From morning workouts with fitness giant Technogym to meetings on exercise balls and dancing breaks, this year's Global Wellness Summit (GWS) in Italy was one of the most energetic to date.
There was an uplifting spirit throughout thanks to summit co-chairs Mia Kyricos, who heads up wellbeing at Hyatt and Tony de Leede, owner of Australian wellness destination Gwinganna, both of whom also emceed the event over the three days.
Now in its 12th year, GWS 2018 was held at the striking, wellness-oozing Technogym Village headquarters in Emilia Romagna, north Italy. More than 600 delegates from 50 countries convened with the intention of Shaping the Business of Wellness, which was the summit's overarching theme.
It's clear that the event which started out as a 'spa summit' back in 2006 has firmly transitioned to 'wellness'. While top spa professionals made up a strong proportion of delegates, many came from the nutrition, design, health, medical and fitness space – just under half were there for the first time – with talks reflecting this broad remit.
Exciting numbers revealed at the event now value the global wellness economy at US$4.2 trillion (€3.6tn, £3.2tn). It's grown 12.8 per cent in the last two years – nearly twice as fast as global GDP. Today the worldwide spa sector is worth US$119bn (€103.1bn, £90.6bn) and thermal/mineral springs are worth US$51bn (€44.2bn, £38.8bn). We take a more in-depth look at these findings on p88.
Overall the message was that the momentum for wellness is undeniable and unstoppable, and spas will want to decide how they want to help shape it.
The move to wellness is attracting high profile speakers such as representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and an ex director general of the UK's National Health Service (NHS).
Dr Ranieri Guerra, responsible for strategic initiatives at WHO, the global authority on public health, said wellness is "everywhere and nowhere" on its agenda. It keeps cropping up, but isn't overtly acknowledged. He admits the need to set up a framework that can measure life quality and longevity. He said: "We need you to tell us what to do and to direct us on the big policies on global wellness."
After running the NHS, Mark Britnell now consults on global healthcare systems as a senior partner at KPMG International. The best systems for health are focused on prevention, he said, confirming the emerging trend the spa industry is seeing with the blurring of boundaries between wellness and medical institutions.
Israel is leading the way in prevention, while Nordic countries excel in health promotion and Australia comes top in relation to mental health and wellbeing. "Your role is to work with health systems to teach them about prevention," he said, adding that the best way to do this is to first reach healthcare employees through workplace wellness programmes.
Excitement rippled through the audience when celebrities such as Hugh Jackman and Oprah Winfrey both addressed delegates via video.
Jackman praised summit speaker and transcendental meditation (TM) expert Bob Roth for teaching his family the type of meditation which taps into deeply relaxing alpha brainwaves. He said: "It's really been a game changer for us… although we're probably preaching to the converted." Jackman a long-standing of wellness, is also a co-investor in de Leede's Gwinganna (see SB16/3 p60).
His intro was followed by Roth's lively session detailing the potency of TM and his work at the David Lynch Foundation (see SB15/1 p36) which touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of inner-city children and war veterans. An inspiring insight for spa operators who already offer meditation or those thinking about it.
This September, slimming company Weight Watchers rebranded to WW Inc with the tag line 'wellness that works' and a goal to focus more on holistic health and less on weight loss. Winfrey is an investor in the company and speaking directly to delegates during a talk with WW president Mindy Grossman, she said: "We believe we can inspire people to not only eat well, but to move more, live more mindfully and to experience journeys of power and growth because that's really why we're all here – to find wellness."
The take home message? Wellness is attracting major organisations and is getting the red carpet treatment itself.
Fashion and food
Speaking about the host country, GWS chair Susie Ellis said: "Italy is about emotion and love and that's the heart of dolce vita [a life full of pleasure]. We've tapped into Italy's most important assets – the lifestyle, the fresh food, longevity, happiness, fashion, design, architecture, family – and used these as a lens with which to examine what's happening in wellness around the globe."
World famous designer Alberta Ferretti, who comes from Emilia Romagna, took a deep look at fashion and wellness and drew parallels on building self-esteem and confidence. On the gala night, delegates were also wowed with a wellness fashion runway show created by Jessica Jesse of BuDhaGirl which showcased athleisure wear with nature designs inspired by the mindful films of Louie Schwartzberg.
A number of nutrition and food specialists shared their insights on the latest trends in their sector such as diets based on your DNA profile, gut health and the microbiome (see SB14/2 p60), the importance of social eating and drinking and 'chewology'. The rise of veganism spurred on by the documentary What the Health, has made many more mindful of dairy and meat consumption and Spa Business even foresees vegan spas in the future (see p60). All food for thought, if you pardon the pun, for any spa which serves snacks and meals.
Wellness design discussions provided insight for those developing spa facilities. Celebrated Italian architects Antonio Citterio and Matteo Thun shared their perspectives on wellness buildings. Citterio said: "It's about creating a place where people are happy to stay, for community and ultimately somewhere that will improve their quality of life."
Thun, who's worked on projects such as the new Comfort Zone headquarters (see SB18/3 p44) and Bürgenstock's Waldhotel medical spa hotel (see SB18/1 p62), said: "Privacy is the most important part of spa design. People want silence."
New York-based designer Clodagh, favoured by companies such as Six Senses and Miraval, believes good design embraces wellbeing to transform people's lives and she uses approaches like feng shui, biophilia, chromatherapy and aromatherapy. "It's not about design," she said, "we're the messengers and it's our job to take people on a [sensory] journey." At the end of her talk, she was presented with this year's Leader in Sustainability award.
In a design panel led by Spa Business' editorial director Liz Terry, wabi sabi – the 'art of being imperfect' – was a key talking point. People can feel uncomfortable in pristine environments, such as ultra-modern spas. They form more emotional connections with imperfections, whether that's a less symmetrical room, characterful objects or hand-made materials. Later on, Terry launched Well Home, a prosumer magazine for the home wellness market (see p85).
Looking at lifestyle was another primary topic at this year's summit. An illuminating talk by explorer Dan Buettner captured the attention of delegates. His work focuses on Blue Zones – five places in the world with the highest concentration of centenarians. He's researched the common denominators in the zones to unlock the secret of living long, happy, healthy lives. It's all about moving naturally, having the right outlook, eating wisely and connecting with others. Buettner tells Spa Business more about this and what it means to the industry on p16.
At the summit last year, Dr Richard Carmona, the US 17th surgeon general, put out a call to action for the industry to help eradicate chronic, preventable disease under the Wellness Moonshot banner. Working on this movement, the GWI teamed up with BuDhaGirl's Jesse to create a workplace wellness calendar. Every month research-backed details – outlining the benefits of everything from fitness to destressing – will be emailed to companies and employees to help spread the word about what they can do to prevent disease and make wellness a priority.
A spotlight was also shone on lifestyle and wellness in Italy. Specific figures were released about the country's wellness market. Italy has the 10th largest wellness tourism market in the world, generating €11.6bn (US$13.3bn, £10.2bn) and 13.1 million trips in 2017. It has the sixth largest spa market globally with nearly 4,000 facilities and revenues of €2.8bn (US$3.2bn, £2.5bn). It ranks number five in the world with its 768 thermal/mineral springs, which bring in €1.5bn (US$1.7bn, £1.3bn) a year.
In addition, Nerio Alessandri, Technogym's inspiring president and founder, brought his own story alive recounting how he grew his company from a gym in a garage to one of the most successful businesses in the wellness sector. "I'm really emotional about this event [summit], I have the chills," he said. "The wellness economy is our 'collective raison d'etre', our own 'tribe'."
On top of this, Alessandri set up a non-profit foundation 10 years ago to fund the Wellness Valley in Emilia Romagna where Technogym is headquartered (see SB18/3 p72). Under the initiative, local government, hospitals, schools and businesses have come together to improve public health and get people moving. As a result of their collective, commendable efforts, people in the region live 10 per cent longer than in the rest of the country.
Breakout sessions provided global spa operators and consultants with a chance to discuss industry issues and future trends.
In a panel on attracting investment, Omer Isvan, president of investment advisors Servotel, said "There's enormous opportunity to scale up wellness destinations, but the lack of niche talent is holding it back." For Neil Jacobs, CEO of Six Senses, the key to growth is finding developers, properties and senior management who truly believe in the company's narrative. While for others the technology infrastructure and getting the right "people culture" is a must.
Meanwhile, return on investment (ROI) dominated a discussion on the future of wellness in hospitality with representatives from companies like Marriott and Accor, as well as Canyon Ranch and Mandarin Oriental. "The way [spa] ROI is measured in hotels is flawed," said leading industry figure Andrew Gibson. "Spas contribute so much more than just revenue from treatments."
Sarah Bader from design firm Gensler agreed and added: "You need to measure so much more than ROI if you're going to remain competitive."
The idea of measuring return on wellness (ROW), where you track the return on an individual's wellness after a stay at a hotel/having an experience, was suggested as a new alternative. Many were in agreement as it could have deeper meaning and, ultimately, links to customer loyalty. But how this is actually measured and to what level needs much thought.
Veering away from medical terminology such as 'oncology massage' and making sure staff know how to treat people affected by cancer was the focus of a Wellness Travel Heals workshop and this is something Spa Business looked at in-depth last issue (see SB18/3 p60). "Cancer is no longer a medical condition, it's a wellness condition, and it's our responsibility in the industry to treat these people and make them feel welcome," said Anna Bjurstam, wellness pioneer at Six Senses, adding that the group is getting all of its staff – from therapists to yoga practitioners – trained to deal with people affected by cancer for next year.
In a panel of spa, medical and wellness operators, Sheila McCann of Lanserhof UK said the ageing population and dementia is also something the spa industry needs to be mindful of. Is pre-screening thorough enough, especially if packages are sold via third parties? McCann is a staunch advocate of transformative wellness experiences offered at destination spas and was awarded with this year's Leading Woman in Wellness accolade at the summit.
The same panel, with representatives from esteemed resorts such as Bürgenstock, Lefay and Borgo Egnazia, agreed that while 'spa' is an easy sell and brings in a lot of business, integrative and medical approaches are where the opportunities lie as the population ages and people get more stressed in the workplace. Happiness and emotional retreats are popular as are convalescence packages. And guests prefer shorter stays rather than longer 10-14 day programmes.
Brand specialist Cathy Feliciano-Chon's presentation on China as a wellness mega-consumer force was an agenda highlight on the final day. The numbers speak for themselves. In two year's time, it's predicted that Chinese travellers will make 200 million overseas visits and that frequent independent travellers, female travellers and the multi generational markets will be the ones to watch.
Gym memberships in the country have doubled since 2008, to 6.6 million in 2016 and there are now 37,000 health clubs. There are also 10,800 yoga schools and 12 million yoga practitioners. China's spa market generates CNY23bn (US$3.3bn, €2.9bn, £2.5bn) and we take a closer look at those numbers on p34.
Feliciano-Chon's talk dovetailed neatly with the announcement that next year the summit will be held in Asia, specifically Hong Kong. Grand Hyatt Hong Kong will be the host venue and dates are now confirmed as 15-17 October 2019.
Ellis closed the summit by thanking co-chairs Kyricos and De Leede, and with a promise for delegates to expect great things at the next event.
"Every year I'm blessed to work with different co-chairs who keep the agenda fresh with their contacts and ideas," she said. "We will decide on the 2019 co-chairs in the next month and then together we will study the region and its strengths when it comes to wellness and begin curating another fantastic summit."