitality brands seeking wellness alliances—such as Diplomat Beach Resort or partnerships by Westin and other hotel brands with the stationary bike company Peloton—wellness brands are increasingly eyeing the hotel industry.

The launch of the first Equinox hotel in New York’s Hudson Yards area is a case in point.

Equinox, known for its high-end gym clubs, brought to its flagship hotel an Equinox Fitness Club—at 60,000 square feet, the largest ever built. Personal training services, private Pilates, group fitness classes, a 25-yard indoor saltwater pool, and hot and cold plunge pools are available for guests.

Spas, such as this one at Hyatt Indian Wells, are more in demand by guests.

Green Wellness

Beyond ensuring fitness facility access, hotels are taking more sophisticated steps and making bigger capital investments in branding themselves as health-focused, going as far as building wellness or environmental features into their architecture through biophilic, or nature-themed, design.

Terrapin Bright Green, a New York sustainability consulting firm, conducted a study of guest rooms and amenities at 15 hotels around the world; an online survey of global designers, marketers and sustainability experts expanded the study to 39 hotels. The big takeaway was that visual and material connections with nature were “the most frequently or consistently utilized design patterns in all hospitality amenities and hotel rooms,” the firm said in a recent report.

Biophilic design, in which more plants and greenery, natural textures and natural light greet guests at every turn, is promising for hotel brands that want to present a comprehensive wellness experience.

 “I’ve talked to representatives from Accor, Hyatt and Six Senses, and that’s something they emphasize repeatedly,” says Skift analyst Carty. “It’s not that they just have a spa or yoga classes; wellness is incorporated into every step of the hotel journey.”

Add-On or Main Purpose?

Despite the rising interest in wellness travel, don’t expect to see a flurry of all-inclusive resorts that offer guests a full menu of exercise and yoga classes. That category will grow slower than others, in part because it is a more high-end niche, says Carty.

That analysis is supported by GWI, which identifies two types of travelers. One is the primary wellness traveler who seeks out a destination where wellness is central to its identity, such as a health retreat.

The other is the traveler who simply is trying to maintain his or her health by visiting a gym, getting a massage or eating healthy fare.

Travelers for whom wellness is secondary accounted for 89% of wellness tourism in 2017. Click To Tweet

Jordan, the jeweler who heads to Las Vegas, falls somewhere between the two: While she goes for wellness, the hotels she visits don’t have a specific health theme.

Hotels recognize that the diversity of their guests’ needs means there’s no cookie-cutter solution.

“Well-being is a personal journey and it has a different meaning for each guest,” says Mia Kyricos, Hyatt Hotels global head of well-being. “We certainly know that it is not sufficient to simply put a yoga mat in the corner of a guest room and call it a day.” She adds that guests’ “well-being goals may differ depending on whether they are traveling for business or for leisure.”

Hyatt identifies opportunities to infuse well-being across its global portfolio. For example, it made fitness and mindfulness classes from Exhale, one of its wellness brands, available in guestrooms at US Hyatt Place and Hyatt Regency hotels, where business travelers make up a “significant” segment of the guest base. (Hyatt’s high- end Miraval brand, acquired last year, is fully wellness-focused for the primary wellness traveler.)

Hilton also markets in-room exercise as a cornerstone of its wellness offerings, going from amenities such as a treadmill or yoga mat in some rooms to a “more integrated, flexible and comprehensive workout experience, supported by digital classes,” according to a Hilton spokeswoman.

The result: the brand’s Five Feet to Fitness offerings, a full-fledged in-room gym with 11 fitness equipment and accessory options that supplement group classes and its hotel gyms.

A Hilton room featuring its “Five Feet to Fitness” offerings.

Enhanced Sleep Options

One factor that affects all travelers is sleep quality.

Hyatt, for instance, recently piloted a program in some Hyatt Regencies that supplies products to support relaxation, including a cellphone “sleeping bag” and a scented sleep patch, Kyricos says.

At Equinox Hotel in New York, room temperature is maintained at 66°F, optimal for good sleep, and a two-duvet sectional bed that lets each guest select their in-bed temperature preference. Blackout shades block all light.

The effort to help guests improve their sleep habits is part of a growing trend of hotels giving guests ways to mentally detox and balance their psychological health, says Carty.

“Hotels have designated meditation spaces,” she notes. “Six Senses does things to help you disconnect. They also have a suite kit with a phone sleeping bag so you won’t be disturbed by it at night. A lot of the mental health [support] is about sleep health.”

Trends such as biophilic design may sound futuristic, but the approach may someday seem archaic in decades to come.

To celebrate its centennial, Hilton this year released a report imagining what the marriage of wellness and hospitality might look like in the next 100 years. The brand imagines eco-friendly practices such as buildings made from ocean-dredged plastic and healthy diet trends such as more plant-based eating along with alternate sources of protein—as in Beetle Bolognese, Plankton Pies and Seaweed Green Velvet Cake.

And, in Hilton’s projection, virtual reality will give guests unlimited and unprecedented options for working out. Imagine swimming past a virtual sea turtle in a pool or climbing the digital face of Mount Everest.

Employees benefit from hotel wellness programs.

When Hotel Workers are Feelin’ Alright

Corporate goodwill means a lot to travelers, and many road warriors can gauge the levels of a hotel’s social responsibility by its commitment to environmental issues. Hotels are also stepping up employee wellness programs as an expression of community responsibility.

“As more consumers adopt wellness as part of their value system, they will increasingly [view] their travel experiences through a holistic wellness lens, and they will increasingly become interested in the well- being of the people in the places that they visit,” according to a Global Wellness Institute report last year.

The Breakers Palm Beach has been getting high marks from hotel industry observers for its early emphasis on employee wellness. The high-end Florida resort launched its employee wellness program in 2003.

A Breakers survey showed 95% of its employees took part in employee wellness programs, which include physical fitness classes, walking programs and other recreational activities, as well as a full-time, on-site health and wellness advisor for confidential coaching and stress-management classes. Further, 91% said they believed the hotel cared about their well-being: Employee retention was 82%, compared with the hotel industry’s average of 69%.

Hilton tries to ensure the well-being of its employees through what it calls its Thrive at Hilton program, which includes initiatives such as aid with continuing education classes and monthlong paid sabbaticals for workers looking to volunteer in various settings.

At Hyatt, management is learning best wellness practices from its wellness-focused Miraval properties, acquired last year, as a model for Hyatt employees. “We are learning a lot from our team there and applying mindfulness practices, for example, in meetings and at our corporate office, as well as our event offerings,” says Mia Kyricos, Hyatt Hotels senior vice president and global head of well-being.

As GWI researchers put it, “In the future, the wellness of travel will increasingly link to the wellness of the place and how we contribute to it.”

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