A Pathways Discovery Hospitality Bridging Healthcare (H2H) panel was held at the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Northern Arizona University exploring senior living and hotel/hospitality management. Michael Tompkins chaired the expert panel; his background is in both the medical field and hospitality industry. He transitioned from healthcare as a registered nurse manager in long-term care to hospitality with Canyon Ranch Health Resorts as part of their Executive Management team.

Panel speaker Joseph McCarron worked with Ernst and Young for several years and has had a client base that was concentrated in healthcare and banking. McCarron discussed some of the attributes that support the heightened appeal and interest in senior living. He has a large transaction history with senior living facilities, exceeding $2 billion. These transactions have included real estate development, corporate finance, operational consulting, among other services.

More recently, McCarron assumed position as CEO of WellPoint Community. WellPoint is a real estate development company that sponsors and develops planned community concepts that surround senior living.

WellPoint Community

Lodging Innovations for the Future of Senior Living: Hospitality Bridging Health (H2H)— Photo by Northern Arizona UniversityLodging Innovations for the Future of Senior Living: Hospitality Bridging Health (H2H)— Photo by Northern Arizona University
Lodging Innovations for the Future of Senior Living: Hospitality Bridging Health (H2H)— Photo by Northern Arizona University

The next panel speaker, Dr. Aras Erekul, graduated from Cornell University with a Master’s in Hospitality Management. Upon job searching after graduation, Dr. Erekul crossed paths with Michael Tompkins. Dr. Erekul was able to learn about Canyon Ranch Resort and later gained a position in development, which he held for 5 years. He then spent another 3 years as their Corporate Director of Experience Development. Last year, Dr. Erekul transitioned over to Watermark Retirement Communities.

Carl Pratt, the next speaker, has a background in health and wellness, along with physiology. He began working at Canyon Ranch in 1989. Carl spent 4 years in the Berkshires at Cranwell Resort. He left and went to Miraval Resorts where he now serves as the General Manager and VP for program development.

He describes the importance of client relationships both in the hospitality environment and the senior living industry. While there is a generational difference between this clientele, the relationships are key.

At a destination wellness experience, people will share very personal stories. They are doing everything they can to live their best life by promoting programming that is wellness-based such as tai chi and exercise programs that can enrich people’s lives.

Tompkins began the panel discussion by posing a question to McCarron: Given your extensive career history and witnessing the evolution of the senior living industry, what is your view of exhibiting trends that are relevant to the hospitality sector?

McCarron describes how all businesses have a piece of the hospitality industry, and that one of the biggest upcoming trends is the aging society where baby boomers are displacing the greatest generation. This poses the question of whether or not we are prepared to support that age group. This is a key driver to the future demand for senior living.

The consumer profile of senior living is also profoundly changing.

The new senior consumer is looking for something very different from their predecessors. One of the attributes of the new market are that they are more affluent and are inclined to spend more. Typically, the senior living market was need-driven, however, now we are shifting into a market that is choice-driven. In environments such as the developing prototype WellPoint, there is an appeal “where people want to live there as opposed to needing to live there”.

The industry is facing some challenges, such as the branded identity of senior living which was cloaked in ageism and supportive care. However, senior living is now becoming more recognized as a lifestyle option. There is still some work to do in terms of overcoming negative associations. The COVID circumstances have somewhat worsened the presumed identity of senior living. There will be a need for rebranding and educating consumers and developing alternatives. “The vision is to have places that people want to go to, not have to go”.

About Wellpoint Community

Wellpoint Community is a real estate development company with extensive executive and associate experience in the Senior Living, Spa and Hospitality Industries. Our formative emphasis is on the emergence of Planned Wellness Communities anchored by the confluence of senior living, integrative medicine, boutique hospitality and residential neighborhood interests.


Lodging Innovations for the Future of Senior Living: Hospitality Bridging Health (H2H)— Photo by Northern Arizona UniversityLodging Innovations for the Future of Senior Living: Hospitality Bridging Health (H2H)— Photo by Northern Arizona University
Lodging Innovations for the Future of Senior Living: Hospitality Bridging Health (H2H)— Photo by Northern Arizona University

The new focus on wellness rather than traditional supportive care that integrates functional medicine is something that consumers are seeking out. All-inclusive, fully integrated wellness programming is resonating and there is an increasing presence of it. The notion of retirement is also changing within seniors. Many people are not ready to retire at the ages that seniors historically retired at. People are looking to stay engaged and to repurpose their lives. Even if they are leaving their traditional careers behind, they want to seize new and different opportunities. Such opportunities will be cultivated in these new communities. It is important to connect to these interests and create a new beginning.

Mr. Tompkins mentions how younger generations can also be a part of these new models. Mr. McCarron adds how part of the goal of these new communities is to create an intergenerational presence.

This is done by having activities and programs that engage all age cohorts. However, it is not only about recreational opportunities, but many people are also interested in research, education, and innovation opportunities that can leverage their skill sets. They hope to quench the lifelong thirst for learning. Another trend that is being heavily focused on is technology. Technology is developing in all facets of business, and seniors are looking for programs that will allow them to continue to learn with the latest technologies.

Mr. Tompkins poses a new question to Mr. Pratt: What have you found to be the most interesting aspects of senior living versus hospitality, and what do you see as the opportunity where you can make an impact from day one?

Mr. Pratt describes the sense of community that residents are interested in. He describes the chance of connection with younger generations with a program where Pima Community College (Tucson, AZ) students can connect with seniors and give seniors the chance to share life experiences. In this program, both parties will walk away with a sensation of who they are. His career shift has been interesting because he had to adjust to this generation of seniors. So far, the most interesting thing is how similar senior living has been to hospitality.

Mr. Pratt also makes the point that “food is king” and that there is nothing more important in a senior living community. Both the food on the plate and the generosity with which it is served are of crucial importance. Mr. Tompkins appreciates this comment about food as king and explains that in his experience even in times of disaster people would not walk away with a complaint if a good meal was served.

In Huntsville, Alabama, all markets have evolved as the prototype campus site for developing our vision of a WellPoint Community. McCarron emphasizes that it is not just a senior living community, it is so much more. It is a beautiful 20-acre campus situated in a picturesque valley of Hampton cove outside of Huntsville, Alabama. He continues emphasizing it is a very strong market that meets all the requisite attributes necessary for capital information which is critically important because that is how the best ideas are funded.

WellPoint Community

McCarron discusses the first project: a traditional senior living building. It is a mixed-use 190 units, a combination of independent living, assisted living, and memory care. The second project will be a living center. It will include a wellness center with wellness programming and fitness, in the context of functional integrative medicine. It will also have an on-site, four-story medical services building. Specifically, the clinic and the institutional pharmacy will be represented on the first two floors of the Wellness Center. The third floor will be an enterprise center which is represented by co-working space. There will be event planning space where programming is developed to offer research, education, innovation and really an opportunity to engage some of the large business and industry constituents in the communities to sponsor and support.

The last floor in that building will be a full-scale rooftop restaurant with banquet event amenities. McCarron says it was their effort to introduce hospitality more formally on the other side of the senior building as they have a boutique hotel that has 110 guest rooms planned with traditional attributes of space planning. This campus is a Robert Trent Jones 54-hole golf course, an appealing attribute from a recreational perspective, and it boasts about 2200 homes. McCarron also mentions that the last component of the project is a residential community that is represented by an active adult independent living.

Source: Northern Arizona UniversitySource: Northern Arizona University
Source: Northern Arizona University

Mr. Tompkins continues the conversation by giving Mr. McCarron compliments that those projects of hospitality components are just perfect for running a hotel or a resort destination and for those who want to be an executive manager for the hotel/resort.

Mr. Tompkins also mentions the differences in service expectations in senior living versus hospitality. He states that hospitality professionals need to know how to prioritize the needs of these different constituents. Fundamentally it is the same, it is about the connections you make and understanding your guests. However, deeper connections can be made between employees and guests at a senior living facility, and managers can help in fostering these relationships. From the very beginning, transitioning into a senior living facility can be difficult for guests, especially if they are used to living in much bigger homes. You can have amazing buildings and facilities, but without the staff to properly greet and welcome the guests, these facilities may end up underutilized. Mr. Tompkins explained that in senior living it is crucial to be compassionate, thoughtful, and kind-hearted because the residents need that in their lives, and because they will be interacting with you every day.

There is a big focus on what residents “can do instead of what they can't”. These facilities can have residents living at eighty to one hundred. He then goes on to talk about what the residents would love to see in the future: being able to live in multi-generational communities. Visiting families would love to be able to utilize a luxury hospitality experience that is attached so they do not have to go back and forth and receive the same care as the residents. He adds that holistic learning will continue to rise in the years to come; classes that utilize hot- and cold-water therapies, the human touch, nature immersion, and the arts.

Dr. Erekul says that his team is creating a framework, an ethos of their brand that they can articulate to all residents, all associates, and everyone's family. He continues those relationships are layered with human care and bringing attention to the interconnectedness of the two must be intentional and systematic. He emphasizes that all they need is to approach and ensure that it is happening for every single resident all the time, instead of depending on the interactions and chance encounters between associates and residents.

Mr. Pratt explains that this industry is oozing with purpose and that you cannot be in hospitality without that purpose. Connection with an individual is very important in hospitality, such that you cannot simply complete a task but must also engage. He speaks of a time when they created a very tailored and connected experience for a couple, and it personalized their experience a lot.

Mr. Tompkins asks Dr. Erekul what was appealing about the senior living industry and any advice he has as a past hospitality student himself. Mr. Erekul also entered the workforce in a downturn in the economy, which some students can understand given the current economic situation due to the pandemic.

Mr. Erekul describes the array of goals that are available within the senior living industry such as data crunching, development, operations, and F&B. He describes how the senior living industry did not seem like an opportunity when he first graduated from the Cornell Hotel School. However, this growing field is abundant with opportunity. He also mentions the continual digitization of the nation and how that will cause people to crave connection. As people live longer and the largest generation comes of age, there will be a need for more in-depth experiences. Senior living can offer that fulfilling and impactful path of service for hospitality students.

Mr. Tompkins then asks for a final closing remark from each presenter. First, Mr. McCarron describes the opportunity for students to be progressive and be a pioneer in the senior living sector. He says that the senior living sector offers everything the hospitality industry offers and more. However, the opportunity to form relationships with the guests is an aspect that makes the senior living industry stand out from the rest. Not only that, but seniors are resources who have a lot to offer to their communities.

Mr. Pratt describes how the spa industry has evolved from something very exclusive to an experience available on every corner. The opportunity right now in senior living is that whilst it is somewhat infant, it is also experiencing immense growth and demand. Those who are looking to create something for themselves, and others have a great opportunity in the senior living industry.

At this point, there is a student question asking why the senior living industry is not commonly talked about the industry in terms of opportunities for jobs for younger generations.

Mr. Tompkins addresses this saying that people are averse to change. The senior living industry is in a major shift and that change can cause retraction from people who do not know what to expect. However, brands such as Watermark and WellPoint are embracing these changes and can offer great opportunities. This is the direction of the market but is coming gradually.

Watermark Senior living Communities

Source: Northern Arizona UniversitySource: Northern Arizona University
Source: Northern Arizona University

Source: Northern Arizona UniversitySource: Northern Arizona University
Source: Northern Arizona University

Dr. Erekul describes how the market has come of age and how younger generations are starting to play larger roles. The old model was more values-based but now residents are very focused on programming aspects. The greatest generation has seen very tough times and they did not need much to sustain themselves. They were more concerned with their kids. However, the baby boomers’ outlook is different, and they are looking at conservative estimates of retirement aspects. They would rather spend these funds on experiences for themselves and their families. Money and energy are being channeled into this industry which is driving the shift in senior living. He recommends that students keep their minds open in terms of how they can help others and have an impact that is relevant to their aspirations.

Mr. Tompkins describes his company Hutchinson Consulting, www.hutchinsonconsulting.com. This is a placement agency that is ready to help graduates that are looking for roles in all areas of the hospitality sector. They have placed professionals for more than 27 years and have a database of 300,000 people. They understand their clients’ passions and place them into careers where they can experience immense growth. He then goes on to thank all of the panelists for joining the Pathway panel at Northern Arizona University.

Acknowledgment: This research sponsored by the GloMed.Education website.

Fred DeMicco
Northern Arizona University