In wellness, 'transformative' is the new 'experiential'

Punakha Lodge, one of five lodges that will make up the Six Senses Bhutan.
Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

When it comes to luxury and wellness travel, those overly used descriptors, "authentic" and "experiential" are so, well, last year.

The new "it" trend for 2018, according to the Global Wellness Summit's annual Global Wellness Trends Report, is "transformative."

What exactly does that mean? According the report, it involves "experiences that wrap people up in a dramatic story or sense of theater, that can incite (using the powerful mechanisms of narrative and fantasy) that elusive perspective-changing interior journey."

Specifically, the report said, resorts are "are starting to use the power of circuits, storylines, safaris" to take wellness travel beyond the "copy and paste programming" that many luxury properties have adopted over the last decade in response to the fast-growing demand for wellness -- everything from yoga and boot camp retreats to clean menus and more extensive spa and workout facilities.

"Travel experts now argue that 'transformational travel' is the evolutionary wave, which doesn't discard the focus on authentic experiences but takes it to a deeper emotional," the report said.

In other words, innovator Six Senses is once again raising the bar on luxury and wellness hospitality with what the report calls a bold first: a multilodge wellness circuit in Bhutan. Six Senses, an early leader in what today is almost considered mainstream wellness, is launching the program that will take guests to five resorts across different parts of the country, each of which is based on one of the Bhutanist happiness principles that are focused on things like culture, community and physical and mental well-being.

Six Senses is also developing at least three more resorts with so-called "circuit programs," including one in Morocco, that offer intensive dives into local wellness, culture and more.

"We know people want far more immersive journeys and experiences, particularly wellness travelers: those transformative epiphanies that come from stepping into a story larger than themselves," Anna Bjurstam, vice president of spas and wellness and at Six Senses and a member of the Global Wellness Summit board, said in the report.

Another example: The Red Mountain Resort under development in Reykjavik will inject theater and fantasy into its wellness circuit, which, based on a medieval saga, uses wind tunnels, fire baths, rain curtains, ice pools and pitch-black slides to help guests travel through five intense emotional states, from contemplation and exposure to confrontation, clarity and enlightenment.

At Spa Village Resort Tembo in Bali, forget booking just a 50-minute spa treatment. This resort offers an immersive all-day "safari" that includes a jungle hike with stops at a traditional village and breakfast and lunch in open-air bales hanging over the ocean. The final stop is cliffside rooms where guests can spend the afternoon swimming and taking unlimited spa treatments.

"People want-life changing wellness journeys, not disconnected programs, classes and treatments," the report said. It goes on to say that the successful wellness destinations of the future will put as much thought into engaging people's emotions, including laughter, fear and fantasies, as they do evidence-based healing.

Or as summit roundtable participant and W and Departures Editor Sandra Ballentine said, "What I want from a wellness resort or spa experience is true transformation. If I don't cry, it's not been worthwhile to me."


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