Discovery is predicting that three trends will dominate travel in 2018: the renaissance of northern Europe; the rise of Asian heritage projects; and an increasingly sophisticated health and wellness tourism industry.
In the final articles we highlight how Asia’s top spa resorts are reinventing the relationship between leisure and health.
The word wellness means different things to different people: it might bring to mind exercise, nutrition, work-life balance, mindfulness… but for the travel industry, it means opportunity. Lots of it.
According to the Global Wellness Institute’s 2017 Global Wellness Economy Monitor report, wellness travel is a US$563 billion (HK$4.4 trillion) global market that’s expanding at a rate of 6.8 per cent a year. That’s twice as fast as the 3.4 per cent year-on-year growth in general tourism – and wellness travel is expected to top US$800 billion (HK$6.2 trillion) by 2020.
‘The old model of travel, the one that’s been around for the past century, was always associated with travel as excess – partying, drinking, eating, staying up late and coming back feeling worse than you did when you left,’ says Beth McGroarty, director of research at the Global Wellness Institute.
‘The smartphone appeared in 2008 and, in my opinion, that completely transformed the world. It destroyed the work-life balance and stressed us all out. Life has become like a triage situation – people want to go to a place to recover, unplug, feel better and feel healthier.’
Wellness, as defined by the Global Wellness Institute, is ‘the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health’. But why now? Hongkongers have always worked long hours (a 2016 study by UBS, a bank, reported an average of 50 hours a week – the longest working week in the world), plus a culture of 24/7 stress and millennials seeking healthy experiences are some of the drivers.
This year is going to be a big one for wellness, with everything from spa safaris to DNA testing.
Studies have shown that silence can reduce stress and boost happiness, and wellness companies are catching on. There are already silent yoga and meditation retreats at Las Pirámides in Guatemala and those offered at Spirit Rock in California, and silent dinners at ‘wellness monasteries’ such as Eremito in Italy’s Umbria region.
McGroarty highlights the recently opened Therme Laa, a hotel with a dedicated silent spa, in Austria. ‘It’s a contemplative bathing and spa experience,’ says McGroarty. ‘It’s for people who are seeking to completely unplug.’
Another trend is the reimagining of the spa. Instead of a one-off, 50-minute massage – walk in, lie down, relax, walk out – more hotels and retreats have designed entire spa circuits driven by stories. One example is the NihiOka Spa Safari at Nihi Sumba Island in Indonesia, which is an all-day adventure, beginning with a sunrise hike through countryside and local villages, followed by breakfast, treatments and even a dip in the sea.
McGroarty also points to Six Senses Bhutan, opening this summer, which is the first hospitality experience imagined as a true circuit: guests take a physical and spiritual journey across five distinct lodges. There’s another upcoming project called Red Mountain Resort, set among a dramatic landscape of volcanoes and glaciers in Iceland. ‘It will be an entire experience of Icelandic myths and scenes, like rain curtains and volcano fire – it’s the idea that a wellness experience is a multi-chapter journey,’ says McGroarty.
City slickers in notoriously frenetic cities like Hong Kong are in desperate need of some R&R. Bali-based Fivelements moved into the grounds of the Hong Kong Golf & Tennis Academy in Sai Kung in 2016. The sports-orientated urban retreat aims to provide stress-melting packages that can include massages, tea ceremonies, yoga, vegetarian cuisine, meditation, tennis, golf and more.
In the US, wellness-focused hotel brand Six Senses plans to open its first urban retreat in New York in 2019, and health and wellness practitioner Lanserhof has opened the Lans Medicum Hamburg. The latter provides a comprehensive menu, which runs from high-altitude training to nutrition, cupping massages, salt-peeling baths, lymphatic drainage, reflexology and colon hydrotherapy.
Sleep is both our best friend and worst enemy. More hotels, wellness retreats and apps are shifting the focus to mental health and better sleep. In London, for example, The Corinthia Hotel promises better zzzs and a potential IQ boost.
Claiming that IQ drops between five to eight points without adequate sleep, the hotel provides a tailor-made Mindful Sleep Ritual programme – deep-tissue and scalp massages, breathing exercises, a private yogic sleep session, and ‘brain power’ meals made from vitamin-rich, good-for-your-mind ingredients.
In the past, you had to go to a spa resort or fitness bootcamp for a true wellness experience on holiday. But next-gen wellness retreats aim for an integrated approach offering plenty of wellness options, with workshops and classes often led by celebrity practitioners.
‘These are not the destination spas of old. Millennials want deeper experiences and trusted gurus; they want to try new things,’ says McGroarty. ‘There are so many holistic retreats now, whether focused on healthy eating, meditation or yoga – or even surfing and retreats blended with yoga or mindfulness, especially in Asia.’
New Como Uma Canggu, opening next month, is one example. The property pivots from Como’s ultra-luxe reputation to a more accessible, younger, sportier experience on the shores of Canggu. Guests can hit the waves with surf lessons, book a CrossFit retreat, practise yoga or Pilates, dine on healthy cuisine and sip sundowners at the Como Beach Club – plus throw in a few spa treatments for good measure.
Wellness travel often gets conflated with medical tourism, which usually revolves around serious procedures and surgeries, from transplants to cosmetic improvements, rather than pure leisure and a drive to improve mental and physical health.
The line becomes hazy when considering the emerging trend of DNA and biomarker testing, which require medical analysis. How do they work? Retreats like SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain, or companies such as San Francisco-based WellnessFX, conduct a series of tests and prescribe personalised lifestyle regimens accordingly.
McGroarty adds: ‘After analysis, specialists can provide insight into how your body works, identify red flags, design highly specific dietary advice and then give you hyper-personalised marching orders for a healthier lifestyle.’