Only 5 per cent of illnesses are genetic. Most other disease is lifestyle related and avoidable and the spa and wellness industry has a huge part to play in helping people to achieve optimal health. It was this statement by alternative health guru Deepak Chopra that had delegates at the 2015 Global Wellness Summit (GWS) sitting up and paying attention.
Chopra, who addressed a full house at the summit in Mexico City in November, is an advocate of self-healing (see SB15/4 p36). He explained that scientists no longer believe that genes are fixed – they respond to everything we do, including what we eat, how much sleep we get, the exercise we do and our emotions (especially stress). “Think of your epigenome [the chemicals which govern genes] as a light switch or a thermostat,” said Chopra. “It can turn off harmful genes and switch on good ones” according to the lifestyle decisions you make.
Although spa operators might not be able to act on this new science immediately, it gives an insight into how they can potentially develop their businesses in the future: ‘a spa for your genes’ if you will. It provides inspiration for growth beyond the typical routes for spas and other sessions at the summit covering areas such as workplace wellness, psychodermatology, cancer and the medical community took this tack too. It was a deliberate move by the event organisers who dropped the word ‘spa’ from the summit’s title to reflect its more diverse wellness content. As such there was a broader range of delegates with professionals from clinical institutions, nutrition and fitness sitting alongside spa leaders, government officials and travel and tourism experts. Noticeably, more than 50 per cent of the record number of 450 delegates were first-time attendees.
Susie Ellis, chair and CEO of the GWS explained: “This year’s theme is Building a Well World and it could not be more appropriate. The wellness world is broader than it ever has been. We started out as a fragmented spa industry nine years ago and collectively helped to usher in a wellness movement… It’s been a purposeful evolution of our name and focus. But it’s not because we’ve abandoned our roots in spa, beauty and hospitality, but rather because we’ve recognised the opportunity to open up as we cast a wider net.”
Each year the summit places a special emphasis on one or two topic areas and in Mexico it was workplace wellness (see SB15/4 p64) and the convergence of the wellness and medical worlds.
SRI International, working with the Global Wellness Institute, revealed early findings on a report on wellbeing at work. Workplace wellness is a US$40bn (€37bn, £27bn) industry globally but many schemes are missing the mark – only three out of 10 people participate – and the solution is to integrate wellness into company culture. The full SRI report will be released in February and we summarise what this means for spas on p60.
A powerhouse panel with speakers from the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Duke University were asked if the clinical and wellness sectors are starting to work together. The consensus was “yes they are” and it’s more than just a fad. As healthcare systems move from disease management towards preventative measures they’re embracing complementary medicine. Growing competition in the medical world also means that clinicians are looking to spas for examples of customer care.
“They [spas] do a great job of providing the right experience,” said Dr Adam Perlman of Duke Integrative Medicine.
“I think this has created a level of interest and willingness to engage that we didn’t see a few years ago.”
In a fascinating presentation, neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre, who sits on Comfort Zone’s scientific committee, outlined the skin: brain connection. She spoke about the impact of emotions on skin, how it reacts to light to effectively tell the time, and newly-discovered C-tactile fibres in hairy skin which tell us how we feel when we’re touched. She said: “We’re only just beginning to untangle the neuroscience behind how the skin is represented in the mind and how the mind is then eventually represented in the body (particularly the skin)… By understanding the link you can learn to treat skin in a more holistic way.” Using more than just products to treat the skin is something Spa Business also predicted in its 2015 Spa Foresight™ (see SB15/3 p36).
Samer Hamadeh, founder and CEO of Zeel spoke about optimising the business of massage. He set up his at-home massage company because there are so many missed appointments in the industry. “We discovered the industry was really inefficient,” he said. In his experience, massage is an impulse buy – 55 per cent of Zeel consumers want a treatment within four hours of thinking about it. Many spas struggle to meet this demand because of staff shortages or restricted opening hours – 64 per cent of Zeel appointments occur after 5pm, and 21 per cent after 9pm.
Hamadeh revealed the launch of Zeel Professional, which spas can use to find therapists for last minute bookings rather than turn customers away. You can read more on this in Spa Business SB15/3 p70.
Sense of humanity
This year was the first time the GWS was held in Latin American and Mexico City – a sprawling, colourful metropolis with a population of 20 million – provided a fitting backdrop for such a varied agenda. A ‘trends jam’ made for lively listening with everything from living buildings and connecting with nature through to electronic skin and robot therapists flagged up. Another particular programme highlight was a gala evening at the Palace of Fine Arts where delegates were treated to a private performance reflecting traditional dance and culture from dance company Ballet Folklórico de México.
Susie Ellis paid tribute to co-chairs Gina Diez Barosso of local creativity firm Grupo Diarq and Alfredo Carvajal from wellness real estate company Delos, for their imagination and passion. They introduced a noticeable sense of humanity over the three days including a plea to spas to stop turning cancer sufferers away (see p76). Belgin Aksoy, who owns Turkish destination spa Richmond Nua Wellness, highlighted the success of her Global Wellness Day (GWD). GWD is a social movement Aksoy set up to encourage people to healthy lifestyle changes (see SB15/2 p30) and in 2015 it was celebrated in more than 600 locations across 72 countries. This year GWD falls on 11 June and is expected to be even bigger.
There was a call to arms from 93-year-old industry veteran Deborah Szekely. Szekely, owner of the famous Rancho La Puerta destination spa, urged delegates to come together to back her Wellness Warrior campaign to “empower people with the wealth of knowledge they need to actively engage in to protect their own health and that of their families, friends, neighbours and communities”.
Life skills of a different kind were a focus of pupils of the Thomas Jefferson Institute of Mexico who demonstrated what they’ve learned as part of programme to wipe out bullying in schools across the city. In a fun, delightful session, the children gave delegates advice on empathy, being positive, establishing goals, self-management and gratitude.
Meanwhile, motivational speaker Agapi Stassinopoulous, treated people to a “heart to heart with your Greek soul sister”. Calling delegates ‘spiritual warriors’, she implored the audience to first value and love themselves to strengthen their position in helping to heal others.
While wider wellness topics dominated the keynote talks, ‘spa’ was the domain of the breakout forums. Many of these addressed year-round sub-sector initiatives driven by non-profit organisation the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) and task forces comprising those working in the sector.
In a training and education forum, based on the spa industry’s Global Career Development Initiative, delegates heard about a brand new website which provides information on how to get into the spa sector and develop a nurturing career. Spawellnesscareers.com, which is now live, was created by Leisure Media, the publisher of Spa Business and Spa Opportunities magazines.
News about a PR campaign to champion a career in spas was also revealed and an update was given on the development of a global spa internship programme. In addition, a round of applause went out to the team of the global spa mentorship programme (see SB15/2 p82).
The programme, which helped mentor 34 spa managers last year, was voted as being either ‘successful’ or ‘very successful’ by 98 per cent of the participants. The goal for 2016 is to coach up to 100 mentees.
New in 2015 was a Spa Consultants forum. The gathering, headed by Lisa Starr of Wynne Business, heard about a hub that’s been set up on the GWI website to give guidelines on spa consultant services and pointers on how to pick the right person for spa projects.
It includes a list of 140 consultancies and there was much debate about whether they should be vetted – should product/equipment suppliers be included? Are those listed qualified/credible? – And what filters would make it easier to navigate?
Amy Macdonald of Under a Tree consulting, who led the Global Hot Springs forum, said “Hot spring spas have the opportunity to make the most difference to the most people – to make health and wellness accessible – and to bring the most to the bottom line”.
Mark Hennebry of CP Holdings, which owns Danubius Hotels in Europe, confirmed this – profits at his hotels with thermal spas are north of 20 per cent and guests stay for an average of 11-12 nights, compared to only 2.5 nights at those without. Brook Ramage, general manager at Peninsula Hot Springs in Australia, shared impressive footfall figures. Up to 440,000 visitors a year come to bathe in its 22 pools and it’s hoping to start on an expansion this year (see p31) so it can eventually cater for up to 600,000 visitors.
In other news, Macdonald announced the launch Geothermal Mineral Water: A User’s Guide. The book, which has been put together by the hot springs taskforce over the last year, was created to help consumers grasp the value of, and to learn facts about, hot spring bathing.
Putting a value on spa and wellness also underpinned a session on GWI’s Wellness Communities Initiative. Chaired by Mia Kyricos of Kyricos & Associates, owners and operators of wellness communities – from US developments such as Serenbe, Lake Nona and Two Bunch Palms – discussed ways to measure their success to ultimately attract investment to fuel future growth. According to the panel, there’s a 5-35 per cent premium for wellness-branded, single-family homes, a 7-10 per cent premium on wellness rentals and a 15-30 per cent premium for wellness-branded hotel rooms. What’s more, these often green-focused projects save on energy costs and bring a value proposition to real estate which can lead to quicker sales and help to differentiate them in a competitive market.
To read a more in-depth article from the GWS about what spa operators can do to attract investment turn to p64.
All eyes on Austria
“I have to say that it’s been a magical year,” said Susie Ellis in her closing remarks for the 2015 summit. In agreement, Carvajal commended co-chair Diez Barosso for “not only showing the best of Mexico, but showing the heart of Mexico.”
In time-honoured tradition, the event concluded with the announcement of where the next summit will be held. On 17-19 October 2016 wellness professionals will convene in Austria with spa consultant Franz Linser and Susan Harmsworth, founder of spa brand ESPA, serving as co-chairs. Delegates will head to Kitzbuhel in the Tyrol, a small province which accounts for only 8 per cent of the country’s population, but 40 per cent of its tourism (10 million tourists a year).
Linser, an Austrian, said: “The Tyrol was one of the first regions to adapt wellness tourism: the first wellness hotel corporation was founded there 26 years ago.
“We’re privileged to live in a country with clean air… with millions of cubic meters of fresh snow every year, with lakes and rivers of fresh drinking water. I would even dare to say that we not only have hundreds of wellness centres in Tyrol, but that Tyrol is a wellness centre!”
The destination sounds a fitting backdrop for the high-end gathering, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2016.