Why Wellness Must Be a Pillar of the Luxury Hospitality Experience
Blood facials. Plunge pools. Seemingly endless hikes. Every kind of massage you can think of. Hot cupping? Wellness has become a concept both too vague to be a distinctive USP itself yet vague enough that clever strategists can carve out a unique positioning without compromising their relevance.
There’s a lot of language and thinking within the wellness space that contributes to its perception as a con by many. Perhaps because much of its value isn’t tangible or because so much of it is so performative.
But wellness doesn’t have to be the stereotypical silent retreat in the middle of a jungle or the weekend escape that’s actually good fun bar the fact no one is allowed to even think about wearing shoes.
If we strip it back, wellness is ultimately about pleasure (in healthy doses rather than total surrender to human vices). Which is probably why wellness tourism is set to be worth over one trillion dollars by 2030.
It’s common knowledge the modern spa’s original springs can be traced to Ancient Greek and Roman baths (at least in Western history curriculums) as the first civilisations to see bathing’s therapeutic potential.
After disseminating this love for baths across Europe, the Western Roman Empire fell and it’ll surprise exactly no one that these watery public houses became retreats for spiritual cleansing.
In Spa, Belgium 1326, an ironmaster discovered a natural spring that quickly sprung into a health resort named eponymously for the town rather than the discoverer. And now, just under 700 years later, there’s a spa in every mediocre hotel across the world.
Escapism’s Enduring Appeal
Though they’re now framed as ‘wellness’, the three R’s have always been integral drivers for luxury escapes. The general idea being that we return from these trips still ourselves, but a better version. Well-rested, calmer, zen.
Now, the journey from ‘before’ to ‘after’ is increasingly about experiencing a life outside one’s own. Stretching the comfort zone. Trying new things that will change the ways we see the world, if only slightly.
“Dear Dad,”—“Hi from Botswana. I saw absolutely nothing. It was the perfect adventure.”
An excerpt from a letter written by journalist Brandon Presser on a four-day trek across the Kalahari; a new product by conservation-driven safari company Natural Selection.
It’s not marketed as a wellness experience (Presser calls it a ‘holistic exploration of the land’), but there’s something to be said for the soul-healing qualities of the overview effect — that is, the feelings of awe and self-transcendence experienced when confronted with striking visual stimuli.
Often exclusive to astronauts, more and more brands are going after this effect for their experiences. Taking the power of nature to new heights here on earth.
The Pastoral Ideal
In Tuscany, Italy, U/HNW travellers have taken a shine to agriturismo (the Italian word for agriculture tourism) where they can live among rolling hills, clay canyons and rustic architecture.
What was once simply a spike in adoration for farmhouses has morphed into an appreciation for the lifestyle, closely mirroring the slow shift towards more sustainable living.
Whether it’s harvesting, foraging or cultivating, weaving in experiences which bring guests spiritually closer to the earth is being adopted by brands all over the world as eco-centricity and regeneration become key criteria for wellness tourism.
Hedonism is on the rise in hospitality and travel. From caviar ‘bumps’ to unapologetic pleasure palaces, the U/HNW have a reignited attraction to misbehaving. Likely a response to a lack of control widely felt over the last few years, it’s no surprise the pleasure pursuit has reached wellness tourism.
All about embracing new (legal) rituals, Beckley Retreats offer experiences centred around the ceremonial use of psilocybin — a naturally occurring psychedelic derived from fungi — alongside holistic wellbeing modalities and meditation.
They're one in a significant handful who are fusing modern science with ancient ritual.
Rythmia in Costa Rica is a U/HNW hotspot for ayahuasca therapy. Medically licensed, the resort offers farm-to-table organic dining, evaluations from physicians, breathwork classes and more.
There are a handful of meaningless motivational quotes on the suite walls, however, so we’re deducting a couple of points.
In the less liberal U.S., ketamine is one of the more accessible psychedelics available to wellness adventurers. Sense of Self in Topanga Southern California offers a more immersive experience with the drug’s healing properties.
Spanning ten acres of groves and gardens, the retreat offers hydrotherapy, thermal spas, decompression exercises, meditation and self-connection strategies.
High Tech & High Touch
Other brands are embracing a different kind of high.
World-renowned destination health resort Chiva-Som celebrated the opening of their pioneering Middle East expansion in March 2022. Zulal Wellness Resort is a fully immersive experience blending Traditional Arabic & Islamic Medicine with the brand’s signature holistic health and well-being philosophy.
Taking away the guesswork, their itineraries range from hyper-tailored for mothers-to-be, etc. to more open, interpretive stays.
Elsewhere, brands are aligning with Rojanastien’s assessment. In Switzerland, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz — a medi-luxe wellness resort known for its thermal pools — launched a new concept in 2022 coined the NewYou Method.
With the experience custom designed to meet guests’ needs and objectives, whether it’s rehabilitation, remaining healthy or weight loss, the brand’s method centres around six lifestyle elements and fuses the resort’s medical and culinary strengths.
In New York, Aman’s newest addition is fully outfitted with hospital-quality advanced diagnostic tools, such as Brain Gauge Pro, a cognitive health screener, and Optimisation Analysis by SCANME, which evaluates the state of your musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular health, and other critical health indicators.
From a 90-minute session to a 12-week programme that can include a cryotherapy chamber and LED/Infrared Detox Pod, everything is customised using this data.
The Wellness Value-Add
Wellness (actual or empty claims) is everywhere, making offerings more often than not unoriginal and lacking the distinctiveness necessary for timeless experiences and brands.
While a one-off spa day or 48-hour ‘hack your life, hack your body, hack your mind’ retreat still holds value for a certain kind of guest, modern travellers must have wellness built into the experience.
At Matter Of Form, we talk about healthy friction frequently. The idea that a completely uninterrupted experience isn’t very memorable or unique, and without those qualities loses perceived value, in both financial and social capital.
For travel and hospitality brands, those who find the sweet spot between providing peace and comfort and simultaneously pushing the boundaries of individual comfort zones will see the greatest reward: a place in the mind.
There are a handful of ways to carve out that place. We have an overflowing back pocket of strategies which we tailor from client to client and an experience design team who bring them to life. Get in touch with one of our consultants to talk what’s next via firstname.lastname@example.org.