The Inner Game: Hotels And The Post-Pandemic Wellness Opportunity
By Mariana Palmeiro , Visiting Lecturer, Glion Institute of Higher Education
The global wellness economy, valued at $4.5 trillion, is rapidly outpacing the growth of the global economy, with ever-increasing demand attributed to several contributory factors. Aging populations, fast-paced lives and high-pressure jobs are resulting in an increase in chronic conditions, stress, depression and sleep problems. People are also generally more conscious than ever of their mental and physical well-being, and are increasingly open to an expanding range of available treatments provided outside of standard healthcare systems.
Wellness Travellers Expect More, and Spend More
Wellness tourism is one of the leading revenue growth areas in the wellness economy. Consumers travelling for both work and leisure purposes want to access well-being services when they stay in hotels, and for a growing percentage of travellers, it's the primary reason for their trip. The Global Wellness Institute defines these individuals as primary wellness tourists and they make up 11% of the wellness tourism market.
Prior to COVID-19, health-conscious travellers already spent up to 130% more on hotel amenities than other guests, and that's only going to rise in the 'new normal'. In a 2020 consumer survey by the World Tourism Association, a quarter of respondents said they will focus their first post-pandemic trip on wellness, with 78% indicating that they already include wellness activities when travelling.
The impact of the pandemic, combined with the increasing appetite for improved wellness, presents a substantial opportunity for hoteliers to benefit from, and broaden, their well-being offer. More than a consideration, wellness should now be a theme that pervades every department, from F&B and guest services, to room design and even the hiring of new staff with additional fitness/well-being skillsets. As customer expectations of a hotel experience rapidly evolve, a greater emphasis should be being placed on relaxation, fitness and rejuvenation by all department managers.
Integrating Wellness Into New Hotel Design
Hotel developers need to ensure that wellness-focused environments and experiences are prioritised in their designs. When booking, guests are making proactive choices to align their stay with their lifestyle habits, hotels should be seizing this opportunity to support their guests' well-being, to both improve the customer experience and build stronger relationships.
Whilst traditionally we may have viewed the spa as a hotel's wellness facility, wellness is becoming integrated into other areas of the guest stay, and this will continue to progress in a post COVID-19 world.
There are a multitude of ways to integrate wellness into the guest rooms themselves, including temperature, air filtration, noise, light and sleep quality. Brands such as EVEN Hotels offer travellers a holistic wellness experience for the duration of their stay, without the inconvenience of leaving their private space. So rather than making a trip to the spa, guests can use gym equipment, yoga mats and exercise spaces provided in their rooms, supported by apps and on-demand TV focusing on meditation, yoga and workouts.
When it comes to catering, hotels must begin to prioritise nourishment over conveniently processed and packaged foods. Consider the jet-lagged guest craving sustenance in the middle of the night, can they access refreshments that support their healthy lifestyles? Hotels can take the opportunity to stock mini bars with healthy alternatives, such as mineral-boosting juices and organic products, with room-service choices taken from a hotel menu that provides wholesome meals, along with nutritional information to enable informed choices. Not forgetting one that recognises changing consumer trends, including vegan and plant-based diets.
This level of thought about the well-being offer also needs to extend into meeting room packages, providing catering that addresses these new dietary needs, and providing mental and physical fitness activities that enable professionals to perform at their optimum level.
Connecting with Nature
When considering the overall hotel aesthetic, there's an undoubted link between exposure to nature and mental well-being. Nature can, of course, be brought into outdoor spaces and greenery can be brought into the interior. But this can be enhanced with biophilic design which uses materials and patterns found in nature, incorporating them into carpets and furnishings to create a refuge where guests feel calm and protected.
Adapting to Seize the Spa Opportunity
In a post-COVID-19 market, spas have the opportunity to flourish, becoming even more popular and successful than they were before. After all, there has never been a greater desire for stress relief, relaxation and therapeutic treatments. But, with consumer anxiety about cleanliness and social contact at an all-time high, spa design will need to adapt.
This presents an opportunity to showcase how spas are at the forefront of technology when it comes to cleanliness. For example, as well as placing permanent sanitising portals where there are frequent touch points, the touch points themselves can be minimised by incorporating technology that allows consumers to check in, open doors and switch on showers, without the need to press a button or pull a handle.
Clean zones can also be included in the design, within which the number of airborne particles is controlled to limit the introduction, generation and retention of contaminants within the space. Plus, air filtration systems, wearable air purifiers and air-purifying curtains can be introduced to ensure air quality is optimised. In addition, self-sanitising rooms can be incorporated, utilising the types of disinfection robots that are currently being used to fight COVID-19.
The Rise of the Urban Destination Spa
As wellness tourism accelerates and evolves, so does the appetite for the destination spa experience, but, crucially, with the new requirement of it being closer to home. Hotels have long ignored the importance of incorporating local markets into their business models, but as businesses they have the facilities and the service culture that urban residents desire to maintain their healthy lifestyles.
Hotels initially opened to local communities by introducing co-working spaces, but with the rise of wellness culture, urban destination spas can now become a key driver of community engagement and a new epicentre for hotel operations.
Whilst predominantly affluent city-dwellers are benefiting from these local facilities, they are becoming increasingly accessible to a more diverse type of consumer. Particularly as COVID-19 makes it more difficult to move from cities. Destination spa owners therefore have an opportunity to take advantage from this emerging trend by expanding into urban areas and exploring this new customer base.
People and Partnerships: Turning a Profit from the Hotel Spa
Spas can be significant profit centres when we take into account their contribution to guest welfare, offering key amenities and adding to the overall experience. But vitally, hotels must ensure the spa and hotel offers are aligned and intrinsically linked, driving guests inside, increasing F&B revenue and selling rooms.
That can only happen if the spa element of the offering is operated effectively, and the calibre of the workforce can result in the difference between success and failure. Hiring specialized staff, such as spa managers and registered therapists, is therefore essential. However, it continues to be a major difficulty in most labour markets, as there is a shortfall of people interested in the field. As such, hospitality must embrace this new type of service culture within their employee development, and seek the best talent in the industry to support it.
Hotel brands should seek to form established partnerships with reputable spa brands, bringing in expertise on how to deliver professional treatments and drive sales. However, it's important that hoteliers are selective, choosing spa brands that fit their overall philosophy and have evolved from beauty and aesthetics to a well-being focus.
The Future of the Wellness Offer Within Hotels
As the world begins its recovery from the pandemic, the demand for wellness tourism will continue to increase, supporting people's quests to live longer and healthier lives. Hotels and spas have the infrastructure and service culture to help guests find these wellness solutions and maintain their new habits when they travel. The recovery of many hotels will derive from embracing these new guest needs and demands, or simply by capturing a more active, wellness-driven market segment.
Most general hospitality brands will begin to provide tailored services for this new market, bringing the offer into hotel rooms and focusing on the holistic customer experience. Other more niche operations and destinations will introduce wellness therapies with doctors on hand, offering medical tests and examinations to collect health-related data from guests, and a more science-driven approach, alongside input from alternative medicine practitioners. This will see the birth of a new breed of wellness-focused hospitality brand, and we can expect companies outside the hospitality industry, such as ecological fitness organisations and tech-driven start-ups, to jump on the bandwagon.
Meanwhile, an online wellness offer will remain, even after we can confidently step foot in a hotel gym or spa without concerns. They will become customer-centric and more targeted, offering support to clients before, during and after their hotel stays to ensure a seamless and rounded offer, and serve as a reminder to return.
Finally, we can also expect the demand for personal well-being and environmental well-being to be viewed as one. Hotel guests want to be sure their stay doesn't have a negative impact on the planet, just as they don't want it to have a negative impact on their own health. Each hotel brand will have to find the right way to address this concern and consider how their operations will be impacted.