Healthy living: capturing the wellness trend in hospitality

From womb-shaped beds to digital detox packages, the hospitality industry is offering more than ever for wellness-focused guests. But what are some of the key developments in the health-conscious trend that is gradually transforming the industry? Chris Lo finds out.

In the 21st century, public understanding of health has evolved beyond simply the presence or absence of sickness and physical disability. Whether at work or play, home or abroad, everyday people are increasingly conscious that health is a complex spectrum rather than a simple binary. This growing awareness is encapsulated in the global ‘wellness’ trend, which expands the concept of health to include such diverse fields as nutrition, self-care, social satisfaction and fitness.

Wellness might be the buzzword of the day, but it’s hardly a new concept. The preamble to the World Health Organization’s constitution, adopted in the late 1940s, defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Nevertheless, the last decade has seen a wider recognition of the broader wellness concept, and it is driving consumer expectations in virtually every aspect of life, from what we buy from the supermarket to how we choose to spend our free time.

This means that wellness is big business, and the hospitality industry is no exception. According to non-profit the Global Wellness Institute’s (GWI) 2018 Global Wellness Economy Monitor, ‘wellness travel’ is today worth $639bn, and the market’s annual growth rate of 6.5% between 2015 and 2017 is more than double the 3.2% growth recorded in the same period for tourism as a whole.

Wellness tourism is also no longer the preserve of developed economies, with much of the sector’s growth being driven by emerging markets in Africa, the Middle East and particularly Asia, where China and India rank as the top two sources of wellness travel growth.

With the wellness tourism market surging and showing no signs of slowing down, it’s no surprise that hotels and spas – from the big brands to tiny boutique outfits – are racing to capture a slice of this lucrative pie. Here are some key wellness trends in the hospitality business.

Guest rooms: high-tech wellness

While the wellness stereotype tends towards the natural and organic, many hotels are embracing smart technologies to offer rooms that better align with the priorities of wellness-focused guests. These range from air purifiers and showerheads infused with vitamin C to aromatherapy systems and deep-cleaning techniques such as high-ozone shock treatment, which uses lethal levels of ozone to kill bacteria and viruses, along with much of the odour they create.

“A growing trend is for hotels to group wellness rooms together into clusters.”

Demand from hotels for these types of guestrooms is enough to sustain suppliers such as Pure Wellness, which provides and maintains more than 3,100 wellness-focused Pure Rooms for major hotel brands across the industry, including Hilton, Ritz-Carlton and Embassy Suites. ‘Wellness real estate’ giant Delos, of course, has invested heavily in the hospitality business.

Another growing trend is for hotels to group wellness rooms together into clusters, often located on the same floor as spa facilities, reinforcing the serene atmosphere that health-conscious guests increasingly expect, especially in the luxury segment. The Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, for example, offers five wellness-enhancing guestrooms and two suites alongside the hotel’s fourth-floor spa, with in-room technologies such as exercise equipment, circadian lighting and air purifiers.

The science of sleep

Sleep quality consistently ranks near the top of the priority list for guests, and hotels have been touting the relative merits of their beds for decades. The wellness trend, not to mention the emergence of affordable, high-quality mail-order mattresses for the home market, has raised the expectations of consumers, who are aware that a good night’s sleep is an important part of maintaining health and well-being, particularly for frequent flyers on business. For hotels, the comfort and customisability of beds and bedding is an important point of differentiation, for better or worse.

“It’s the one part of room that gets used the most during the guest’s stay,” Fairmont vice president Jane Mackie told USA Today in 2017. “It has the most potential to have an upside and potential to have a downside if we don’t get it right.”

The comfort and customisability of beds and bedding is an important point of differentiation.

Every hotel brand works hard on getting the characteristics of their beds just right, whether the secret is memory foam, cooling gels or wrapped coils. Wellness-themed rooms often go the extra mile with hypoallergenic bedding, LED lighting techniques to induce healthy sleep and even smart mattresses to evaluate the user’s sleep patterns and quality. What’s more, specialist ‘sleep retreats’ are being introduced to the market for those who really want to make sleep the central part of their stay.

In east London, Simba (one of the aforementioned mail-order mattress specialists) has collaborated with Cuckooz to create the Zed Rooms, serviced apartments custom-made for restful sleep, including bed installations designed like wombs to imitate the best sleep any human has ever had.

Gyms and spas get an upgrade

Gyms and spas are another time-tested feature of hotels, but where in the past hotel gym-goers might have been satisfied with a quick workout in a windowless basement facility, the wellness trend is raising standards.

In 2019, this is perhaps best exemplified by the opening of fitness brand Equinox’s first hotel, Equinox Hotel in Hudson Yard, New York. With interiors designed by David Rockwell of Rockwell Group, the 212-room, 48-suite hotel features a 60,000ft² fitness club with indoor and outdoor pools, SoulCycle, group classes and personal trainers. Equinox plans to open new US hotels in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and Houston.

Equinox is uniquely positioned to define an emerging category.

“As health becomes the new wealth, Equinox is uniquely positioned to define an emerging category that is disrupting the entire industry,” said Equinox Hotels CEO Chris Norton in a press statement in March.

Even standalone gym facilities have started to see the benefit of incorporating hospitality elements. In November 2017, Chicago gym Midtown Athletic Club opened a 55-room hotel on its premises as part of an $85m renovation.

A healthy feel

Beyond technology and facilities, design and services can be brought together to infuse a sense of wellness into hotels’ broader operations. Calming colour schemes, natural light, furniture layout, restaurant menus and tranquil common areas can all help align a hotel’s branding with its wellness objectives.

From juice bars to antibacterial cedar elements, there’s no shortage of options for hospitality businesses looking to boost their wellness credentials. Smart hotel policies and special offers can also play a role at very little cost. The James New York NoMad Hotel, for example, started offering in October a ‘Digital Detox Package’, which gives a 10% discount on room rates if guests lock away their phones and tablets in a secure safe, trading away the stresses of always-online life for workout sessions, meditation lounges and counselling services.

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Image credit: Four Seasons