There’s nothing new about the health-and-wellness trend; for years, the travelling public has been increasingly drawn to hotel experiences that spotlight physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, from onsite spa facilities to meditation retreats and active recreation opportunities. But since COVID, there’s been a change: after years of isolation and the looming threat of severe illness, people are feeling burnt-out and seeking ways to re-charge their batteries. Hygiene and safety are no longer the sole considerations; today, it’s about restoring joy and inner peace.

“Dopamine travel” (a term that mirrors a parallel development in fashion) is the concept of reviving the soul with beauty, specifically in locations that offer fresh, vibrant colour palettes, such as the white sands and turquoise waters of the Mediterranean; the brilliant bohemian blends of yellows, pinks and greens that might be found in a Japanese garden; or a Moroccan marketplace.

“We can safely say that wellbeing is changing the narrative in the way we’re designing hotels,” says Emlyn Brown, Global VP of Well-Being for Accor. “We’re seeing the idea of wellness super-accelerating in the post-COVID environment, and daily wellness habits are changing. We know that four out of five of our guests are making a daily attempt to improve their wellbeing.”

“Since COVID, the hospitality industry has been re-thinking and experimenting with new ideas to address these wellness concerns that everyone has gained,” says Arno Matis, owner of Vancouver-based Arno Matis Architecture. “There has been a drive towards sustainability, and part of that includes a sensitivity towards wellness, so the idea of fresh air, access to natural light, openable windows — all of the things that came out of the pandemic situation are being deployed in our newer hotels.”

Hoteliers around the world are responding to this trend of feeling good with their design and decor. Thailand’s deluxe InterContinental Khao Yai Resort, which puts a heavy emphasis on its wellness offerings, commissioned noted architect and designer Bill Bensley to convert former rail carriages into luxury suites and massage rooms where guests can book therapeutic treatments in beautiful surroundings.

Resort developer and operator, Kerzner International, is currently launching a new fitness-led hotel brand called SIRO (pronounced “sigh-ro”), designed in collaboration with professional athletes. The inaugural hotel, SIRO One Za’abeel in Dubai, is scheduled to open later this year.

Here in Canada, Landa Global Properties is working with Arno Matis Architecture, Rafii Architects and design firm Studio Munge (Vancouver’s Rosewood Hotel Georgia and JW Marriott Parq) to build a new 200-unit hotel with retail and residential space on the Richmond (B.C.) waterfront near the Olympic Oval. A Marriott Autograph Collection property, it is conceived to take advantage of its unique neighbourhood in catering to the fitness-conscious traveller.

“We are directly across from the Oval, and so health and wellness will be big topics,” says Landa CEO Kevin Cheung. “Health and wellness have become some of the fastest growing trends, and hoteliers are providing new amenities and service. We’re entering a new era in offerings.”

The traditional pool, the spa and the fitness centre, “those offerings are pretty standard,” says Cheung. “How do you take it to the next level; how do you offer additional elements?”

The Elmbridge project will dedicate lots of room for an indoor fitness space that “opens into an oasis – almost like a garden,” says Matis. Since the site is located so close to the Fraser River Trail with its network of walking and cycling trails and the Olympic Oval, which hosts an array of indoor sporting activities, “that’s also a very important part of the experience of staying at this hotel.”

Matis says that the Elmridge concept is in line with broader design trends, such as the wish for more open space, whether that means larger rooms, outdoor recreation zones or more room between fitness devices. “There’s more desire to space that equipment out more, and for being able to open up those spaces to natural ventilation,” he says. Weight training is still popular, but guests also want room for other type of exercises, such as yoga, Pilates, stretching and meditation.

“Wellness elements are becoming a larger part of the project; it’s not just an afterthought,” he says. “Workout or gym spaces are becoming more important, almost like a spa approach. These are becoming major spaces that are actually promoted as part of the hotel experience and combined with social spaces as well: bar or lounge facilities tied in with fitness-related areas.” These amenities are also attractive to local area residents, not only the travelling public.

Among other developments, Emlyn Brown say that the “classical fitness area and gym is now very different in its size space and scale.” About 65 per cent of the under-35 age group reports that they exercise daily, and they are looking for a less regimented environment with a wider variety of loose equipment rather than fixed machines.

Interactive digital video technology such as Peleton and the lululemon Studio Mirror, which many people embraced during lockdown, has created a demand for large video walls in fitness spaces. “You’re allowing people to sling the digital content to a screen,” Brown says. In 2020, Accor introduced Three Sages programming at some properties, which provides complimentary yoga, stretching, and sleep practices through the in-room entertainment system.

As for in-room design, “we really should own the sleep business; it’s what we do,” Brown declares. “There’s going to be a massive change in our understanding of sleep, and we need to understand that piece.” Accor properties are optimizing guests’ sleep with tools such as smart mattresses that allow sleepers to control the temperature on either side of the bed. Every room element, from curtains to clocks, can work together to provide a personalized sleeping environment.

“The way we’re designing our hotels is changing,” says Brown. “Instead of designing the rooms first and then adding other spaces, now it’s about everything you can do on the property.”



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