5 Ways Hotel Spas Guide the Frequent Traveler’s Quest for Wellbeing

This article previously appeared in Hotel Business Review on July 23, 2107. HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright.

“In a spa, wellness is the offering; wellbeing is the outcome,” said industry consultant Mia Kyricos at the start of her spa trends presentation at the Washington Spa Alliance (WSPA) Annual Symposium earlier this year. Going well beyond the topic of massage which is currently the backbone of the modern spa economy, Kyricos and fellow presenters and panelists that day revealed the extent to which spas are assisting guests in realizing long-term wellbeing goals. Chief among them are: better quality sleep; nutrition plans that are personalized for one’s body, lifestyle and even one’s DNA; mental fitness; products and services that are science-backed and efficacious; and facilitating the global trend of wellness travel.

Who is leading the charge in this spa evolution? It’s the guests themselves, and for various reasons. It is no surprise, for example, that travel-worn Baby Boomers, many away on business as often as they are home, seek to incorporate some respite into their daily lives. While in the past, relief might have come from splurging on dessert or an after-dinner drink, today, it is a more mindful effort with the focus on developing habits that will more likely promote healthy longevity.

Meanwhile, Millennials, already comprising the largest piece of the business travel pie, are, by 2020, expected to account for almost 50% of all business travel spending (Boston Consulting Group). What’s more, this group incorporates leisure travel — lately dubbed “bleisure”  into their trips, keeping these sojourners away from home even longer, though by choice.

And everyone — from Baby Boomers to Gen-Xers — are tech-centric, entrenched in the need for speed, sometimes at the expense of personal wellbeing. In a society that puts high value on performance and productivity, something’s got to give in the quest for peace of mind, body and spirit.

Is the focus on wellbeing a passing notion? Research indicates otherwise.

Global Wellness Institute’s most recent Global Wellness Economy Monitor (January 2017) defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” Estimating the global wellness economy at $3.7 trillion (2015-the most recent data available), the Institute defines this sector as encompassing “industries that enable consumers to incorporate wellness activities and lifestyles into their daily lives.”

With spa at the heart of this economic model, other sectors — some larger and some smaller — include the categories of fitness and mind-body, beauty and anti-aging, complementary and alternative medicine, preventive and personalized medicine and public health, healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss, wellness tourism, thermal/mineral springs, wellness lifestyle real estate, and workplace wellness.

Each of these categories spawn their own sets of trends, some of which will take hold and become mainstays. Among the many ways spa professionals are currently aiding individuals on their personal paths to wellbeing, here are five that are particularly noteworthy:

Mindfulness for the Mainstream

Once considered “new age”, meditation is now known to improve brain, heart and immune health, reduce stress, improve concentration, and slow aging, among a host of additional benefits that have changed perception from “woo woo” to “wow”. From teaching the value of sitting alone in a soundless room to formal meditation practice, spa professionals are guiding guests in finding ways to quiet the mind as a best practice for long-term mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

In some cases, these guests have encouragement from their employers as well, some of which are offering mindfulness training. These include Google, Salesforce, Aetna, Goldman Sachs Group. Blackrock and Bank of America (Forbes, 7/14/16).

Learning basic breathing techniques and exploring active meditation — including journaling, coloring books and nature walks — are among the many low-tech ideas that are being introduced through spas. Some spas are even eschewing background music during treatments, or allowing natural ambient sound of the host environment, paving the way toward a more meditative natural state for the guest.

Away from the spa, in addition to staying committed to what they have learned, millions are keeping up mindfulness practices with the help digital apps such as Headspace, Insight Timer, and OMG. I Can Meditate! Among many others. And the rules of meditation have relaxed, with suggestions that just a few minutes a day in most settings can be beneficial. This in contrast to the prescribed 15-20-minute, twice-per-day, mantra-induced and highly regarded traditional method known as Transcendental Meditation® which was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Proven Products and Treatments

In an earlier era, many guests were content to leave the spa feeling pampered and fragrant. Nary a look was given to ingredient lists on product packaging. While today’s spa goer also expects to feel (and smell) good at the end of the day, many savvy guests are seeking proof that products and services truly work and are good for the body — using active natural ingredients rather than dead chemicals to work their magic. Because of this, there is a continuing attraction to natural and organic products that are supported by scientific proof of efficacy. It’s the reason that certain newer eye creams — natural and organic Amala, for example — have gained popularity. It’s also why aromatherapy — practiced by ancient civilizations — thrives among spa goers today (see Hotel Business Review Editorial Board Member Judith Jackson’s six-part series on the subject).

Additionally, many guests want to know that the spas they frequent employ sustainable practices that support a healthy environment for the earth as well as for spa guests. As reported by Kyricos, the renewed popularity of water-based treatments has many spa owners investing in multi-use, water filtration systems that are cost effective and environmentally kind as they support the spa’s need for water. As spa goers select locations that align with their personal values, sustainability practices become part of the decision-making process.

Nutrition Education

Nutrition consultation has long been available in destination spas and in many full-service resort spas and it, too, is evolving. Today, this service is as broad and deep as ever at spas whose nutritionists are well versed in macro and micro topics, from a thorough understanding of Ayurvedic doshas and matching food choices to inflammation-fighting diets. Kyricos pointed out during her WSPA presentation that four of the 10 trends reported by MindBodyGreen this year are food-related with Number 1 reporting on individualized nutrition products, some of which use a client’s DNA to suggest optimized meals.

Other trends highlight: non-alcoholic drinks for all; maximizing use of food that typically goes to waste (40% of food in the U.S. is wasted per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations); mezcal as a healthier spirit choice; and the ultra-trendy ketogenic diet, a hot topic in both spa and non-spa circles. Culinary options in the spa are growing, too, with juice bars expanding into full service restaurants and increased grab-and-go options featuring good eats. And, once trendy, the philosophy of giving choice to guests  — wine or no wine with dinner — is now a mainstay, with few exceptions.


Sleep programs, in the past the domain of specialized medical facilities, are starting to proliferate in spas in answer to individuals who, for one reason or another, are unable to get adequate sleep — either quantity or quality — over a sustained period. With the knowledge that chronic sleep deprivation is connected to a range of ailments such as depression, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, increasingly, spa treatment menus include naptime offerings and tutorials on better sleep.

Moreover, says Kyricos, “sleep will be the new lens for assessing wellbeing on spa intake forms” which will encourage spas to be “more prescriptive” in their recommendations to incoming guests.

Lack of sleep or poor sleep can work counter to individuals seeking to lose weight and can exacerbate existing health conditions. Per Harvard Medical School, even one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure the following day in people with hypertension.

Bottom line: Look for more sleep butlers, hypnosis programs, sleep therapists and directors of sleep medicine, all of which are currently offered in select spas around the United States.

Influencing Wellness Tourism

The flip side of business travel is wellness tourism, a trend that continues to grow faster than global tourism per the Global Wellness Economy Monitor. Defined as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing,” the sector was last measured at $563.2 billion globally (2015) and growing briskly. The Monitor reports that travelers made 691 million wellness trips in 2015, an increase of 104.4 million over the previous study two years earlier. And they spent more than the average for all tourism expenditures.

Spas are central to wellness tourism experiences and to the movement itself, modeling, through services and approach, the many ways individuals can learn, test, try, explore, and arrive at their distinct paths to their unique version of wellbeing.

 Building Upon Spa’s Timeless Truths

As spa trends emerge, ebb, flow and refresh over time — based on the needs and desires of spa goers — they are invariably based in what has come to be known as the seven timeless truths: water (spa’s genesis and meaning of the word “spa”), quiet, food, community, sleep, fitness and nature. Here’s to a future of wellbeing.