The Wellness Trend in Hospitality

By Lawrence Adams Principal, ForrestPerkins | May 14, 2017

Wellness in hospitality as a functional concept spans centuries. The history of the spa is testament to the long tradition of resorts and hotels that cater to health-seeking guests with facilities that promote physical and mental well-being. Following the Greco-Roman models of vast thermae, such as the Baths of Caracalla built in Rome in AD 212, Central Europe embraced the notion of balneology, the science of therapeutic bathing, in Kurorte, "cure towns," like Baden Baden, Germany, Carlsbad, Czech Republic, and Bath, England. Even before Caracalla was built, the Romans started developing Thermae Bath Spa in AD 43 around natural thermal springs in Britain, at a site that had Celtic origins for therapeutic bathing centuries before that.

The Grandhotel Pupp was built in 1701 in Carlsbad, Czech Republic, a Kurorte established in 1370 by Charles IV, King of Bohemia, and historically famous for the health-giving attributes of its mineral hot springs. Today, Carlsbad remains one of the most popular spa destinations in Central Europe. Currently the Pupp Royal Spa offers a variety of sophisticated treatments including Magnetotherapy, which includes the use of a high-frequency magnetic field to address various conditions, and Shock Wave Therapy, which involves the interaction of body tissue with high-intensity sound waves.

The first truly popular spa town in the United States was Saratoga Springs, New York. By 1815 Saratoga had two grand hotels, catering to visitors seeking the town's healthful mineral water and by 1821 had more than 500 hotel rooms. The Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga Springs became the largest hotel in the world in its heyday. By the mid-19th century the US had health resorts in 20 states, many with grand hotel accommodations such as The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and The Arlington in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Spas, the oldest form of resorts, continue explosive growth and popularity along with the notion of wellness in hospitality. Today's spa resort industry is big business. The 2016 annual study by the International Spa Association highlights the "all-time high revenue of 16 billion USD and an unprecedented record number of spa visits at nearly 180 million." Luxury brands, including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Aman, Oberoi, and Mandarin Oriental, have successfully integrated spas into their resorts, winning awards along the way. Hilton, Sheraton, and other upscale hotel companies are incorporating their own in-house spa brands into their properties.

The highly acclaimed architectural firm Morphosis, led by Thom Mayne, has designed an extraordinary ultra-luxury, mirrored hotel in Vals, Switzerland, located near a thermal aquifer that dates back to the Bronze Age. The hotel will be adjacent to the Peter Zumthor-designed Therme Vals, a beautifully crafted, minimalist stone-clad spa building set in an idyllic valley in the Swiss Alps. And famed architect, Tadao Ando has designed a poetic landscaped park as part of the ensemble for the 7132 complex. This collection by three Pritzker Prize-winning architects represents a renewed importance given to the expression of wellness in architecture rarely seen since the Baths of Caracalla.

Fitness centers, with their origins in Greco-Roman Gymnasia, have also existed in hotels for decades and exist mainly for relieving stress and for mitigating the negative effects of travel where guests are removed from their daily exercise routines at home and want to maintain a level of fitness and mental acuity that derives from daily or routine exercise. Wellness in hospitality today transcends spas and fitness centers, and even goes beyond more contemporary expressions of wellness such as organic menus, juice bars, and yoga classes.

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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.