It’s been a year since the world’s spa and wellness leaders last convened in Hong Kong at the annual Global Wellness Summit (GWS) to ‘join together to shape the future’ of the sector. And what a year it’s been. No one could have predicted the devastating effect of coronavirus and its impact on travel, hospitality and spas as flights the world-over were grounded, borders shut down and non-essential businesses closed. But with a number of potential vaccines in sight and the majority of facilities now up and running again (albeit at reduced capacity), there’s a chink of light and the overall message from speakers and delegates was one of hope and optimisim (see Spa Business 2020 issue 4 p83).
Given the need for social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, it was a controversial decision to still go ahead with a gathering such as GWS. Looking vibrant in yellow and wearing a face mask, GWS chair Susie Ellis took to the stage to welcome everyone and say: “We made the bold decision to stay the course because we thought the whole conversation about wellness is more important than ever.”
Held at the The Breakers resort in Florida, USA, the summit saw just over 100 delegates attend in person and, for the first time, a virtual audience consisting of 500-plus attendees watch live-streamed and on-demand sessions depending on time zones. Such was the quality and breadth of virtual sessions that those viewing online, including the Spa Business head office team, felt very much like they were still there in person. On page 85, Lisa Starr, Spa Business’ contributing editor, shares her experience as a delegate on the ground, including the extra health and safety precautions in place. “This entire event is serving as a model for gathering in this very challenging time,” said GWS executive director and CCO Nancy Davis.
The theme for this year’s summit, Resetting the World with Wellness, was inspired by a series of eight white papers which parent organisation the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) put together at the request of The Vatican. The papers suggest a new model for health, with a strong emphasis on wellness, going forward and contribute to Pope Francis’ vision for a post-COVID world.
This underpinned all sessions at the summit. Delegates on the ground, and via Zoom with host Anna Bjurstam from Six Senses, brainstormed what wellness will look like five years from now and general outlooks homed in on education, democratisation and tech as a tool to spread the message. All schools of thought will be brought together to provide a GWS ‘roadmap’ for the future.
Marc Cohen, founder of the Extreme Wellness Institute in Australia, painted a picture of a world where “wellness can be just as contagious as illness”, while Austrian consultant Franz Linser compared physical distancing measures of the pandemic to a traditional spa method of fasting (from touch) and said, “as we know from every fasting cure, life tastes a lot sweeter afterwards.”
In a passionate keynote address, 17th US surgeon general Dr Richard Carmona, who’s also the chief health innovations officer at Canyon Ranch, pictured a world embracing complementary medicines to help deal with the escalating cost of mostly preventable diseases, amounting to US$3tn a year in the US alone. “The solution is in this room,” he said. “You have the perfect anti-wellness world crying out for an antidote – you are the vaccine.”
Mia Kyricos, a wellness consultant based in the US, said COVID-19 has been a great catalyst and foresees a time when ‘love’ will be a core business strategy. Irene Forte, of Rocco Forte Hotels, gave a millennial’s perspective – “we all thought we were a little bit invincible,” she said – and spoke of how the importance of being well and building resilience is resonating with younger generations.
Marketing specialist Cathy Chon, from Hong Kong, said: “Over the last two decades we’ve developed brands and companies with a design imperative. Going forward there’s nothing we can’t build, create, grow unless we’re looking at it with a wellness imperative.” Andrew Gibson, a spa and wellness consultant based in Sweden, commended the GWS for building up a “tremendous collaborative force” across the globe and Neil Jacobs, CEO of Six Senses concurred. Jacobs said: “What we do as an industry is so relevant and clearly we’re much stronger collectively than individually. We have to come together at events like this, talk more, communicate more and brainstorm on a greater level because as a group we are a powerhouse. I’m really optimistic about the future because the demand is huge. People want to travel. What we can do post-pandemic is just huge.”
Ellis then shared her own insights on Resetting the World with Wellness. She sees a paradigm shift away from wellness and prevention towards ‘self-care’ and suggested a new model for ‘wholistic health’ with this self-care approach sitting alongside healthcare (see Diagram 1). “The medical community hasn’t always been a supporter of wellness and prevention, but they’re welcoming the idea of self-care,” she said.
“It’s a friendlier term as it’s more about people taking an active role to take better care of themselves rather than preventing something bad.” By positioning themselves in terms of self-care/healthcare she feels the spa sector has a “unique opportunity to align with the medical arena in a way that they will not only accept but whole-heartedly welcome.”
A highlight of each GWS is the revelation of industry numbers and this year GWI senior research fellows Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung, aptly, focused on mental wellness. For the first time, they’ve identified a mental wellness industry and have valued consumer spending in the sector at US$121bn (€101.6bn, £91.8bn). We explore the figures and what they mean to spa stakeholders in more depth on p90 (Spa Business 2020 issue 4). GWI has now added mental wellness as a new industry bubble to it’s Global Wellness Economy framework which it estimates to be worth US$4.5tn (€3.8tn, £3.4tn). Johnston shared that next year’s GWI research will focus on updating the economic framework, which will take the pandemic into account.
Dr Vivek Murthy, the 19th US surgeon general, also highlighted mental wellness. In a powerful interview, he spoke about the importance of addressing loneliness on a personal level, in the workplace, in communities and society. Murthy has just been tapped by president-elect Joe Biden to lead the USA’s response to COVID-19 and said that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, dementia and premature death. He sees human connection, relationships and touch as an antidote. “Few medicines are more powerful than love, compassion and kindness,” he said, “and all of us have the power to be healers because all of us have the power to be kind, compassionate and loving.” Read more about his insights on p12 (Spa Business 2020 issue 4).
Ripe for disruption
“There’s never been a better time to be an innovator,” said strategist and transformation expert John Kao. He likened ‘out of the box’ thinking to improvised jazz music vs scripted music and used his keyboard to demonstrate the difference. He foresees “a massive outpouring of wellness” as the pandemic resolves itself and said his contacts in the early-stage venture capital industry are “investing money in wellness like there’s no tomorrow”.
Indeed, the jam-packed agenda of the summit highlighted numerous trends and modalities which would be very fitting for spa stakeholders to focus in this time of disruption and innovation. Consumer media discussed ideas such as antibacterial beauty, red-light therapy to counteract screen time, death, sex, money and regenerative travel (see Spa Business 2020 issue 4 p87).
Dr Nicola Finley, an internal medicine physician at Canyon Ranch, connected her passion of dance with science and evidence. “One of the best ways I can think about cultivating wellness is through dance,” she said, detailing the many studies which show how it’s been proven to help us sociologically, emotionally, physically and spiritually. To prove her point, she got delegates up and moving by leading a Zumba session.
The future is about neo-shamanism and tapping into energy medicine said psychologist and medical anthropologist Alberto Vilioldo. The key to this underpins all healthy ways of life – eat organic, eat well, detoxify, upgrade the brain by feeding it good fats, lower your blood sugar levels etc.
Sleep coach Dr Michael Breus, who’s previously worked with Six Senses (see (Spa Business 2018 issue 2), gave some fascinating insights into determining different types of sleepers, or ‘chronotypes’, offering a more in-depth interpretation of early birds and night owls. Depending on what category you fall into, he detailed circadian rhythms and when the best time to wake up, drink coffee, exercise and go to bed is. He also placed an emphasis on staying hydrated, getting 15 minutes of sunlight daily and suggested a magnesium-loaded banana tea recipe. All things to consider for spas looking to tap into the sleep health trend.
In an equally compelling keynote, scientific journalist James Nestor, focused on the ‘art of breathing’, explaining how we’ve evolved to breathe through our mouths rather than noses which leads to a long list of ailments from chronic sinusitis to stroke and depression. Any spa looking to tap into the breathwork trend could benefit from reading his best-selling book – Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.
Next stop... Tel Aviv
In conclusion to the summit, Ellis closed the event by announcing that next year’s event will be held in Tel Aviv, Israel on 15-18 November. The original intent was for the 2020 event to be held there, but the US-based organisation brought it closer to home when global travel restrictions took hold. “We’re so excited to go to Tel Aviv,” said Ellis. “We already have months of planning behind it. People want to go there because it’s a start-up nation for technology. And there will be some great pre and post-summit trips to Jerusalem and other fabulous areas.”
In a clearly emotional end, Ellis thanked all her team members, especially Davis, for helping to bring the first hybrid GWS to fruition. “We are a small team, but mighty,” she said of her 15 co-workers. “It’s been a challenging year, as you can imagine, and every single one of these people have worked harder than ever before.”