"My role is to bring spa and wellness from an amenity to a core pillar,” says Michael Newcombe of his new appointment as vice president spa & wellness for Four Seasons. Alongside his main post as general manager of Four Seasons Los Angeles, Newcombe has been chair of the group’s spa task force – representing some 106 facilities worldwide – for just over a year.
"The global wellness economy, as defined by the Global Wellness Institute, is a US$3.7tn industry – twice the dollar spend of the global pharmaceutical industry,” he says. “This is a trend about prevention rather than cure. People want to avoid getting sick rather than fixing themselves. It’s about mindfulness, lifestyle and life balance and any brand has to contemplate its global positioning very carefully and that’s what we’re doing.
“Above all, we’re listening to our guests,” he adds, explaining that web click throughs for spa in the business is growing by 50-75 per cent. “There’s a big, big focus internally on wellness.”
One obvious step towards wellness is Four Seasons’ collaboration with Delos to launch Wellness Rooms at Newcombe’s Beverly Hills site in Los Angeles. Five guestrooms and three suites, located on the fourth floor spa level, have been created to optimise physical and emotional wellbeing with features such as circadian lighting and air and water purification systems.
"I suffer a bit from allergens, dust, hay fever and asthma and when I slept in the room I really did feel a greater sense of purity when I woke up," testifies Newcombe.
“We’re only two months into the pilot, but we’re tracking sales and so far we’ve seen a 35 per cent increase on the suites and 50 per cent increase on regular rooms.” On top of this, the hotel can charge a premium for the rooms.
Typical customers include the busy executive who wants to have wellness options on the road, he says, and those coming to town for minor non-invasive procedures (like dermatology work) who want downtime pre- and post-treatment.
Guests in the well rooms have access to sleep and nutrition programmes developed by the Cleveland Clinic, guided meditation videos by Deepak Chopra, exercise equipment and yoga mats, as well as healthy in-room snack options.
“We partnered with Delos because its elements are all based on scientific evidence – they even have a sleep lab at the Mayo Clinic,” says Newcombe, adding that Four Seasons put its own look and design on the rooms.
Another personal touch has been to emphasise spa collateral. Well room guests get an 80-minute treatment for the price of 50 minutes and a special Surrender therapy has been designed costing US$210 (€170, £150) for 50 minutes or US$280 (€230, £200) for 80 minutes. “Jean-Guy de Gabriac of Tip Touch International worked with our senior therapists to create it. He asked them what move or stroke they felt best benefited different muscle groups. They came up with the word ‘surrender’ to define it because they want guests to surrender a bit of their time in their busy schedules.”
Newcombe confirms all of this is having a very positive impact on the spa itself as the capture rate is up by an impressive 30 per cent.
The new norm
Moving forward, Newcombe says to watch out for more in the Four Seasons Los Angeles wellness sphere. The idea is to eventually convert the remaining eight guestrooms on the fourth floor into Wellness Rooms to create a ‘spa floor’ for the hotel.
But when it comes to global plans, he’s not giving much away and won’t confirm whether the concept will roll out across the group. “We’ll be interacting closely with our guests to gauge the success of the pilot and then review further options,” he says.
He’s also keen to point out that even if there is a rollout, well rooms “will not uniquely define us. Four Seasons has multi-segment hotels and wellness is a strong option but it’s not the only option. It’s about increasing choices but not forcing a concept on a guest.”
That said, he does see well rooms becoming the ‘new norm’ in the industry. “I go back to when non-smoking became the norm,” concludes Newcombe. “Now you’ll hardly find a smoking room anywhere. And I suspect wellness features will also be absorbed into regular guestrooms.
“At the same time you’ll also see advancements. As science progresses and the traveller becomes more discerning, wellness features will become more customisable – mood lighting will follow the guest’s waking itinerary, foods will match specific [weight or health] objectives. The bar will rise from guests expecting a ‘feel good’ stay, to demanding a ‘feel great’ one. And that’s exciting.”