The Five Most Important Disciplines of Today's Spa Consumer

By Jeremy McCarthy Group Director of Spa & Wellness, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group | July 15, 2018

The arrival of the smartphone is an event as meaningful to human culture, society and civilization as the advent of the printing press or the electric lightbulb. Mobile technology brings an age of disruption the likes of which most of us have never experienced in our lifetimes. And no industry is unaffected. The world will never be the same again.

Some of the disruption is, of course, exciting, as we experience an age of digital progress and innovation that opens up new platforms for communication, education, entertainment, productivity, and more. But especially in recent months, we are also seeing a backlash against new technologies: concerns about how they consume our time and attention; concerns about the advertising business models that manipulate us to buy; and concerns about the opportunity costs of what humanity may be losing as our world becomes increasingly "virtual."

I first became interested in the role that spas might play in this period of turbulence when I was studying Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. I was doing my capstone project on "The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing" and researching the psychological impact of a spa experience. I found that while spas define themselves as places that "encourage the renewal of mind, body and spirit" (ISPA ), most spas are primarily focused on the physical aspects of the experience: the facilities, treatments and products.

In the age of technology, physical rejuvenation is far less important than it once was. Unlike our grandparents' generation, we don't need a place to go to rest our bodies because our lifestyle has become far more sedentary. What we really need now is a place to go to rest our minds from the glut of information that is continually streaming from our devices and into our brains. Spas are one of the last places in modern society where we can go to spend some mentally soothing time alone, in silence, separated from technology, and experiencing the healing touch of another human being. These are the true luxuries of the digital age.

One way that we see this shift towards a prioritization of mental wellbeing is in the rising trend of "mindfulness." Meditation and other mindfulness practices are becoming more popular, often overshadowing other wellness activities, which traditionally revolved around diet and exercise. Consumers today are processing more information than ever before and everyone is trying to find new ways to calm their inundated minds. Visit any bookstore today, and you will find a whole section of books on mindfulness, meditation, coloring and other mindful hobbies. This section simply didn't exist over a decade ago.

The rise of mindfulness is not a fad, but a direct response to the rapid evolution of digital technology. The faster the pace of change in the world, the more important it is to be aware of how our inherited thought patterns may not be effective for the world around us. The ability to be more aware of our own automatic mental programs, and to potentially alter them as needed for the new world we live in, is increasingly valuable.

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Coming up in January 2019...

Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.