A ll eyes are on Mia Kyricos, closely watching how she’s shaping hospitality wellness since being appointed senior vice-president, global head of wellbeing for the US$4.45bn revenue Hyatt Hotels Corporation. In the newly-created role, which she started in August 2018, she oversees the wellbeing not only of guests and customers at Hyatt’s 875-plus properties worldwide, but also of its 139,000 colleagues (employees) – a two-pronged approach which underscores its purpose “to care for people so they can be their best”.
More recently, she’s scooped two awards. In October, she was named Leading Woman in Wellness at the Global Wellness Summit. Less than a month later, she was recognised as Outstanding Alumna of the Year by the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, the respected US hospitality school where she first became serious about the business of spa and wellness. For someone still in her mid 40s, this is testament to her dedication to the industry. “It’s incredibly humbling and overwhelming,” says Kyricos of the accolades. “Sometimes I just don’t feel old enough and in many ways I feel like I’ve only just begun.”
Growing up in a strong, matriarchal Greek family in Maine, US, Kyricos says her grandmother always had a herbal remedy to hand and that a menthol massage was the first line of defence. Her wellness epiphany occurred, however, during her early days at Cornell. She explains: “I had a really personal moment during my first week of grad school... when 9/11 happened. Classmates lost family members and we were shook to the core. It reminded me, and everyone, of our mortality and that’s when I decided I wanted to better align my personal and professional endeavours with something that was truly good for the world.
“I went to visit professor Mary Tabacchi – I had worked in hotels, restaurants, private clubs, all major areas of hospitality, operations and management, but spa felt like an unsung hero that she knew about. And I wanted to be a pioneer.”
Driven and ambitious, yet mindful and compassionate, Kyricos quickly moved up the career ladder and over the last 18 years she’s worked for companies like Starwood Hotels & Resorts, creating six international spa brands (see SB10/3 p24); Spafinder Wellness as a chief brand officer; and Kyricos & Associates, her own boutique advisory firm. She also had a leadership role at Core Performance, the workplace division of athletes performance company EXOS. It’s this corporate wellness experience, on top of the name she’s built for herself in spa and wellness, which made her a prime candidate for Hyatt’s all-encompassing new role.
“What initially attracted me to Hyatt was the fact that it had acquired Miraval and Exhale [in 2017] which signalled a real commitment to wellbeing,” says Kyricos. “The second signal came when both Mark Hoplamazian [CEO] and Mark Vondrasek [CCO] spent almost two hours talking to me about what wellbeing meant to them and how they were dedicated to it. It’s the first time in 20 years that the senior leadership of a company came to me with a business case for wellness prepared, versus me having to make the case and it just gave me goose bumps.”
Being responsible for shaping Hyatt’s multidimensional global wellbeing strategy, she reports into Vondrasek. And while, in today’s climate, hotel groups are announcing their alignment with wellness on a daily basis, Kyricos is convinced that Hyatt is onto something special. “There are three things which make our approach unique,” she says. “First, is our commitment at the highest level of the organisation across all of our  brands rather than just one.
“Secondly, Hyatt is the first company of its kind to bring on a leader and develop a department that’s shepherding a single vision and strategy for what wellness and wellbeing means both commercially and internally with HR. That combined commercial and colleague wellbeing approach was a wow moment for me.
“Third, is that our inspiration comes from our top [meetings] customers – Fortune 500 companies that are making wellness and wellbeing a priority for their own company and colleagues.”
Road to wellbeing
Having been at Hyatt for nearly 18 months, Kyricos feels her biggest achievement has been setting the vision and clearly articulating what wellness and wellbeing means to Hyatt. “This is a debate whether you’re in the industry or a consumer as it means so many different things to different people,” she says. “We see wellness as a road, the habits and steps you take every day to care for yourself, and wellbeing as the destination. A place you’re trying to get to, but don’t often get to stay for long.”
Hyatt sees its role as helping people along the way with three landmarks of wellbeing that permeate all aspects of the hotel business, from spa, fitness and food to the company’s highest purpose – it’s raison d’etre – of caring for people. The landmarks include Feel, focused on anything which positively impacts emotional and mental wellbeing; Fuel, which is about food, hydration and the way people sleep; and Function, which homes in on fitness and physical activity, as well as how you function in every day life.
“In my opinion, we put the framework together in record time,” says Kyricos. “We probably had the first draft in three months and rolled it out within six months. It was informed by stakeholders across the world, across functions, but we didn’t just talk to ourselves, we brought in our consumer insights team and surveyed our top World of Hyatt members.” Inspiration also came from existing brands such as Exhale on the Function side and Miraval on the Feel and mindfulness side. “I’m very proud of that body of work as we tried to take a human approach that people could understand whether you’re in Arizona or Thailand.”
The strategy has had the added benefit of supporting existing programmes such as Hyatt’s Find platform, a collection of curated experiences for World of Hyatt members which has relaunched with Feel, Fuel and Function categories – growing from 100 to 200 experiences and reaching 16 million members in 55 destinations.
The biggest ‘win’ for Kyricos so far, however, has been communication – ‘selling’ the vision externally to guests and, possibly more importantly, to 830 owners, general managers and senior leaders at a summit in September. “It was eye-opening for them. As if they’ve never contemplated the true scale and potential of a commitment to wellbeing,” she says.
“We began by educating them on the US$4.2tn wellness economy and key data to bring it to life and then prompted them to look at wellbeing as an ecosystem. If we invest in our colleagues, they’re happier and healthier which will make them more productive and able to deliver on that purpose of care to our customers and guests.
“And then if you look at customers and guests, if they’re feeling the care, they’ll be more loyal, more satisfied, they’ll shift more of their share to Hyatt, which in turn will deliver the financial expectations of our owners. Ideally, more financial resources will help to socially impact the communities in which we operate, making it easier to attract and retain talent. And that whole cycle repeats again.”
Changing the culture
Key to that wellness ecosystem, and what makes Hyatt stand out, says Kyricos is the focus on employee wellbeing and this is another area which she’s been working on since joining. Once again, Hyatt is taking a broader approach and instead of just offering programmes that it hopes staff will use, it’s looking to change the culture of how employees look after themselves and each other.
“Last year we spent a good deal of investment to pilot full immersion programmes in about 20 hotels looking at how colleagues can better manage their energy, how they feel, fuel and function, in work and life,” explains Kyricos. “We learned a lot and this will fuel our plans for 2020. We’ll be working closely with our internal HR team and looking to include things like assessment tools that individuals can access to take an audit of their own wellbeing and we’ll give them the tools and resources to positively impact on certain aspects of their health.
“We’ve already taken 830 leaders through their own personal audits, at our leadership summit so they can identify what wellbeing means to them. This might sound silly to some degree, but if you’re trying to change a company’s DNA it needs to come from the top down and bottom up.”
Spas are a linchpin
With wellness now growing way beyond the four walls of spa into every aspect of a hotel, some industry experts feel hotel spas are starting to lose their way, while others are being overlooked. So how does Kyricos, whose background is firmly in the spa camp, feel about this? “This is a passion point of mine,” she says. “Even though wellness is extending to other parts of the hotel, I still very much believe that spas are a linchpin to connecting consumers with wellness and wellbeing at a hotel level.”
Around a quarter of Hyatt’s hotels have some kind of spa offering and their managers are supported by regional spa leads who work closely with Kyricos. Today, she sees her role being more of a supportive one than hands-on in daily operations. “Quite honestly, we’ve gotten very good at running spas. Now our opportunity is to elevate them across digital channels and increase awareness of all that they offer,” she says, adding that things are going well for three of its most wellness-focused brands – Miraval, one of the original US destination spas; Exhale, a movement, fitness, spa hybrid; and Alila, an Asia-based boutique chain which Hyatt acquired under the Two Roads Hospitality portfolio in late 2018.
“Miraval has opened its second property in Austin and is refining operations – I was there a couple of weeks ago and it’s doing magically well, really picking up. It’s now very focused on expanding to its third location in Lenox, Massachusetts this year. I like to remind people that there’s a reason Miraval competitors are typically single-unit operations that have been around for 30 to 40 years – because replicating that isn’t like a typical hotel pipeline.
“Exhale is continuing to grow and has just opened another location in New York City, so it now has 21 sites in its portfolio. It also offers complimentary Exhale On Demand video content at select hotels in the US.
“Alila is an incredible brand which doesn’t really need to be touched. It supports Feel, Fuel and Function out of the box and has been purpose-built with the wellbeing of people, planet and community in mind. It has incredible equity in the Asia region and we’re now looking at how we can expand it towards the west.”
Having paved a path for wellness and wellbeing, along with continually pushing Hyatt’s position on this internally and externally, Kyricos and her team, consisting of four people at present, are now focusing on initiatives across brands and regions to “help raise the tide”. The two key areas in this respect – what Kyricos refers to as the ‘big buckets’ – are developing Hyatt’s partnerships and working on its meeting products.
She says: “We’re looking at how to bring partnerships to life that are aligned with our landmarks,” she explains. “Whether that’s working with specialists around emotional and mental wellbeing, which is Feel, or others affecting Fuel and Function.”
As a case in point, Hyatt has just announced an exclusive collaboration with meditation and mindfulness app provider Headspace, which has nearly 60 million users in 190 countries. The relationship will provide mindfulness exercises, guided meditations and sleep content to the corporation’s employees, corporate customers and guests. Kyricos says they’ve also been vetting other possible tie-ups over the last 12 months – “we’ve been highly selective” – so we can expect to see more coming down the line.
At some point this year, Kyricos hints at the launch of a new meetings package for Hyatt’s corporate customers to make “meetings more well”.
So, with all of this in mind, the question is can Hyatt put a value to wellness and what it means to the business commercially? “I get asked this a lot!” says Kyricos. “In some ways we have a greater runway because wellbeing is so intrinsically tied to who we are, but we will be measuring it over time. What I can say is that we’re finding that it’s shifting share – whether you’re a guest, customer or even a colleague. As more people keep hearing about our commitment and developments, they’re typically choosing us over other companies because we stand to care for their wellbeing more than the next guy. And right now, our overall focus is our purpose of care.”