The Wellness Trend in Hospitality
By Lawrence Adams Principal, Lawrence Adams Architect | May 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.