The eighth Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) held in September at the Four Seasons Marrakech, Morocco, was the biggest summit to date.
It attracted more than 400 delegates from 45 countries, representing key people in the global spa and wellness sector and related industries including ministers of tourism, private equity firms, real estate developers and architects. Their mission? To put aside competitive differences and come together for the good of the sector to help it develop and to raise its profile. Or as the GSWS tag line simply puts it – ‘joining together, shaping the future’.
In keeping with the summit’s overarching theme of Fast Forward, delegates heard about the Global Wellness Institute’s (GWI) plans to drive change in the sector. GWI, an umbrella body which launched last year (see SB13/4 p70), has been formed to attract investment from outside the industry to fund research and support other initiatives. It was revealed that monies will be raised via a newly-developed membership structure – with tiers starting at US$100,000 (€78,000, £61,670) a year – for leading companies, organisations and governments which share its vision for “empowering wellness within their own organisations, cities, regions or the world”. In addition to members, GWI ambassadors will provide essential support with annual contributions of US$1,000 (€788, £622).
Via collaborative sponsorships, the GWI will look to fund best practice manuals such as one on hydrothermal areas (see p90) as well as key pieces of industry research. Since inception, the GSWS has commissioned sector-specific studies and figures from this year’s report – the 2014 Global Spa & Wellness Economy Monitor by SRI International – were attention-grabbing. The worldwide spa industry is worth US$94bn (€73bn, £57bn), employs an estimated 1.9 million people and has grown by 56 per cent since 2007, it was announced. It’s part of a global spa and wellness cluster which SRI values at a whopping US$3.4tn (€2.6tn, £2tn) and we take a closer look at this data on page 94.
The 2014 co-chairs Neil Jacobs and Anna Bjurstam from Six Senses (see SB13/2 p30), along with GSWS president Susie Ellis, put together a roster of compelling speakers from outside the industry who provided fresh perspectives.
Retail guru Paul Price from Creative Realities looked at the shopping experience of tomorrow using technology that’s yet to come and urged everyone in the room to “move technology into your marketing department”. He spoke about the importance of social commerce, pointing out that Instagram has already integrated a buy button, wearable tech (see p98) and painted a picture of an AI store. In the store, customers will be spotted using facial recognition technology and recommended purchases based on their digital profile. Although the AI store seems a while off, it does sound plausible for spas and we highlight another application for facial recognition systems in our Spa Foresight™ on page 37. Other things we’ve picked up on in our foresight that Price mentioned include both robots (see p33) and 3D printing (see p34) which could have huge implications for product houses.
From international architect Bjarke Ingels, delegates heard about ‘hedonistic sustainability’. Using a number of thought-provoking case studies, he demonstrated how his firm, BIG, specialises in creating designs that are not only eco-friendly but also increase people’s enjoyment. A standout example was an urban ski slope he’s developing around a recycling waste incinerator in Denmark. He suggested a new approach to spa architecture: “You not only have the ability, you have the responsibility to change the spaces we live in.”
Prepare Yourself for the Urban Express was the theme of Swedish economist Kjell Nordström’s presentation. The co-author of Funky Business said that “we’re at the beginning of the fastest urbanisation in human history. In 2006, 50 per cent of people lived in cities. In 30 years time that figure will be 75-80 per cent. The world economy will be transformed from 200 countries to 600 cities.” The trend will impact on health as well, with loneliness being a key factor. As the traditional family unit disappears, more people are living alone – even today, 50 per cent of households in most major western cities are those of single occupancy. Loneliness has severe ramifications for health and this is something else observed in the Spa Foresight™ (see p30), along with how spas might address the problem.
Inside the industry
Each year, the GSWS sets aside time for sub-sectors of the spa industry – from education to hot springs facilities – to group together and discuss ways to tackle obstacles and to further growth. Where necessary, task forces are set up to work on points of action in between the summits to make change happen.
The focus of the Hydrothermal Spa Forum was the launch of the Guide To Hydrothermal Spa Development Standards which outlines health, safety and development guidelines of hydrothermal areas: one of the most technically complex elements of any spa. Top equipment suppliers including Design For Leisure, Barr + Wray and Thermarium all share their knowledge in the book which was edited by Cassandra Cavanah and is available via www.globalspaandwellnesssumit.org.
The Hot Springs Forum was buzzing from SRI’s research which includes the first ever benchmarking of the worldwide thermal and mineral spring industry – a sector that’s worth US$50bn (€39bn, £31bn) spanning more than 26,800 facilities (see p94). It was agreed that the next move should be to measure how much money thermal/mineral spring treatments can save national health services as this is what governments and the medical sector will take most note of.
In the Corporate Wellness Forum, delegates spoke about a desire for spas to come together to develop an industry-wide ‘best offer programme’ outlining the unique elements it can bring to corporate wellness. A relaxing environment and specialism in rejuvenation are two particular USPs that should be highlighted, they argued.
The talking point in the Destination Spa & Wellness Retreats Forum was a call to get behind Global Wellness Day, an initiative started by forum facilitator Belgin Aksoy who owns the Richmond Nua Wellness destination spa in Turkey. Launched two years ago, Global Wellness Day falls on the second Saturday in June and the idea is to encourage people to change one thing in their lives for the better – whether its to drink more water, eat organically or to stop using plastic bottles. This June, Aksoy got celebrity support by taking Global Wellness Day to the Emmys and now she’s calling for the spa community to become ambassadors.
There was lots of news from the Spa Education Forum. Its task forces have been busy creating a global framework for staff mentee and mentorship programmes, as well as a comprehensive internship manual which any spa can use or adapt. “What we need now is for more companies to offer spa internships, as it’s something that’s clearly lacking in the industry,” said forum facilitator Lori Hutchinson of Hutchinson Consulting. Work is also well underway on creating a social media and PR campaign to attract more people to the global spa workforce.
“Treat staff the same as guests and give them the same access to wellbeing”, was a takeaway point from the Hotel Wellness & Hotel Spa Forum. It was also recognised that if hotels and spas are to properly deliver wellness, they need to go way beyond just healthy food and look into areas such as sensory perception and brain energy.
It’s no surprise that the Wellness Tourism Roundtable Forum co-chaired by Anni Hood, founder of Wellness Business Consultancy, and Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, was a jam-packed session. Excitement surrounding wellness tourism – travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing – has picked up following the first Global Wellness Tourism Congress (GWTC) in 2013 and SRI’s inaugural research showing that wellness tourism had an estimated value of US$439bn (€346bn, £273bn) in 2012 (see SB13/4 p80). Indeed, that figure has already shot up to US$494bn (€384bn, £301bn) as outlined on p94.
That said, the group concurred that continuing education about ‘what is wellness tourism’ is still required at government, public and private sector and consumer levels. Already, Yolanda Perdomo, a director of the affiliate members programme for the UN World Trade Organization, has pledged her support in championing wellness tourism throughout the organisation. Another priority, echoing the point made in the Global Hot Springs Forum, is to quantify the economic benefit of wellness travel to the bottom line of businesses.
In summary, Hood said: “Here, in this environment, there’s already great understanding and knowledge for wellness tourism. External to this, we still have many bases to cover but momentum and recognition is already evident.”
All about Africa
With the backdrop of Marrakech, a new continent for the GSWS, much attention was focused on Africa, its growing economy and middle class, and what this means for the spa industry.
The Moroccan Agency for Tourism and Investment (SMIT) was one of the key sponsors for the summit and delegates heard about Morocco’s ambitious 2020 Vision which has been implemented by His Majesty King Mohammed VI (see SB10/4 p40 and SB10/2 p64). “His majesty thinks of tourism as an opportunity to create wealth and jobs,” said Morocco’s Minister of Tourism Lahcen Haddad, who explained that the overall goal is to double the size of tourism in the country by 2020 – adding at least 200,000 tourist beds – to put it among the top 20 tourist destinations in the world. “We think that wellness and the spa industry is a real opportunity to help develop the tourism sector.”
Magatte Wade, the CEO and founder of Tiossan – a luxury Senegalese skincare brand – gave a powerful talk about brands embracing African culture as the spa industry grows. “There’s a need to create more jobs on the continent and the spa industry is labour intensive so it’s perfect,” she said. “But… it drives me crazy to see Asian inspired spas. Why do I not find African inspired spas?” Africa has all the right ingredients for wellness, from the varied biodiversity which brings us everything from shea butter and argan oil to traditional healers. “What we have is so rich that it’s bound to make a difference to people,” she said, adding that she’s committed to fighting for authentic African brands both within the country and outside. “The last frontier is going to be through consumer brands – this is the way that we can change the perception that the world has of Africa. That’s what you people in this room can help me with.”
Meanwhile, in separate discussion with Spa Business, Elaine Okeke-Martin, the president of the Spa & Wellness Association of Africa spoke about plans for the organisation to represent all spa trade associations on the continent and about setting up partnerships with them. It will have board members and advisors from the spa industry in the north (Raoul Andrews Sudre), south (Janine Shipra), east (Alison Caroline Ng’ethe) and the west (Dzigbordi K Dosoo). It will focus on developing guidelines about what an African spa concept might look like and consist of, with a goal of promoting the continent’s spa sector domestically and internationally. Okeke-Martin also said plans are afoot for an association magazine, as well as a conference next September in Mauritius.
To top off the African theme, the GSWS hosted an Arabian Nights gala evening in the desert, complete with local artisans, bedouin tents, camels and traditional dancers. Delegates donned bright-coloured kaftans, dined on Moroccan tagine and danced under the stars in a evening that celebrated the best of African culture.
In the final session this year’s co-chair Anna Bjurstam said: “Well, I’m standing here, with lots of ideas flying around my head. I think you’ve all had a lot of inspiration too, and I think it’s all very exciting that we’re just at the starting phase of big change [in the industry]. I’m looking forward to next year.”
Along with Neil Jacobs, Bjurstam passed the summit co-chair baton onto Gina Diez Barroso de Franklin and Alfredo Carvajal. Diez Barroso de Franklin, who was appointed to the GSWS board in January, is the president and CEO of Grupo Diarq, which specialises in promoting and developing Mexican creativity. Carvajal is the president of Delos International and Signature Programs and also has a lot of knowledge about the Latin American spa market. They will help to organise the 2015 summit which, it was announced, will be held in Mexico City, Mexico.
This will be the first time the GSWS will be held in Latin America. “It’s exciting [for the summit] to be in different countries and immerse delegates in different cultures because every experience is unique,” said Susie Ellis. The urban location was specifically chosen over more well-known Mexican beach resorts such Cabo San Lucas and Riviera Maya as it was thought that most people won’t have been there.
Delegates will be in for a treat, Carvajal concluded: “Mexico is a place where I’ve personally seen some of the best spas in the world. And we’re going to try to create a wellness offer you can’t refuse!”