Woman relaxing in sauna at hotel

By Jenny Febbraro

In a chaotic world, the hospitality industry has become a place of respite. The purview of wellness — its range of amenities and experiences — has changed in the post-COVID era to embrace new modalities and technologies. 

Canadian hotels are responding to the wellness trend in ways that address the guest experience in terms of mind, body, and spirit in a multi-pronged approach — from using natural materials in interior design to providing holistic experiences of local culture and cuisine. 

“There is huge growth potential in the wellness industry, especially as it relates to hotels and guest experiences,” says Kim Carmichael, spa director at the award-winning Willow Stream Spa at Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim. “At Fairmont, we found this trend exploded post-COVID when everything re-opened. People had established certain wellness routines and wanted to maintain that when travelling.” 

Carmichael recalls the proverb “health is wealth” when contextualizing the wellness trend, noting that luxury has come to encompass new meanings beyond just the material. “Wellness is customized to each guest, depending on their wants and needs,” she says. “That could be providing a special pillow or maybe a guest is requesting an air purifier in their room or work out gear.” She explains that wellness isn’t necessarily about offering the exact same services to each guest, but rather responding in real time to what guests might need for their own personal wellness. 

Designed by the Vancouver-based CHIL Interior Design firm, the award-winning Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Pacific Rim received the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for 2023 and was named one of the Best Spas in the World by CN Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards. The 8,500-sq.-ft. oasis, located on the hotel’s fifth floor, caters to mind, body, and spirit with its thoughtfully designed, minimalist aesthetic. The open-concept wellness centre offers nine treatment areas, a nail spa, three lounges, a full fitness centre and spa terrace. 

Aside from the spa experience, Carmichael also notes the Fairmont Fit program as a favourite guest amenity. “We discovered that guests really appreciate ‘fitness on demand’,” she says. “This allows people to have gear delivered directly to their room, but it’s also meant expanding access to green spaces and outdoor experiences as well.” 

“Wellness means so many different things to different people,” explains Adele Rankin, managing principal at CHIL Interior Design’s Vancouver studio. “That puts hotels into an interesting position to be able to explore different offerings and designs and to see how that is received.” Rankin says this might include viewing wellness from a social-justice standpoint. “A lot of people don’t like entering their hotel room and seeing a bunch of plastic water bottles laid out,” she says. “So, we’re beginning to design hydration stations, which shows our commitment to take care of our planet, as well as our guests.” 

Rankin says the trend towards hydration stations spread throughout a hotel — its rooms and amenity spaces — allowing guests to re-fill at various points, is also gaining popularity. “For hotel suites, that might look like designing a specific type of millwork where you would house that hydration space, alongside an espresso machine or teapot,” says Rankin. 

She says that CHIL has also worked with hotels to sync the bathroom lighting with the circadian rhythms of the body to help jetlagged guests adjust better to a new time zone. “Guests adjust to a new time zone if the lighting is set to a certain mood,” she says. “By modifying the lights to work with circadian rhythms, we can help with the hangover feeling that accompanies jetlag. It’s just one part of the holistic-wellness approach.” 

It also means accommodating female travellers who may not want to work out at the hotel gym with colleagues attending the same conference. “Wellness in this case might look like a more spacious room where [guests] are able to work out or lay down a yoga mat,” she says. “Or maybe we want to ensure the space for a Peloton machine in the room for a fully customized workout.” 

Rankin also explains that furniture design becomes part of the solution for those seeking privacy. “You might have a single female traveller who wants to be in a public space like a lobby or poolside, but not feel exposed or so out in the open,” she says. CHIL exposed cocoon-like chairs that allow for guests to both be out in a public space, but also ensconced enough to do work. 

Other Canadian hotels offer an immersive experience in local culture. At Newfoundland’s boutique Fogo Island Inn, guests are offered a range of experiences that support mental, social and physical wellness. “We offer guided hikes, foraging adventures, outdoor activities and what we call ‘cultural immersions’, that allow guests to be surrounded by the rugged nature of this place,” says Alison Hendrick, manager of Marketing & Communications, Fogo Island Inn. 

With amenities such as a wood-fired rooftop sauna, a nod to the Nordic traditions kept alive here, guests experience rejuvenation and relaxation. “The traditional practice of having a sauna is not about getting clean,” she says. “It’s about purifying the mind, body and spirit.” 

Fogo Island Inn also offers guided yoga and meditation sessions, pottery and photography workshops, as well as botanical tea workshops. “We understand that wellness goes beyond the physical body. So, these sorts of activity promote creativity and mindfulness,” says Hendrick. 

The Inn has also partnered with Penguin Random House Canada to host popular “reading retreats” where books are sent to guests’ homes before arrival at the Inn. “These retreats benefit mental health by providing a peaceful escape, promoting mindfulness, and encouraging intellectual engagement.” 

Wellness is further enhanced by the rustic nature of the guestrooms, each with its own wood stove. “The comfort and crackling of the fire provide a perfect environment for unwinding,” she says. Meanwhile floor-to-ceiling windows open onto a seascape featuring passing icebergs or a horizon of deep blue water.

Interactions with the local Newfoundland community have become a trademark of the Fogo Island Inn. “When guests arrive, they receive an island orientation with a local community host,” explains Hendrick. “This host will often introduce guests to local residence, share folklore, and help people understand the Newfoundland culture.” It’s also registered as a social business under a Canadian registered charity, Shorefast, whose mandate is the well-being of Fogo Island. With some profits going back into the community itself, the relationship between the Fogo Island Inn and the island is a symbiotic one that benefits both residents and guests. 

“Wellness hinges on people feeling connected — to both nature, the community, and themselves,” she says. 


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