Medical Tourism as the Next Evolution for Wellness
By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
Let’s look beyond the forecasted travel recovery for the latter of 2021 for a moment – beyond the near-term ‘revenge travel’ surge. What emerging trends will define travel for the decade ahead?
The question then is: for what express purpose will guests stay at your hotel? Every hotel can, and should, have a different answer.
And while there are innumerous answers to this question – all of which can present lucrative revenue opportunities if the execution is great – it’s too much for one article to cover. So, let’s focus the conversation on ‘wellness’ – that is, properties aiming to distinguish themselves by offering a place for visitors improve their physical, mental or spiritual health.
If we look at how wellness has evolved over the past century, it started with the spa, which could either be utilized as a way to build adjunctive revenues for the hotel (customers book rooms then opt for a spa appointment to fill their day) or a reason in its own right to visit the property then haloing back onto room reservations (people want to visit the spa and book a guestroom in order to experience it).
As the concept of the spa gained steam (both metaphorically and literally), individual hotels had to further upgrade their programs in the face of heightened worldwide competition. This was done through such initiatives as more elaborate treatments, healthy food and beverage offerings or partnerships with local, organic product purveyors.
Success breeds more competition, and the cycle begins anew. In pursuit of unique approaches to the market, hotels and resorts have sought out all manner of treatments, products and devices that will allow people to feel rejuvenated, uplifted or even healed from an ailment. With the coming evolution of health technologies, it’s again time for hotels and resorts reinvent their wellness programs in order to stay ahead of the curve and keep the guests coming.
The Decade Ahead
What’s different now, in 2021, is that there are several remarkable medical advancements that are reaching a point of maturation and economies of scale to thus make them accessible for hotels to utilize as a unique reason to visit – that is, using the spa or wellness program to drive room occupancies.
Particularly in the areas of genomics and AI-based treatments, hotel brands can become wellness pioneers to attract a new demographic of high-paying guests and grow TRevPAR. As a broad example, consider the aging boomer generation which will increasingly be on the lookout for a ‘healing journey’ or ways to prolong their livelihoods no matter the costs.
Some thoughts and trends for the future of wellness include:
- Digital detox. This is not exactly anything cutting edge, but it can still be given a contemporary makeover. We are satiated with screens and media, and many of us are looking for a retreat to calm our nerves. Beyond merely policing the use of cellular phones in public areas, the notion of a detox can extend to bespoke eating regiments, heartrate and activity level monitoring, room features that enhance one’s quality of sleep (for instance, red-hued nightlights or vitamin-infused showers), meditation classes or, if the property is rural, nature hikes (where the futuristic spin would be to incorporate augmented reality into said treks).
- Technology-aided physiotherapy or sports clinics. Why simply go to the local chiropractor once a week when you can take two weeks off to combine a vacation with daily corrective treatments for a more lasting impact on the body? These types of resorts already exist, but now machinery such as gait analysis or ultrasound muscle activation scanners can be put through an artificial intelligence program to both accurately deduce the cause behind any musculoskeletal pains and develop more effective therapies. In the realm of sports, imagine an AI-based golf swing assessment program that uses state-of-the-art wearables or an infrared camera to generate a step-by-step improvement plan within seconds, all to complement in-person coaching.
- Surgery recovery centers. Whether cosmetic or otherwise, why spend days or weeks recuperating in a spartan, urban hospital that’s devoid of character (and likely doesn’t supply gourmet meals) when you can instead devote this time to being in a more inviting setting? Indeed, hotels all over the world are already merging with surgical operation centers to offer a tranquil place for patients to recover while also accessing the full range of onsite amenities. Particularly for reconstructive surgeries of the head or face and body augmentation procedures, guests may not want to immediately return home and would prefer to heal in the relative anonymity of a suite or private resort that’s away from the public eye.
- Drug or psychiatric rehabilitation. Many resorts already specialize in this area, and new approaches to physical and mental restoration are on the forefront. We now understand much more about how the combination of a peaceful environment, proper diet, regular exercise, mindful reflection and cognitive behavioral therapy can lead to greater self-esteem, more self-control and a better life outcome. Further, novel classes of medicines are emerging to help the brain form new synapses and reverse any degradative pathways. For one, cannabis is all the rage right now and has been shown to offer a myriad of health benefits. The rapid pace of global legalization will offer hotels a range of ways to capitalize on this relatively cheap, recreational drug. Next, considered as ‘the next marijuana’, the active component of psychedelic mushrooms (psilocybin) and, to a lesser extent, LSD are both in clinic human trials for curing addictions, trauma and various other ailments via ‘micro-dosing’.
- Stem cell treatments. Despite any theological consternations over the sourcing of said cells, this is already a multibillion-dollar business. In very simple terms, when you inject these undifferentiated components into a part of the body alongside the correct growth factors, stem cells will help ‘fill in the gaps’ and revitalize the entire area – think near-immediate relief of chronic and debilitative joint pain, smoothing of facial wrinkles, the regrowth of hair follicles for baldness or even correcting damage to the nerves that control locomotion. Such injections still have a recovery period as the body incorporates these cells, thereby necessitating the demand for comfortable accommodations, great cuisine, entertainment and additional rehabilitative treatments while on the mend.
- Biohacking. With PCR sequencing becoming widely available and the advance of CRISPR-based gene therapies as well as a deeper understanding of epigenetic-influenced health factors, we are on the verge of bringing together a great hotel stay with DNA-specific treatments and dietary regiments. This is often labeled as ‘biohacking’ because we are using medicines that target specific sequences in an individual’s genome or the protein structures within the nucleus that switch genes on or off. Biohacking can also involve numerous other biochemicals that enhance one’s body or mental capacity as well as cybernetic augmentations. Expect these highly targeted treatments, with a few of the more outlandish cyberpunk implants, to have a mounting presence in the news over the next decade as these technologies are perfected.
Whether or not you elect to pursue wellness within one or more of these pillars to differentiate your brand, two closing remarks must be emphasized.
First, whatever you do, you must commit wholeheartedly. Many hotels attempt to pass themselves off as wellness centers while only offering lip service to the term. While this can work in an adjunctive capacity to help round out another key reason to visit – be it location, F&B, golf and so on – oftentimes a half-hearted activation of wellness results in resources and energy diverted away from more lucrative revenue opportunities.
Second, none of the above comes cheap. Each requires huge upfront capex and ongoing opex in the form of facilities, equipment, medicines, doctor salaries, nurse salaries, management, administration and liability insurance. Nightly rates will have to be marked up appropriately to cover these costs, which means that marketing budgets will also need to swell in order to reach the niche, wealthier target audiences for these kinds of services.
Broadly speaking, the overall thrust for all these trends, wellness or otherwise, is the continual need for innovation no matter the property, as well as the use of technology to personalize the guest experience. If you choose to embrace wellness, then you will inevitably need to start incorporating one of the above in order to stay relevant. Or, if wellness isn’t your forte, then you will still need to hone your brand’s specific appeal over the next few years in order to find that x-factor for your property to not strictly compete on a purely monetary basis via a straight rate comparison.
To conclude, we ask again, why will guests choose your property above all others? What is compelling them to pay more than the competition for the chance to stay with you? Answer that and your job will become that much easier.