At the10th Global Wellness Summit 2016 held in Kitzbuhel, Austria, experts share their professional ideas on the development of the wellness and spa industry, bringing forth much inspiration. By Lisa Starr
The words “spa” and “wellness” have become more synonymous in the last few years, and yet there are still distinct differences between the two. A spa is a place you can go to for relaxation, rejuvenation and appearance-related treatments; wellness is not a physical destination, but rather a concept that combines elements of the mental, spiritual and physical. At the recent 10th annual Global Wellness Summit, these and related issues were explored in the beautiful setting of the Tyrolean Alps.
The Global Wellness Summit, organized by the Global Wellness Institute, is the leading event of its kind, bringing together leaders in many fields related to wellness. There were numerous participants from the typical wellness industries including spa, hospitality, and healthcare, but also unexpected and interesting representatives from economics, neuroscience, trends, and wellness tourism, among others. Over 500 attendees from 45 countries gathered in the small town of Kitzbuhel, Austria, about an hour from Innsbruck.
The Tyrol region has over 400 wellness hotels, which aim to provide a specific experience for their guests, beyond just a room for the night. Wellness hotels have outdoor programming, nature activities, sauna & beauty treatments, and good food, as well as the expected accommodations of a 4- or 5- star hotel. The sparkling clear air, babbling brooks, and gorgeous mountain vistas entice one to hike and spend time out of doors. Besides the elaborate sauna and pools facilities in these hotels, there is an abundance of hiking, biking and golf in the summer months as well as the expected skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and related cold-weather sports in the winter months, and the region has excellent airport connections from either Innsbruck or Salzburg. Tyrol has only 8% of the population of Austria, but represents 40% of the tourism dollars to the country, and it’s easy to see why. The region is also home to some of the world’s most popular wellness destinations, including Lanserhof, Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt, and the Vivamayr clinic on Lake Wörth.
One of the most valuable tools the Global Wellness Institute provides for the spa and wellness industries is the funding of vital research, to help us define the size and scope of our market, while identifying potential areas for growth and innovation. Most notable was that the overall wellness market globally is now estimated to be worth $3.7 trillion, and has grown 10% since the numbers were last reported in 2014. The continued growth is attributed to factors including the rise in economic prosperity around the world, a continued expansion of the middle class, and the consumer realization that the responsibility for personal health starts with good personal care. In fact, the personal accountability was a factor in the updated definition of wellness that was also presented; “Wellness is an active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” The Wellness Economy is further defined as “Industries that enable consumers to incorporate wellness activities and choices in their lifestyles.”
Some of the other standout figures from the global research:
- The number of spas grew to 121,595 locations, providing jobs for 2.2 million people and $78 billion in service revenue
- Wellness Tourism is valued at $563 billion, employing 17.9 million people.
- World travelers made 691 million wellness trips in 2015, 15% growth over 2013
- Thermal spas reached $51 billion in revenues in 27,507 establishments, employing 1.4 million
The Summit itself is comprised of a welcoming cocktail party followed by three days of programming, networking lunches and dinners, a Gala Dinner, and post-dinner “Kaffee Conversations.” The presentations all took place in the KitzKongress building, which accommodated all attendees in a large room for keynote presentations, and smaller groups for a variety of breakouts.
A fascinating panel, directly related to the spa industry, explained European Spa & Wellness Traditions, beginning with the Greeks who created the first shower in approximately 500 B.C.. It was amazing to hear the different variations just from this one part of the world; thalassotherapy, Estonian smoke saunas, traditional Finnish saunas, Latvia pyrts, mud and hay baths, and Russian banyas. The Medical Director of the world-famous VivaMayr clinic, Dr. Harald Stossier, explained the history of the F.X. Mayr cure and the concept of intestinal health.
Neuroscientist Dr. Claudia Aguirre discussed her research on beauty and its effect on the brain, saying that beauty is connection, it’s community, and it can definitely change self-esteem. The topic of beauty is a popular one, and for good reason. The Beauty & Anti-aging sector of the wellness market is the largest one, valued at $999 billion, and includes spa treatments, and all of the products that spas sell to consumers. The Global Wellness Institute has added a Beauty Initiative this year, and there is a lot of interest in connecting beauty and wellness. One of the breakouts was on this very topic, and the packed room broke into groups who worked on exploring the commonalities between the two. One of the key takeaways was that wellness & spa go easily together, while beauty can be considered too “superficial,” and yet you can’t have wellness without beauty.
Relevant to many attendees was a breakout session that debated the merits of Hotel Chains vs. Family-Owned Properties, and what each could learn from the other. Representatives of family-owned brands with 1-3 units operating are more nimble and flexible, and someone from the family might even be onsite, while the large brands have greater resources and marketing aptitude. Guests can have a great experience either way, but personally I think it can be hard to beat the level of care you receive in a family-owned property.
Regardless of the business you are in, you probably need a building, and that was the topic addressed by the Wellness Architecture & Design panel. Architects from Arup and GRAFT, along with the CEO of Six Senses, Neil Jacobs, discussed the present state of wellness design. Buildings are being designed and created with sustainability tools that enable them to actually be “safe,” rather than less bad. Lars Kruckeberg of GRAFT discussed a clinic they designed in Berlin which uses lighting to create a healing environment that reacts to the patients. A company called Cradle to Cradle designs buildings that do not die; they are made entirely of components such as clay and wood which can go back into the earth at the end of their life-cycle. Jacobs shared that Six Senses has employed a Sacred Geometrist to analyze hotel sites and guides design based on the land and the energy field. Other design trends include biophilic design, walls with algae embedded in them which produces energy for the building, new drywall that absorbs VOC’s, using virtual reality to test finishes before the building is constructed, and incorporating acoustic qualities into the design.
While you might not expect an Oxford Professor of Economics to be amusing, that was indeed the case with another presenter, Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, who shared his extensive research data on the connections between wellness and happiness, and their relationship with economics. His research shows that, when it comes to the employees, the benefits of having a wellness-oriented environment and business practices are numerous, and include better recruitment, retention, and staff motivation. He noted that employees don’t just care how much they are paid, but how they are paid.
New this year at the Summit was the Shark Tank of Wellness; a contest for students to design an idea for a wellness innovation. 60 students submitted ideas, and the top 3 finalists were chosen to appear at the Summit and present their ideas to the delegation and a panel of industry judges. This year’s winner was Bangladeshi student Shahrin Ali Raivi, who designed an affordable sanitary napkin made from recycled cotton textile waste, easily accessible given the size of the Bangladeshi textile industry.
The final night’s Gala Dinner was held in the Swarovski Crystal Worlds Museum, where the glittering dress of the delegation matched the sparkling Swarovski designs on display. At the conclusion of the Summit, many of the delegates went on to organized post-Summit activities, such as visits to thermal spas or wellness hotels in Tyrol, or elected to explore the Alps on their own. I chose to spend a few days at the amazing Bio-Hotel Stanglwirt; this family-owned and operated property is like a fairy-tale wellness experience, with extensive pools and saunas, numerous restaurants, outdoor activities, tennis academy, and even a stable of native Lipizzaner horses with a riding rink adjacent to the lobby lounge! The hotel is especially oriented to families and couples, and just won the 2016 Wellness Travel Award as the best hotel in Austria.
Next year, the Global Wellness Summit will be held at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida, from October 9-11, and promises to continue the world-class education and networking opportunities that provide stimulation for the spa and wellness leaders of tomorrow.