Photo Credit: TW Illustration by Jenn Martins

Beyond pampering

November 30, 2016

Focus on wellness travel

When InterContinental Hotels Group's Even hotel opened in Brooklyn, N.Y., in August, it brought with it the nascent hotel brand's concept of enabling wellness in travel: workout equipment in every room, hydration stations in the lobby and on every other floor, a high-end fitness center, living walls, organized runs through the local streets and mostly healthy menu items.

What the hotel doesn't have is a spa, and in that regard, the Even brand is a prime example of the ways current wellness trends are turning hospitality on its head.

In the 1980s and '90s, wellness usually meant a one-hour massage followed by a steam and sauna. The aughts gave way to the addition of yoga, Pilates and spin classes.

Over the last few years, people in search of true wellness experiences are demanding much more, and the travel industry is responding.

"Even is 100% wellness focused and has no spas," said Beth McGroarty, director of research for the Global Wellness Institute (GWI). "The pillars of what they think of wellness are fitness inside and out of property, healthy food, healthy sleep, inspirational messages. It's an example of how wellness and spa aren't always married."

InterContinental Hotel Group’s Even hotel in Brooklyn has a hydration station in the lobby and on every other floor as part of its wellness concept.
InterContinental Hotel Group’s Even hotel in Brooklyn has a hydration station in the lobby and on every other floor as part of its wellness concept. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

McGroarty pointed out that the new wellness tourism model is more comprehensive and often includes not just fitness and yoga classes on-site, but nutritionists, mindfulness programs and sleep programs. With brands such as Six Senses and 1 Hotels, the wellness concept is an integral part of the way their properties are designed, built and managed. 

Increasingly, it makes financial sense to incorporate wellness. GWI recently reported that wellness tourism revenue grew 14% globally, to $563 billion, from 2013 to 2015, and projected that the category would grow another 37.5%, to $808 billion, by 2020.

The attraction is especially appealing to the larger travel industry, because the surge in wellness travel is higher for secondary wellness tourism -- services that are sought during travel but where wellness is not the main purpose of the trip -- than for primary wellness tourism.

But in addition to revenue, the changing sector also brings with it a host of challenges. At this year's Global Wellness Summit in Tyrol, Austria, McGroarty said, the travel industry grappled with how to invest in new wellness trends, which unlike cookie-cutter spas are difficult to scale and replicate on a brand level. While a spa can be reproduced at hundreds of properties, McGroarty said, the current wellness model has "more moving pieces."

"It's complicated," she said. "In Africa, you want to have African cultural experiences, food, treatments and therapy. Even if it's a replicable model it has to be customized for each location. Travelers want authenticity. They want to be in the place. They don't want some generic experience they could have in Minnesota if they are in Dubai."

The best approaches might be coming from the bottom up, as hotels, cruise lines, tour operators and travel agents tackle the vast wellness model on an individual level and with their own brand identities.

With the following reports, Travel Weekly's staff offers insight into four ways that is happening. ­-- Johanna Jainchill


Resorts find wellness beyond the spa's four walls

By Danny King

Any regular visitor to a high-end hotel spa will be familiar with the trappings of a luxury treatment room, including the soothing color palettes, climate-controlled temperature, lavender scents and piped-in new-age music.

But it's outside those four walls where luxury spas are looking to differentiate themselves from the competition as their offerings evolve away from traditional spa products and toward a comprehensive wellness experience.

Luxury resorts, whether located by the beach, in the mountains or even within cities, appear to be broadening those offerings beyond the traditional massage, scrub or manicure by making the most of their locations.

The coastal resorts provide the most obvious opportunities. Miraval, which started offering its branded Life in Balance spa services at Southern California's Monarch Beach Resort earlier this year, includes a five-session yoga package customized to fine-tune the guest's balancing ability specifically for stand-up paddleboarding. The spa also takes advantage of the resort's large family contingent by offering family cardio-drumming sessions on oversize fitness balls on the resort's oceanview lawn.

"We took an existing hotel and spa and brought in more wellness programming," said Sue Adkins, vice president of program development at Miraval, which also operates an eponymous resort in Tucson, Ariz. "Then, we added the flavor of the coast."

The Remede Spa at Puerto Rico's St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort offers beachside cabana massages, while directing guests to locations on the property "to pause for silent reflection," according to Amanda Roman Al-Masri, the St. Regis brand's global director of spa development and operations.

Puerto Rico’s St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort encourages guests to meditate in locations on the property.
Puerto Rico’s St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort encourages guests to meditate in locations on the property.

That luxury brand, which is now overseen by Marriott International, doubles down on that meditative approach at Colorado's St. Regis Aspen by offering spa guests one-on-one consultations with local yogini Alexa Webster for river blessings and necklaces crafted with Mala prayer and meditation beads.

"Massages will always be 40% to 60% of our menu unless something crazy comes along to shift things," Roman Al-Masri said. "We're just moving the massages outside the walls of the spa."

While melding such peaceful interludes with the idea of a water-taxi ride on the Chicago River might seem incongruous, that's what the Chuan Spa at the Langham Chicago does, offering spa guests boat trips down the river to the city's Chinatown. There, guests can visit tea shops, learn the intricacies of Chinese medicine or practice tai chi in the city's riverside Ping Tom Memorial Park.

Luxury hotel spa operators are tasked with providing more ambitious offerings to take advantage of the wellness sector, in which revenue is expected to outpace overall hotel spending during the next few years as the luxury-travel market ages. Global spa revenue is estimated to rise by almost 9% a year, to $130 billion in 2020, with hotel-resorts accounting for about $39 billion of that total, according to London-based market-research firm Technavio.

Both Roman Al-Masri and William Myers, director at Langham Chicago's Chuan Spa, said such location-based services mark a departure from some of the one-size-fits-all trends that were prevalent in the hotel-spa industry a few years back.

"Wellness can devolve into gimmick" said Roman Al-Masri. "An example of that was the chocolate treatments five, 10 years ago.

"It takes a lot of time to get authenticity right. You can't have a menu 30 pages long of wellness offerings," she said.

Such services are not cheap. While activities such as Miraval's family cardio-drumming session at Monarch Beach are complimentary, the Indo Board yoga classes are $90 a person for a 50-minute session. And the Puerto Rico St. Regis's beachside massages start at $240 for a 60-minute session.

Still, the operators of such spas insist that it's a price worth paying for a unique experience.

"It's not about pampering and chocolate pedicures," Myers said. "Time is the most luxurious commodity. The guest is not looking for thrills and frills."

Luxury lines broaden the path to mind and body fitness

By Tom Stieghorst

Cruise-line fitness used to be focused primarily on services and products that could be sold in a spa, and while those remain central on most ships, some lines are broadening their health approach.

That's particularly true of luxury lines, which are adding classes that are more about wellness than beauty.

Next month, Crystal Cruises will offer a 14-day Mind, Body and Spirit cruise aboard the Crystal Serenity. A featured speaker will be Barbara Udell, who for many years was the director of lifestyle education at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, which she said, "encompassed nutrition, exercise and stress management. And so that's what I bring."

Barbara Udell
Barbara Udell

Many people who go on luxury cruises have access to the good things in life, Udell said. 

"However, on the other side, the good life can kill you," Udell said, citing diabetes, heart disease and obesity as three examples. "I start by talking about food, because a lot of people go on cruises just to eat and drink, and I understand that."

Beyond healthy eating, Udell said, good sleep habits and stress management are crucial components of wellness.

"With stress, we'll be talking about what it does to you physically, emotionally and spiritually: how you can recognize it and see what you can do about it," she said. "Some things you can change, and some things you can't. Once you recognize that, it makes it much easier to deal with it so that you're not continuously trying to deal with something that's not going to change."

Udell, who has also spoken on Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Viking Ocean Cruises, said she noticed a trend of cruise lines moving beyond just spa treatments at sea.

"Sometimes spas get a raw deal because they're thought of as pampering," Udell said. "The truth is massage is incredibly therapeutic. Taking care of yourself in that manner, physically and emotionally, has pluses, so I'm not against spas. But I'm even happier when they're trying to combine some of these preventative health issues or something that will even enhance what they already have."

The entrance to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on the Explorer.
The entrance to the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on the Explorer.

One spa operator that has made wellness part of its approach is Canyon Ranch, which has outposts on several cruise lines, including Cunard Line, Celebrity Cruises and Oceania Cruises. On the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, where Canyon Ranch opened its 20th SpaClub at Sea location this summer, wellness consultations and complimentary daily lectures on health topics are among the services offered.

Wellness also got a boost on Seabourn, which has created a fleetwide mindful-living program that will debut in 2017. The program will be led by the newly established position of wellness guide, a professional who will be a certified yoga and meditation practitioner and will offer various complimentary classes and gatherings throughout each voyage.

Seabourn said Mind and Body seminars designed to educate guests on philosophies and practices that are aligned with the program's mission will also be offered. Each presentation will include ideas and practices that enhance well-being and increase the awareness of connections between mind, body, environment and wellness, Seabourn said.

To direct the initiative, Seabourn has partnered with Dr. Andrew Weil, who will kick off the program on the Seabourn Encore's inaugural cruise in January. The program will be rolled out throughout the rest of the Seabourn fleet in 2017 and on the Seabourn Ovation in spring 2018.

Weil, a Harvard-trained physician known for incorporating alternative therapies such as nutritional supplements, meditation and spiritual strategies into conventional treatment plans, will sail on a different Seabourn ship each year, delivering 60-minute lectures for guests and offering smaller, informal group discussions.

Operators see growing demand for fitness-oriented excursions

By Michelle Baran

In the packaged-travel space, operators say the trend toward wellness trips centered on fitness and nutrition more than on spa treatments and pampering is gaining traction with a growing number of travelers.

Erica Gragg, co-founder of the Metairie, La.-based Escape to Shape, said, "When we first started Escape to Shape in 2008, we were one of the few, if not only, wellness travel companies that offered experience-based wellness holidays. At that time, we mainly attracted women who had been on traditional yoga retreats before but had never quite experienced the benefits of a culturally immersive wellness retreat."

Gragg said she has seen her business shift from more yoga-based retreats, which appeal predominantly to women, to getaways that go "far beyond yoga" and include meditation, circuit training, boot camps, Pilates, barre classes and dance cardio classes, with a growing number of men signing up.

"Itineraries that offer a wide range of activities that allow guests to not only connect with another culture and its people but to reconnect with themselves in the process, are in increasing demand," said Gragg, whose trips sell out months in advance, sometimes within hours of announcing them.

Through Red Savannah’s Zen program, travelers can book a wellness-focused retreat at Rosa Alpina in the Dolomites of northern Italy.
Through Red Savannah’s Zen program, travelers can book a wellness-focused retreat at Rosa Alpina in the Dolomites of northern Italy.

Last month, upscale packaged-travel company Red Savannah launched Zen, a health and well-being division. Twenty-two health retreats throughout Europe, Asia and Africa were selected to create the portfolio of products focusing on detox, nutrition, weight loss, yoga, mindfulness, fitness, beauty and youth. 

"This is not about vague pampering in hotel spas," said Red Savannah's founder and CEO, George Morgan-Grenville, a former Abercrombie & Kent executive. "It is about understanding and healing your body so it can best cope with whatever the future has in store."

Morgan-Grenville said that prior to launching Zen, Red Savannah had seen a 20% increase in the number of well-being trip inquiries each year for the past several years. With the launch of Zen, "we expect this to grow significantly," he said, adding, "We are all in danger of living a very miserable old age unless we get our health sorted well before retirement. People are increasingly waking up to this health time bomb and realizing that now is the time to act."

Robin Brooks, marketing and PR manager for the British tour operator Exodus Travels, said her company is seeing rapid growth, as well. Two years ago, Exodus opened an office in Toronto to more actively court the North American travel market, which appeared to be hungry for the fitness- and wellness-focused trips that Exodus offers, including hundreds of cycling, hiking and trekking trips.

"Where we're seeing the most growth in the North American market are these active tours," Brooks said.

What companies such as Red Savannah, Escape to Shape and Exodus Travels are noticing is that travelers want to be more physically engaged when traveling, but they are also more keenly aware of what they are putting into their bodies when on the road.

"Locally sourced foods are definitely in demand," Gragg said. "Additionally, being able to accommodate gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free while not being taste-free is always on the rise."

She added that while it can be a challenge to accommodate those needs while on the road, it is much less so now than it was even five years ago. Escape to Shape takes its wellness-minded clients to destinations as diverse as Cambodia, Chile, Botswana, Iceland, Morocco, Bhutan and New York.

"Thankfully, anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables as well as healthy fats such as raw nuts, coconuts and olive oil and avocados are indigenous to many of the locations we travel to, so with a little creativity and good-quality local ingredients, a little goes a long way," she said.

While fitness and nutrition appear to be redefining the travel experience for many, spa treatments and pampering haven't completely fallen out of fashion with the wellness-minded set.

"The two go hand in hand," Gragg said. "But I would say that an authentic, healthy travel experience is what most people are seeking nowadays. It's much more than spa treatments. It's having a fitness instructor who helps you meet your goals, a chef who understands your nutritional needs and a guide who provides you the opportunity to travel deeper and experience a culture in an authentic, nontouristy way."

Education and partnerships help agents sell wellness

By Jamie Biesiada

As the wellness market continues to grow and expand, so do the resources offered by consortia and other networks to agents interested in selling wellness travel.

Earlier this summer, Virtuoso launched Virtuoso Wellness, a community of agents and preferred partners based around wellness travel.

"Wellness is obviously a growing sector," said Karen Goldberg, managing director of hotels and resorts at Virtuoso. "When you look at the statistics, we see it just booming, and our members are either selling, right now, wellness travel and wellness vacations and they want to further develop that business, or they want to get started in that business."

Virtuoso Wellness is open to all the consortium's members and several select partners. It is designed to link agents and suppliers for marketing, education and networking as well as to enable members to exchange ideas, Goldberg said.

Karen Goldberg, left, managing director of hotels and resorts at Virtuoso, with adviser Emily Westaby of Ovation Vacations at the official launch of the Virtuoso Wellness community at Virtuoso Travel Week this summer.
Karen Goldberg, left, managing director of hotels and resorts at Virtuoso, with adviser Emily Westaby of Ovation Vacations at the official launch of the Virtuoso Wellness community at Virtuoso Travel Week this summer.

Also this year, Travel Leaders Group introduced its Select Wellness Collection, a portfolio of hotels and spas focused on health and wellness. 

"We definitely see wellness having picked up, even over the last year or so," said Christina Gambini, vice president of supplier relations and program management for Travel Leaders Group's hotel division. "I do think it's linked to the fact that we live in such very fast-paced and stressful environments that people are realizing that they need to take the time to take care of themselves."

Wellness travel expert Sallie Fraenkel helped curate the collection of properties. Fraenkel agreed that the wellness sector is growing and has been for some time. And, like Gambini, she believes that increasing stress and work habits are drivers of that growth.

"People need to have more wellness when they travel than they ever did before because of technology and constant, 24/7 being 'on,'" she said.

Travel Leaders Group decided to create the Select Wellness Collection after agents began more frequently requesting wellness properties, Gambini said.

Agents also wanted educational resources on wellness travel, so the company also worked with Fraenkel to create a wellness certification program. The program consists of online modules and, once that portion is complete, a wellness fam at one of the collection's properties, led by Fraenkel.

The fam trip is very hands-on, encompassing a variety of topics and activities meant to complete the agents' training, she said. For example, at the first training just a few months ago, six agents visited the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., with Fraenkel. While there, they ate food that would fit with wellness travel (local and organic with gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options), did group yoga, had an outdoor spinning experience, selected spa treatments and hiked around the property.

The training speaks to the expansion of wellness travel as the field has shifted away from simply visiting a spa to a more all-encompassing experience. Fraenkel attributed that change largely to "people's awareness and their lifestyle" and to being more conscious of everything from the importance of sleep to the kinds of food they eat.

Anne Marie Moebes, executive vice president of Well-Being Travel, a division of American Marketing Group, said that in many cases, wellness has emerged from within other forms of travel.

"It's a segment that's growing within other segments, particularly in the luxury market," she said.

Hotels and cruise lines are increasing wellness offerings, she said, including through more exercise classes, spa treatment options and healthy menu choices.

Moebes said that growth is being driven from consumer demand.

"The consumer is now done with processed foods," she said. "You're seeing Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, all of this. If you look at any aspect of the consumer, whether it's their food or the balancing of their life with exercise or balancing of their life with meditation ... the consumer is doing more to have a healthy life, a healthy and well life."

Moebes predicted that growth will continue through destinations and suppliers offering more and more wellness components in their product.