A new upscale hotel development without a spa or wellness centre? Quite probably no. What not that long ago was a differentiating service element now is a basic, entry level service. This is not only true for resorts but also for urban and even business hotels, too. The commodification and standardisation of spas or wellness units is, however, only characterizes the top end of the hotel business. Very rarely one can find a full service spa in a three star property!
One might say that these changes are due to the organic development of the industry. Some others might say that this is little more than repainting the shop window (in many cases). Observing the industry it can be concluded that both opinions are right.
Hotels and resorts started to offer some beauty or salon services such as hairdressing, manicure, pedicure or facials many years ago. This offer was almost exclusively targeting female clientele. Often attracting walk-in guests from the local community, too. The operation of such beauty salons was a relatively easy and straightforward proposition to hoteliers (and for guests).
The next stage of the service development was the introduction of the spa and often independently from the spa a gym. Although it is often assumed that there is a global understanding and agreement about what a spa actually is, this really is not the case. The term spa can represent very different concepts and service offers under the same word. The International Spa Association (ISPA) provides a set of definitions for the various spa forms. Still, there is no global agreement of the meaning and service characteristics of a ‘spa’. In several parts of the world a spa does not tend be more than a combination of beauty and body treatments (typically massages). In other countries wet areas, e.g. steam rooms, pools and saunas are typically standard elements of a modern hotel spa.
Many resort hotels developed such variety of services that the spa has become the key selling proposition. Instead of just running a hotel spa, these facilities became spa hotels and resorts. Breath-taking locations such mountains, deserts, coasts or pristine natural setting inspired the development of spa hotels and resorts all around the world. Natural thermal springs or untouched coastal areas provide basis for very special spa hotels and resorts, i.e. thermal spa or thalassotherapy resorts, respectively. Guests in several European countries such as Italy, Germany or Hungary, or France and Greece in terms of thalasso can enjoy the power of nature in specialized spa hotels.
Soon hotel developers and operators started to hire spa consultants and then consequently to bring in specialist spa operators. Operating a spa is often seen as distant from standard hotel management, therefore the involvement of the (outsourced) spa operator seemed to be a good idea. Especially that in house spa management rarely become a favourite department of hotel GMs. Unfortunately, outsourced spa operators infrequently reached the owners ROI objectives and the spa was not considered to be a major revenue source or driver. Furthermore, cross-selling or optimization was practiced at a very low rate.
Looking at various media sources wellness appears to be a novel concept. It really is not. The term was coined by Dunn in 1959. Wellness has become mainstream in the last 5-8 years. And in numerous cases a wellness centre is nothing more than a glorified gym. Specialist hotels, especially in German-speaking countries have mastered the concept for many-many years now. Wellness hotels are on an abundant supply with very wide range of services. Still, the European wellness hotel concept is different from other regions’. The key foundation is a well-defined concept which does not only include treatments and services but it is applied to catering provision or to the hotel rooms, too. There are countries, e.g. Germany or Hungary where special hotel standards were developed for wellness hotels (beyond standards of the internationally accepted Hotelstars Union). Almost every large hotel brand felt the need to create either their very own spa brand or outsourced some of its space to a spa operator which would bring its own brand.
It has to be noted that there are significant differences between a spa and wellness. Whereas the spa refers to a physical place, wellness represents a concept or an approach. The difference can be described with the comparison of a house and a home! For many years, only individual, family and operated properties specialized in wellness services and operated as a wellness hotel (note that local language-based differences prevail and there are languages which do not use wellness but wellbeing for such hotel provision, e.g. Wohlbefinden or Vital hotel in German!).
Hoteliers all over the world started to recognize that this is more than just short term fashion trend. Wellness has become mainstream. Probably even overused by now. One can find wellness towels or wellness eggs and men can buy wellness underwear! This results in what we can call wellness-washing or well-washing (following the rather similar antics of ‘greenwashing’).
Still, there is no globally accepted definition or criteria for a wellness hotel (or a wellness centre). In North America or Asia a wellness centre would not necessarily have a large wet area, whereas in Central and Eastern Europe it is an absolute must.
Wellness is not a trend word that is simply replacing spa. It can even be concluded that soon if not already wellness as a label has become ‘tired’. Conceptually what drives many large hotel companies already is not wellness or health. The right terminology would be wellbeing since wellbeing is defined as ‘a state of being or a feeling which is achieved by connections with family or community, with an emphasis upon making the best of life by self-contentment and less stress’. Is what we see under the wellness umbrella only the commodification of wellbeing? Well, the answer can easily be ‘yes’! No surprise that one of the largest tour operator of the world TUI discontinues its wellness hotel-based packages. Why? Because wellness became too common practice in hotels. This, however, does not mean to say business guests who go to the hotel wellness centre in the morning instantly become wellness tourists! They are only following practices what they do in their everyday life.
Healtharisation of Hotels
This now brings us to the next evolutionary step. First was beauty, then spa and currently wellness is the trending conceptual approach. So what is next? ‘Healtharisation’ of hotels, which represents a much more integrated health conscious and wellness influence throughout hotel rather than it offered solely in a dedicated spa and wellness space within the property. This represents a fundamental change and will take effect with two fundamental changes in hotels of the future that will change the conceptual and operational approach to wellness hospitality.
The consumer is much more wellness or appropriately health and wellbeing savvy than ever before. Therefore, the related and expected services offered in a hotel needs to be a much better wellness proposition than is currently on offer. Technology is pushing consumers to be much more knowledgeable about their health i.e. electronic calorie and movement trackers and the launch of health apps on wearable health/fitness watches by all the mainstream technology brands is further revolutionising how informed people are about their own daily wellbeing.
Wellness technology is advancing at rapid speed, helping the public become much more informed about their well-being!
IHG’s EVEN brand represents the implementation of the wellbeing concept to hotels – and following fashion. In terms of positioning this new brand is labelled as ‘healthy’ and a ‘lifestyle’ hotel. But as we know fashion tends to be short lived. Conceptually we now see one of the largest hotel operating brands enter the market with a dedicated wellness hotel brand and therefore it will be very interesting to see the speed of its global growth of this proposition.
We expect that the overall healtharisation of wellness concepts will infiltrate future hotel developments so that hotel brands offer a more all-encompassing guest experience. This will be visible in many different ways which include the design of the property i.e. construction and furniture selection, circulated air quality, greater range of personalised wellness activities, healthier food & beverage concepts, i.e. more quality conscious and healthier food availability (such as mini-bar replaced by refilled fruit bowls and juices every day) providing more information about the food nutritional properties, allergy notices and source of origin etc. It is therefore forecasted that the new sub-health themes and the healtharised hotels will use ‘lifestyle’ as an umbrella term.
As consumers are becoming more savvy about their state of health or wellbeing so are owners and hotel operators. Hotel operators now recognize the benefits as well as the challenges of such complex operations and what a health-conscious hotel approach actually means. Such hotels have comprehensive service composition to address personal needs all across the operation, therefore they need dedicated management teams, rather than outsourcing such functions. Hotel operations would require a very different approach. The divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’, i.e. hotel vs. spa/wellness or any other provision needs to go. The seamless harmonization and synergy optimization requires new management approaches as well as skills and knowledge that spreads throughout the hotel operation rather than disconnected management model we have for spas currently in many hotels. This will require hotels bringing the healtharisation operations in-house, which will have a knock-on to other hospitality player’s incl. hotel schools needing to incorporate new modules to their programmes (which we are already starting to see), hotels needing more specialized staff trainings added to SOP’s, supplier agreements would need to be broadened, planning of hotels would require a much more global approach requiring architects and interior designers having to re-set their frame of mind and a lot more.
We will see more sub or specialised theming based on overarching concepts (either inspired by ancient concepts such as feng-shui or Ayurveda or new ones such as LansMed). The hotel serviscapes will be more based on personal needs and expectations and less on generic offerings such as standardised spas or wellness centres. Spas and wellness hotel practices seem to be so common that every hotel does them with significant investment but very little point of difference. This can be seen in the naming of the property, in the branding as well as in the communication. We can already see examples of destination spas, health spa resorts, vital hotels, longevity centres, thermal hotels, wellness clinics, medical hotels, anti-ageing resorts, health resorts or medical tourism-friendly (!) hotels. This proliferation of names does not necessarily help international guest flow since foreign guests may understand very little of the actual brand and their expectations could altogether be misjudged. From the medical side, the so called H2H, i.e. Hospital to Hotel conversions bring new angels to hospitality.
There is the risk that a health oriented concept will result in generic hotel models. Healtharised hotels could end up applying similar approach to what happened with the greening of the hotel industry. Not changing towels may save the environment but also save operation costs. These practices seemed to be novel and innovative 10 years ago. By now, every hotel does them.
Savvy hoteliers therefore have an opportunity with the healtharisation concept because it can be offered within existing branded properties and with a far greater impact on the health and wellbeing guest experience than that of a dedicated space i.e. a spa or wellness centre. Looking at local wellbeing traditions, natural healing assets, rituals or heritage and incorporating those to the hospitality portfolio can provide hotel developers and managers with really unique serviscape opportunities. The resulting healtharisation of hotels will ensure that they are offering what the informed guest (and not only the so called wellness guest) desires.
Hotel healtharisation revenue streams are broader and potentially significantly higher than that of dedicated spas and wellness spaces whilst the investment costs being lower. Higher revenues, lower wellness investment costs and an improved hotel brand experience should be something that appeals to both owner and hotel operator.