For most travellers, the effects of globalization are clear: destinations feature the same stories and the same items that can be found at home. But, travellers want to escape reality. For a time, the idea of travelling 2,000 miles for a facial that can be found at home made the hotel spa less of a luxury — and certainly not a destination.

Thankfully, the tide has turned. On the heels of the local-food movement and in line with the rise in fitness, green beauty, wellness and self-care, a revolution is taking place in hospitality. In rooms towering high above city streets, tucked quietly away in remote mountain-range spas and rising with the sun on expansive coastal shores, wellness is staking its claim.

In order for hotels to stay on top of the wellness wave, a couple of things had to happen. The first and most obvious: give the gym a much-desired makeover. Formerly shunned to basements and out-of-the-way areas, the hotel gym has literally been elevated. Victoria Nickle, senior Spa director of Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto, thinks back to one of her first experiences at a hotel gym (an all-too familiar sight at the time) — a dreary basement with grey carpet, fluorescent lighting, a treadmill and a broken elliptical machine. It’s a glaring opposition to today. “The biggest change is that we now turn over premium space to our fitness and gym areas.” She points to the Four Seasons in Philadelphia, which has dedicated the entire 57th floor — and its spectacular views — to a state-of-the-art exercise space.

In addition to raising the gym from the depths of the basement, new versions also consider every piece of equipment. “We used to contract with single suppliers that would come in and outfit everything in the gym,” says Nickle, noting equipment is now customized with carefully considered pieces from various suppliers.

Also necessary is rethinking the spa. The Four Seasons’ solution was to introduce the Global Spa and Wellness Task Force, which forgoes a blanket-mandated experience and, instead, looks to a local spa director for insights. “Unlike other chains where you roll out a cookie-cutter guest experience — where it’s the same spa services regardless where you are in the world — the Four Seasons gives its spa-and-wellness directors the ability to customize what is right for their guest in that location,” explains Nickle. “It allows us to quickly pick up on trends and flow those up rather than determining what a trend is and pushing it down.”

The key here is looking to the local movement for inspiration that translates to the guest’s experience by giving them “a sense of place.” Though it may seem obvious for some places, such as a coastal location, others require more work. “We do a lot of historic research. Though the history of the location may not be a spa history, there will always be elements that can be incorporated into services relevant to the current day,” says Nickle.

“Wellness has exploded in conjunction with social media,” says Ian Thorley, VP of Sales & Marketing for Bellstar Hotels & Resorts and Solara Resort & Spa — a luxury condo hotel located in Canmore, Alta. “The incredible content and online communities dedicated to self-improvement has meant that anyone can make significant progress in their own personal goals much quicker than ever before, for much less.” He notes that Solara has become a destination in the Canadian Rockies for many trainers planning events or looking to host retreats.

No wonder — retreats are big business. Tammy Petersen is the founder and president of Retreats Unlimited, a firm that works with luxury hotels and influencers to drive revenue through customized retreats. Petersen has seen increased demand from consumers for experiences that leave them feeling rejuvenated and healthier than before they left home. “Wellness tourism is huge — it’s just blowing up,” she says.

And the influence of those with large, loyal online followings is great. Social media offers access to an audience that is willing and wanting to engage with both the people they follow online and the brands that sponsor them. The sense of community is real and it’s translating into real life — and Peterson is excited about it. “We’ve lost the personal touch with our guests in hotels [and] that’s what we’re trying to change. We want hoteliers to see that a personal connection is what got us to this point in the first place and changing someone’s life in a meaningful way is going to bring that guest back again and again.”

The practice of changing a guest’s life in return for loyalty is becoming a reality. Hilton’s Five Feet to Fitness concept, billed as “fitness and well-being on your terms,” is a private, in-room studio with more than 11 different fitness-equipment and accessory options on offer, including video-guided exercise tutorials and classes and trendy equipment such as a Wattbike, TRX suspension system and meditation chair. There’s also a Hydration Station in the room offering protein shakes, vitamin water and coconut water. Topical pain-reliever packets for sore muscles are also available.

Similarly, in-room wellness is available at the Four Seasons properties. Launching at the Beverly Wilshire last year, the company has introduced wellness suites. “On one floor of the hotel, every room is equipped with everything to make the guest’s stay healthy,” says Nickle. Each room is outfitted with a customized room-service menu, vitamin C-infused shower heads, purifying green filters and workout equipment that can be personalized. Guests can also meet with the spa director for a consultation to determine a program that might include a private Pilates session, nutritional counselling, deep tissue massage or other customized treatments during their stay.

Adding to the seemingly endless list of wellness options, there’s consumer awareness. Green beauty, (skin care and makeup products that are eco-aware, free of “toxins” and not tested on animals), have become the norm and can be found in rotation at most top spas.

But, some products are “greener” than others. Thorley is aware of the blossoming trend and its potential. “The proposed legalization of cannabis provides a unique opportunity. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil will be the next big thing as we see CBD topical treatments [enter] the wellness arena. Studies have shown that the cannabinoids, such as CBD, in cannabis are anti-inflammatory and anti-aging. Topical CBD has proven helpful in treatments for acne, eczema and psoriasis.”

Guests aren’t just feeling adventurous at the spa, but are getting out of their comfort zones to embark on adventure retreats, dating retreats, equine retreats and on to meditation and mindfulness. “Anything that addresses the needs that might draw them into hotels,” says Petersen. “It’s really endless.”


Written by Andrea Victory



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