The following research and insights are compiled by Jeremy McCarthy, Group Director of Spa & Wellness at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The brand leads the luxury hospitality sector in integrating wellness into the guest experience, continuously creating offerings that nurture the mind, body and soul.
1. Ageing Goes Mainstream
Far and away the biggest topic at the 2019 Global Wellness Summit was the ageing population. According to research by the United Nations, 2018 was the first year in human history that persons aged 65 or above outnumbered children under five. Globally, the population aged 65 and over is growing faster than all other age groups, and this will continue for a while, growing from 9% of the population to 16% worldwide in the next three decades. It is predicted that by 2050, one in four persons living in Europe and North America will be aged 65 or over.
But the big message is not just that the population is getting older - it's that getting older doesn't mean what it used to. At the Global Wellness Summit, one of the keynote presentations was delivered by David Harry Stewart, founder and CEO of AGEIST, who asked the question, "What do people over 50 really look like?" They look very different from what you find if you search "people over 50" in Google. "For the first time, a 50-year-old can reasonably believe that they are 'halfway,'" said Stewart.
Not only is this age demographic not giving up; in many cases, they are only getting started. Stewart shared that most people feel, on average, 20 years younger than they actually are. Many people in this demographic are starting new careers, launching new businesses (more experience also means a higher tolerance for risk), and taking on other self-actualizing projects and adventures.
Another keynote speaker at the summit, Dave McCaughan, called this demographic the "new life builders" and shared examples of how this class is reinventing itself in Asia. Masako Wakamiya, for example, is an 82-year-old grandmother in Japan who taught herself to code and has since begun a new career as a successful app developer catering to the senior market.
The older segment is growing but not slowing. They are reinventing themselves and want to squeeze the most out of life, making wellness one of their top priorities. The luxury wellness and hospitality sectors need to be prepared for these consumers. In our hotels, we are not only selling rooms and spa treatments, we are selling self-actualization.
2. Movement is the New Fitness
The "movement movement" is well underway. Fitness studios are becoming movement studios. Fitness trainers are becoming movement trainers. And fitness workshops are becoming movement workshops. Ushered in by gurus like Ido Portal out of Tel Aviv, people's conception of the best way to train our bodies is being broadened drastically.
The problem with movement is that it is so broad that it becomes hard to define. But the contrast with fitness is clear, because fitness is about limiting movement into specific patterns. The traditional fitness philosophy is that there is a "correct" way to move, and there is a surplus of trainers and experts who are happy to point out when someone moves in a way that is "out of alignment."
But a movement philosophy values all movement, not just specific patterns that fall within a certain paradigm or approach. "There is no such thing as improper alignment," said Portal, "only improper preparation." People's styles of training are becoming more and more organic, moving away from traditional patterns of aerobics and weight lifting and towards more improvisational practices such as parkour, gymnastics or dance. These movement practices are as challenging and stimulating for the mind as they are for the body, turning the conventional approach towards "physical fitness" inside out.
Ido Portal's followers take this to the extremes of diversity and improvisation seamlessly flowing from juggling to sprinting to climbing to breathing to dance to martial arts to gymnastics and back again. Under his guidance, a strong and growing community under the tag #movementculture has emerged, exploring movement in all its forms.
The Global Wellness Institute has also acknowledged this shift by expanding their view of how physical activity fits in to the wellness economy. Their new study includes not only fitness activities, but also "sports and active recreation" and "mindful movement" to show that human movement practice goes far beyond what fits within the limited fitness paradigm.
In response to this trend, Mandarin Oriental is reimagining the hotel fitness centres. Traditionally, hotel gyms have been packed with wall-to-wall machines that are designed to restrict movement. All of our new gyms feature movement and mobility zones, which include overhead hanging apparatus (for gymnastics rings or TRX,) a variety of accessories (Kettlebells, medicine balls, etc.,) and most importantly, room to move.
3. Sustainability and Wellness Get Married
Sustainability and wellness have both been rising megatrends on their own trajectories. But it seems the gravity of each has become so massive that they can't help but collide and merge. At this year's Global Wellness Summit, sustainability was a recurring theme across all topics - and rightfully so, as people cannot be truly well if we don't have a well planet.
Being healthier is, by definition, more sustainable, and good health and wellbeing is already one of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. For many, practicing more sustainable ways of living is also an important part of a wellness lifestyle. The Economist, for instance, named 2019 "the year of the vegan," citing the growth of vegan food sales compared to other categories. Is this driven by consumer interest in sustainability, wellness, or both?
One factor is that a slew of new meat alternatives is making vegetarianism an easier choice. Critics will argue that some of these alternatives are no healthier than their animal-based predecessors, but this fails to take into account the mental and spiritual wellbeing that consumers experience from eating more ethically produced foods.
At Mandarin Oriental, we notice that our sustainability and wellness initiatives tend to go hand in hand. In 2019 we announced our move away from single-use plastics, which led us to other wellness-oriented offerings such as infused waters in our fitness centres and meeting rooms. Following these trends, our portfolio of restaurants are moving in directions that are both healthier and more sustainable, with less reliance on red meats and dairy products and more local sourcing, with some of our hotels growing herbs and produce on site.
And our workplace and community wellness initiatives clearly reside in both camps. The year 2019 marked the fourth year that we participated in Global Wellness Day by offering free wellness activities in our local communities. Our Colleague Wellness Week has proven such a success that in 2020, we are committing to expanding the initiative into a yearlong calendar of wellness events just for our teams.
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong has been at the forefront of eco-friendly initiatives, from banning plastic straws in 2015 and recycling abalone shells to replacing all plastic bottles with branded, reusable ones made of glass. Amber, a two-Michelin star restaurant located on the 7th floor of The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, is committed to exploring solutions to minimize waste, reduce single-use plastics and limit our carbon footprint. As well as implementing a sustainable sourcing policy, Amber seeks the very best natural, nourishing and traceable ingredients. As part of the hotel's long-term eco strategy, the property also created a rooftop garden to produce herbs and small vegetables for Amber and the other outlets. Our Culinary Director Richard Ekkebus has forged a style of his own with intuition and passion, drawing inspiration from around the world and celebrating exquisite ingredients with finely constructed flavours and meticulous presentation.
4. Back to the Tribe
Our initial optimism that social media was helping us to "stay connected" seems to have passed. Despite all our online "social" activity, human beings are lonelier than ever before. Research studies from around the world describe "epidemics of loneliness" as urbanization and technology drive us to spend far less time interacting with other people. Single-person households, which were once very rare, are becoming one of the most common arrangements in urban environments.
Loneliness, it turns out, is a true health epidemic, on par with heart disease and smoking for its impact on mortality. Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton refers to the global rise in "Deaths of Despair," preventable deaths from alcoholism, addiction and suicide, driven by the angst of living in the modern age of urbanization.
Consequently, people are yearning for a sense of community. Communities used to form naturally around families, neighbourhoods, and workplaces. But in the age of technology, we often don't even communicate with the people that are closest to us. For a community to emerge in the modern age requires intention and careful administration. Co-working, co-living, and membership club spaces that offer more opportunities for social connection seem to be on the rise to meet this unmet need. Office, retail, and residential buildings also add value by planning social events and activities for their tenants. In recent years, the fastest growing wellness trends, such as Crossfit and Soulcycle, are those characterized by a strong tribe-like community.
At Mandarin Oriental, we encourage guests to use our spas as a place to take refuge from technology. Stepping away from hyper-connectivity gives us a fresh perspective from which to prioritize our values and reflect on our relationships with technology and with those closest to us. We also see our spas as a social hub, a place where people can go with friends to spend some quality time together. At many of our hotels we offer community activities such as running clubs, sunrise yoga classes or meditation events.
Hotel spas used to be simply an amenity for hotel guests. Today, they serve a more important function as a sacred community space where people can visit to take part in quality experiences away from technology.
5. Luxury Gets Personal
In the last several decades, luxury has evolved. First, it was standardized¸ emphasizing a certain level of quality and attention to detail that luxury brands could control, train and audit to deliver a sublime experience. But over the last few decades luxury has evolved from being standardized to being personalized. Not everyone wants the same experience, and we have had to get better at knowing our guests and their preferences in order to deliver bespoke experiences that are tailored to their needs.
A decade ago, the Spas at Mandarin Oriental were at the forefront of this trend with the creation of our Time Rituals signature treatment. In this treatment, guests do not have to simply reserve time in the spa (two to three hours for example). Upon arrival, our team conducts a consultation with the guest to learn about their preferences and create an experience that is personalized to them.
Today, luxury is going from being personalized to being personal. Personal experiences are even more challenging to deliver because they are unique experiences that the customer might not even know they are looking for. In the case of the spa, personalized means we modify the treatment based on the preferences of the guest, but personal means we also recognize the uniqueness of the therapist in the spa. Not only is every guest different, every therapist, too, is different. The best spa experience is the result of matching the best of a particular therapist with the needs and preferences of a particular guest, creating an experience that only these two individuals can share. Our Time Rituals treatment now encourages the unique expression of each therapist along with personalized tailoring to our guests' preferences to create experiences that 'wow' beyond expectations.
In traditional luxury spas, the therapist has become something of a commodity, with all of them looking the same, dressing the same, and performing all the same treatments. At Mandarin Oriental, we look at our therapists as individuals. We want to know what makes each one unique, from their personalities and previous experiences to their cultural backgrounds and their own preferences.
Allowing their individuality to shine through helps us cultivate true wellness experts out of our therapists. Examples include Albin Brion, our podiatrist-trained pedicurist in Hong Kong, Tony Reed, our Synergistic Healing expert at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, or Yavuz Simsek, our Hammam Master at Mandarin Oriental, Bodrum.
6. Ethereal Wellness
All of these trends shift our perceptions of wellness away from something that is merely about physiological health and towards something far more significant yet harder to measure. Thirty years ago, the dialogue around wellness revolved mostly around physical aspects of health: fitness, nutrition, heart disease, smoking, etc. Wellness today includes aspects such as mental wellbeing, happiness, a sense of purpose and meaning, spiritual wellbeing, healthy relationships, mindfulness, and more.
In 2018, mental wellness and mindfulness apps were the biggest trend in the Apple App Store, and meditation studios began popping up in large cities around the world. The Global Wellness Institute featured "Meditation Goes Plural" as one of its 2019 wellness trends, predicting new segmentation and diversification in mindfulness offerings just as we've witnessed with fitness and yoga. Sophrology, Kundalini, Mindful Fitness, Shaking Meditation and Biofeedback are just some of the emerging modalities that are rising in popularity.
At Mandarin Oriental, we see this as an important trend and work towards featuring more meditative, calming practices in our spas, from calligraphy classes, tea ceremonies, and singing bowls to gong baths, meditation workshops, digital detox retreats, and tai chi, among others. We believe mindfulness is not just a fad, but an important strategy for nurturing our minds in the age of technology.
Mandarin Oriental has established an annual tradition around the holidays of celebrating "Silent Night" in our spas. During this special event, we offer one evening of silence in all of our spas worldwide, encouraging guests to spend an evening of quiet contemplation experiencing our relaxing spa treatments. The event opens a dialogue about the role of noise and technology in our lives and encourages people to take some time to allow their minds to wander or just be still.