“The great thing about the future is that it isn’t fixed.
We have the power to create it,
and with the current rate of innovation it could be almost anything we want.”
By Samantha Foster
As mentioned in last issue, there are no facts about the future. As a wellness futurist, my role is to forecast a range of possible futures based on trends and technological advances so that you as a wellness professional can decide: what possible futures do you need to guard against? What futures do you want to create?
The starting point is to increase our awareness of the forces that are fundamentally changing society. For the spa and wellness industry, there is at least ten drivers that will directly and significantly impact on our work.
Drivers of change
A driver is a force for change. It could be a new technology that’s just becoming popular; a new scientific discovery; a change in public opinion or a political trend. It could also be a change in population patterns. While all eyes have been on the pandemic of late, drivers behind wellness industry growth over last two decades have included: aging populations, growing incidence of stress, obesity, chronic disease, and the increased economic burden of healthcare.
While those drivers are set to continue, it is technological drivers that there are revolutionizing the way we live, learn, work and play. These drivers include:
1. Time accelerating. As technology speeds up our every communication, activity and process, our expectations about what can and should be done in a given amount of time will continue to increase. Time is the new luxury. ‘More results in less time’ is the menu-planning mantra.
This creates a strange tension for wellness operators. We encourage clients to slow down and take time out in order to reduce stress and protect mental and emotional health. Meditation and mindfulness have been a top priority for spas look to add more wellness services, however it is the DIY apps that are getting most of the business. According to technology review site Techcrunch, the top 10 meditation apps have grown over 50% year on year since 2015. Last year 52 million first time users signed up, generating over $195M revenue.
Why are most people not coming to spas for this? Because they are looking for solutions that can be added quickly and easily into their everyday routines.
The Covid experience has given us a foot in this door, with more spas adding online services. To date this has been largely to support client relationships, but consider building on this momentum to create effective DIY packages and programs. Combine online consultations, education and community with products and home-use equipment to integrate long term into your client’s daily life.
Add value to spa visits by multi-tasking; performing multiple treatments at one time. Look for add-on services with proven benefit – ideally without requiring additional labour, as done with the light therapy hairnet in our future scenario.
Another solution is to look for technology that allows you to reduce the amount of time required to get results. A great example of this is EMS (electro-muscle stimulation) for body toning, providing the equivalent of a 90 min HIIT exercise session in only 20 minutes.
These solutions may help your clients, but what about you? The same time pressures will apply to everyone, including you and your team. As manpower costs rise, technologies are emerging that will help by putting much of your daily operation on autopilot, including: cleaning, procurement, maintenance, security, marketing and more.
2. Digital everything. Much of this automation will be through the emerging Internet of Things (IOT) – a network of devices including simple sensors, smartphones and wearables that talk to each other. Stanford researchers estimate that 500 billion devices will be connected by 2030, including buildings, appliances, furniture, clothing and accessories. Everything will contain sensors, connected by 5G to gather data on everything ranging from the stress levels of staff to the condition of expiring stock. Managed by AI (artificial intelligence), your spa will have the ability to maintain and resupply itself.
For us humans, virtual assistants will become the norm and a digital layer will be superimposed over much of what we do. For example, Augmented Reality (AR) is already being used in medicine to support diagnostics and surgery and is a primary tool for training. It’s also being used in retail, with 46% of major retailers planning to introduce AR or VR this year to enhance the shopping experience. Applications for wellness should follow easily.
3. Gamification. Perhaps the most visible applications of digitisation we see today are in gaming. While there has been a lot of criticism about the addictive nature of gaming leading to more sedentary lifestyles and obesity, there is also a huge opportunity to gaming for health. The Virtual Reality Institute of Health & Exercise, founded in 2017 to study the impact of virtual reality exercise on the human body, is adding legitimacy to gaming as a valid form of exercise and skill development, so we can expect virtual and augmented reality sports to become part of our wellness service offering.
Another opportunity is in the gamification of marketing and business operations. It is particularly effective for staff training, with studies showing that game-based learning improves staff engagement, enjoyment and results. A University of Colorado study found that gamified training improves self-efficacy by 20%, knowledge by 11%, procedural skills by 14% and retention by 9% compared to traditional training methods. How can you bring gaming into your spa operations?
4. Energy. I believe that Energy therapies will be the future of medicine – along with nanotechnology. While spas have long used heat energy such as infrared sauna, and sound energy with traditions such as singing bowls, we are now seeing a host of well-researched devices that use vibration, heat, sound and light of specific frequencies to stimulate a wide variety of health and beauty benefits including detoxification, rejuvenation, immune boosting, energy boosting, reduction in blood pressure and more.
Many of these devices are also suitable for the multi-treatment experiences described earlier. For example, one current spa client is planning to combine in one 45 minute treatment: IV vitamin infusions, red light therapy, brain training, PEMF (pulsed electro-magnetic frequency) therapy and inhalations for anti-aging and DNA repair.
5. Micro. Innovations at the microscopic level are also opening up new opportunities for wellbeing. Stem cells and gene therapy are successfully curing previously incurable disorders, with more than fifty gene therapy drugs in the final stages of clinical trials. Nanosensors circulating in the blood are providing early detection and better disease management, while nanobots are being used to repair damaged tissue. But what does this mean for spas?
Think next-level biometrics. Already some spas are using apps to receive biodata such as heart rate from their clients’ wearable technology. With ingestible nanosensors on the horizon, that biodata will be coming directly from their body, so the data will be a lot more accurate and trackable 24/7.
Another application will be skincare products. The nanocapsulated essential oils mentioned in the future scenario already exist. In 2019, the EU-funded Skhincaps project grafted antibodies onto the shell of essential-oil loaded nanocapsules, which when used in skincare successfully targeted and killed the P. acnes bacteria while leaving the healthy microbiome intact.
6. Brain. Over the last decade there has been unprecedented research to map and gain insight into the human brain: how we think, feel and use our senses. This is quickly leading to the ‘neurofication’ of everything, with new products and services specifically designed to improve mood, sensory abilities and cognitive function.
While spas have always used aromatherapy for this, there will be increasing demand for mind and mood services like coaching, counselling, meditation and hypnotherapy. Look to expand your retail offerings with nootropic supplements or brain-enhancing home-use equipment. While the ‘mood ring’ has been around for many years, next generation clothing will sense and display your mood by changing colours or give you a hug when you’re feeling down.
7. Materials & Design. In fact, the Hug Shirt already exists. It’s an example of haptic technology which uses physical or chemical sensors to detect a situation, and then uses the sense of touch to feedback to the user. Wearable X is a pioneer in smart clothing for wellness, making yoga wear that vibrates during workouts to guide your focus and correct your form.
But materials science goes well beyond clothing. It is the creation of new materials with new properties, benefiting every industry from building to biotech. The ‘Switch’ privacy glass used in my future scenario was created in 2008. Expect the spa of the future to combine biomimicry design with bio-inspired materials for greater efficiency, safety and sustainability. Example materials include concrete and carbon-fibre made from CO2 extracted from the atmosphere; welcome replacements for the harmful VOC-emitting building materials and furnishings that are used today.
8. Beyond sustainability. There is a high expectation for spas to be socially responsible, and many are actively working to reduce their carbon footprint and support community and environment initiatives. However, the trend is to go beyond ‘do no harm’ to proactively repair and restore the natural environment. The new CO2-extracting materials are a good example of using manufacturing technology to reverse climate change.
Given our role as Wellness leaders, we need to be confident that our sustainability efforts are genuine. One way to do this is through blockchain technology, which allows for complete transparency of information. Originally used for cryptocurrencies, applications for blockchain are rapidly expanding because it provides an unforgeable digital record. Want to be sure that your organic Fair Trade product is genuine? Blockchain can track and verify the source of every ingredient and process, so will be a key way to build trust.
9. Transport. Get ready to re-write your marketing plan. Developments in transport will completely change who your ‘target market’ can be. There’s no question that autonomous vehicles will be a reality within 10 years, as every major car manufacturer and tech company are currently competing for market leadership. Without the hassle of driving or parking, your clients will be willing to travel further as they relax or multitask on the journey. Or maybe your location can expand: with 3D printing now making custom-builds affordable, that mobile spa treatment room is a real possibility.
Let’s go further: flying cars (my childhood science-fiction fantasy) are already here. Uber Air is designing skyports and aims to start aerial ride-sharing in 2023. Elon Musk’s Hyperloop system – which uses magnetic levitation to travel underground at speeds of 760 mph – already has 16 projects in development globally to link major cities. Even crazier, Musk promises that by the end of this decade, his Starship rockets will fly you anywhere on Earth in under an hour for the price of an economy airline ticket.
The message for any spa or wellness destination: the world will truly be your oyster. However, the same is true for your competitors. Uniqueness of product and delivering outstanding results or transformational experiences will be the key to success.
10. Air space. As of July 2020, 59% of the world’s population was connected to the internet. By 2025, connection will be available to everyone on the planet, thanks to the tens of thousands of satellites now being launched by the major tech companies.
While there are downsides to this proliferation, such as the loss of privacy, it also creates true globalisation which opens up many opportunities: access to new cultures, new markets and new talent.
This is just a sampling of how these drivers may impact us. It’s only a matter of time before our spa industry becomes unrecognizable to us today. This may excite you, or it may scare you. Either way, we need to act.
The Future is coming!
Are you READY?
To thrive in this emerging world, there are five essential qualities that wellness entrepreneurs must build into their businesses: relevance, engagement, agility, a dynamic network and forward-thinking leadership.
Relevance. Are your services and products optimised for tomorrow’s world? Do you know exactly who your clients are, and how their lifestyles are evolving? Past experience is not enough. As Covid has demonstrated, circumstances can change quickly so we need a range of feedback systems in place to detect changes in attitudes and behaviour as they evolve.
You also need to consider whether your management practices are designed to attract and retain the best staff. Staffing has always been the greatest challenge for spa operators, so to be the employer-of-choice in this new world, aim to have individualised work plans that develop and reward each team member in alignment with their interests and goals. Technology will make HR administration easier by enabling personalization of employment contracts and managing flexibility in scheduling, remuneration and benefits.
Engagement. It’s not just about individual staff members: keeping abreast in a fast-changing world is a team effort. No spa owner or manager can fully embrace opportunities or mitigate threats without the engagement of their team. As operations and administration becomes more automated, concentrate your efforts on cultivating a culture of innovation.
Culture change is not easy; it requires a movement, not a mandate. It demands new behaviours, systems, rituals and rewards, and it takes time. However, the investment is worth it to have every staff member share your commitment to excellence and success.
Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. Think of an athlete. To excel, every movement is refined continually to achieve its most efficient form. Every muscle is honed through training. Joints are stretched and strengthened to maximise freedom of movement. Senses are on high alert, allowing instantaneous response to the changing environment.
The same is true in business. Efficiency is achieved through your SOPs, so every process needs to be refined to achieve optimal results for minimal time and effort. Regular training embeds knowledge and skills to become second nature. Role playing challenges staff to be able to handle new or difficult situations, and it’s important that you empower them with the authority to act in the moment rather than passing responsibility up the chain of command. Your ‘senses’ are your communication and quality control systems: all providing timely input that enable you to make the best decisions.
Dynamic network. As mentioned, future-proofing is a team sport. Beyond your internal team, you need to surround yourself with partners, suppliers, colleagues and advisors who are positive in attitude and full of energy and new ideas. What kind of relationship do you have with your suppliers? How active are you in the industry? Joining associations, attending trade shows and participating in conferences are all excellent ways to build your network. It will help you stay up to date with innovations and trends, and connect you to opportunities.
The last piece in the puzzle is You. When you accept that the future isn’t fixed, and that it’s up to you to create it, the need for strategic planning becomes obvious. But how clear are you on your personal and business goals? Are you truly designing a business that delivers what you really want? Or are you following standard market practice? Most entrepreneurs are looking for at least one of three things: time freedom, financial freedom or joy. Most statistics show that less than 30% succeed.
This is where futures thinking can give you an advantage. A 2018 report published by Aarhus School of Business and Deloitte showed that future-prepared firms outperformed average firms with 33% higher profitability and 200% higher growth. Additionally, they enjoyed a more engaged company culture, enhanced creativity and a more resilient business.
Think like an immigrant
If all this talk of change has made you uncomfortable, Marina Gorbis, Executive Director at The Institute for the Future in California has a tip: think like an immigrant.
She explains, “When you go into a new land you have to be open-minded. You have to learn a new language; a new way of doing things; you have to observe. That’s what the future is like…It may seem foreign. But if you practice that immigrant mindset and be open to new possibilities, then you become more native in that foreign land.”
My challenge to wellness entrepreneurs: use ‘future thinking’ as a space to rethink what’s possible so that you’re not blind-sided by unexpected events, like the next pandemic. Let’s give ourselves the freedom to invent new ways of doing things; to take control of our business, and to create an industry that genuinely leads the pursuit of personal wellbeing.