Wellness’ pandemic challenge: Grieving guests

Advisors are finding that some clients’ needs go beyond a simple vacation. For travelers dealing with loss or a major life change, emotional healing is the goal.

A guest at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, N.C., engages in a meditative labyrinth walk. (Courtesy of the Art of Living Retreat Center)

A guest at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, N.C., engages in a meditative labyrinth walk. (Courtesy of the Art of Living Retreat Center)

A guest at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, N.C., engages in a meditative labyrinth walk. (Courtesy of the Art of Living Retreat Center)

In many ways, the U.S. Covid crisis appears to be quickly fading into the rearview. Mask guidelines have eased, unemployment is ticking downward, air travel is up and, in some markets, hotels and resorts are seeing record-high leisure demand. 

Under this veneer of normalcy, however, many Americans are still reeling from the hardships of the past year. Some may have lost a loved one during the pandemic, forced to process their grief alone during a time when gathering with friends and family was taboo. Others may have lost a job or had to unexpectedly change careers. For some, the pandemic may have precipitated a breaking point in a relationship, sparking divorce.

Travel may be bouncing back, but for travelers dealing with the aftermath of a loss or major life change, a vacation may no longer represent a simple getaway but be seen as a conduit to mental, emotional or spiritual healing. 

Anne Scully, partner of agent development at Embark Beyond, reports that she’s certainly seen a shift in the type of support clients are seeking as they emerge from the depths of the pandemic. 

“One thing that happened because of Covid is that when [people] had loved ones die, no one had funerals,” said Scully. “Funerals are a way to say goodbye and have some closure, and a lot of people haven’t had that closure. I attended some virtual funerals, but it’s not the same. There’s a lot of grief still out there.”

For clients struggling to come to terms with a trauma or life change, Scully has typically suggested a wellness resort that is equipped to offer grief or mental health counseling, along with other treatments and services. Some of her top recommendations have included properties under the Canyon Ranch and Miraval flags as well as the Cal-a-Vie Health Spa in Southern California. 

Yoga in front of a fountain at the Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. (Courtesy of Canyon Ranch)

Yoga in front of a fountain at the Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. (Courtesy of Canyon Ranch)

Yoga in front of a fountain at the Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. (Courtesy of Canyon Ranch)

“Never before have advisors really needed to be this kind of advocate and help clients find a place to heal,” said Scully. “And I don’t think travel advisors are trained on how to handle [this type of counseling]. However, they should be very aware of the fact that there are a lot of people right now who, instead of just a vacation, maybe need a vacation that allows them to talk about a loss.”

According to Jim Eastburn, Canyon Ranch’s corporate director of transformational experiences, pandemic-era guests are certainly seeking out more serious wellness programming. 

“Everybody has experienced some disruption in their life these past 15 or 16 months,” said Eastburn. “Some people have experienced illness or loss, or maybe disruptions with their job. We knew things would be different now. Guests are showing up with a different level of concern or focus.”

In addition to existing one-on-one Loss, Grief and Remembrance counseling sessions, Canyon Ranch recently debuted Experience Pathways: customizable three-, five- and seven-night programs designed to target specific wellness goals. Several of the Pathways, including Reconnect With Joy and Transition Purposely programs, are suitable for guests going through loss or a major life change and offer sessions with a behavioral therapist, among other services. 

Both Reconnect With Joy and Transition Purposely, which start at around $2,500 for a three-night experience, are available at Canyon Ranch’s Lenox, Mass., and Tucson, Ariz., locations. 

“Something that’s certainly a differentiator for us is that, in addition to physicians, nutritionists and exercise physiologists, we also have a team of licensed therapists with advanced degrees in counseling and social work,” Eastburn said.

For those favoring a more spiritual slant, Canyon Ranch also offers sessions with spiritual wellness practitioners who offer what Eastburn calls “an interfaith, interdenominational perspective.”

The Bellefontaine Mansion at Canyon Ranch’s Lenox location. (Courtesy of Canyon Ranch)

The Bellefontaine Mansion at Canyon Ranch’s Lenox location. (Courtesy of Canyon Ranch)

The Bellefontaine Mansion at Canyon Ranch’s Lenox location. (Courtesy of Canyon Ranch)

Dan Marko, supervisor for spiritual wellness at Canyon Ranch Lenox, reports that the resort has seen a “dramatic increase” in the number of guests working through loss at various levels. 

“We’ve also noticed a significant number of people taking the curated [Pathways] experience,” Marko said. “We used to see that first-time guests would typically spend a lot of time only in the fitness and spa areas, since they didn’t even know that spiritual wellness or life-management services were available to them. It’s really helped widen the knowledge base.”

Marko has also noticed a trend toward guests choosing to diversify their mental healing process with sound bathing, self-guided contemplative walks and other “restorative” activities that he said can help “people feel lighter.”

“People tend to associate loss with the passing of someone they love, but it can also be loss after a divorce, losing their home or career or business. For some, the loved ones they’ve lost are their animals,” Marko said. “There are a lot of layers to grief, and it’s not just about human loss. There’s a wide spectrum, and everyone grieves in a different way.”

In Boone, N.C., the Art of Living Retreat Center is another wellness destination looking to offer support for those dealing with loss and grief.

A view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from a guestroom at the Art of Living Retreat Center. (Courtesy of the Art of Living Retreat Center)

A view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from a guestroom at the Art of Living Retreat Center. (Courtesy of the Art of Living Retreat Center)

A view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from a guestroom at the Art of Living Retreat Center. (Courtesy of the Art of Living Retreat Center)

As part of its fall programming lineup, the Art of Living, which works with travel advisors, recently announced a What Really Matters retreat, set to be held Oct. 15 to 17. 

Designed to help attendees work through personal loss and anxiety, the event will be led by three experts: author and licensed therapist Claire Bidwell Smith, death doula and ordained minister Alua Arthur and hospice and palliative medicine physician and educator Dr. Bruce (BJ) Miller Jr. In its description, the retreat promises to explore questions like, “How does loss help us create a more meaningful life?” and, “How does facing major transition and even death give way to peace and transformation?”

According to Art of Living’s director of programming, Ila Sarley, the program is purposefully intended to be “broad based,” able to accommodate guests struggling with different types of losses.

“The aim is to empower people to deal with any issues that come up in their lives, be it grief, loss, anxiety or relationship [challenges],” said Sarley. “It’s about helping them ground themselves in such a way that they’re much more resilient. And they can also be within a group of like-minded people that have shared a similar experience, which can help give perspective that you just can’t get when you’re on your own.”

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