18 Jul 2019 World leisure: news, training & property
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Spa Business
2012 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Outside the box

Summit review

Outside the box

Held at an inspirational venue, with a host of outside industry experts prompting fresh ways of thinking, the sixth annual Global Spa & Wellness Summit lived up to its theme of Innovation Through Imagination

Katie Barnes, Spa Business
The Aspen Institute was an inspiring venue
Actress Mariel Hemingway (left) spoke about spas and mental health with Susie Ellis
325 delegates made this the largest summit to date
Rummell on the ‘deadly definition’ of spas
Networking and evening entertainment took place in the mountains
Co-chairs Susie Ellis and Richard Dusseau
Set up online ‘check-ins’ and your Pinterest pages said Google’s Ted Souder
Co-chair Philippe Bourguignon
Dr Elissa Epel – an expert in telomere health
Just turned 90, Szekely gave a moving speech on her years in wellness
Susie Ellis and Spa Business’ editor Liz Terry (right)

The Aspen Institute at Aspen Meadows, Colorado is no stranger to forward-thinking leaders – Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson have all spent time there in the quest for inspiration. The venue was the perfect choice for this year’s Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) – an event that promised something different – to spur Innovation Through Imagination, enabling industry leaders to create new directions and business models.

The institute was created by businessman Walter Paepcke in 1945. Enthralled by Aspen’s natural beauty, he pictured a haven where leaders, thinkers and artists could escape from their daily responsibilities – on neutral ground – to reflect on what makes a successful society and how to tackle critical issues.

The 325 spa industry professionals and Aspen Institute fellows who attended the GSWS in June quickly discovered that the whole site has been built to inspire. Buildings are purposely set apart so delegates walk between venues to provide thinking time; playful touches such as ping pong tables, keva planks for building, bendable blue objects and customised puzzles were dotted around the site to aid creativity, while the shade of blue used for the auditorium seats was picked for its stimulating qualities and as an echo of this, the site is planted with wild flowers of the same colour.

A wide embrace
In a summit first, this year’s agenda brought together a selection of experts from outside the industry to help delegates think outside the box and to encourage discussion on our sector’s future. The impressive list of speakers included the head of retail at Google, an ex-chair of Disney Imagineering, a former Surgeon General, a Hollywood actress and the former President of Costa Rica.

To reflect this more all-encompassing approach, embracing the wider technological and medical sectors, the word wellness was added to the name of the summit.

The summit co-chairs who helped make it all happen were GSWS board members Philippe Bourguignon, vice chairman of Revolution Places and CEO of Exclusive Resorts (see sb11/3 p44); Richard Dusseau, president of Trilogy Spa Ventures; and Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder Wellness (see sb12/2 p52).

Ellis says: “This year’s summit was our best-attended, most thought-provoking and information-packed conference to date.”

Outside influences
Dr Richard Carmona, the 17th US Surgeon General and now vice chair of Canyon Ranch (see sb09/1 p66), spoke passionately about the need to tackle the growing health crisis where healthcare systems are struggling to cope with the onset of chronic illnesses – such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease – which are often preventable through lifestyle change. It’s predicted that such diseases will cost the US alone us$5.5 trillion (€4.5tn, £3.5tn) in the next few years, accounting for 20 per cent of GDP. Carmona feels spas have a key role to play in the solution. “In all of you, I see the power of possibility to transform our nation and world [through your] pursuit of optimal health and wellness via an integrated, holistic approach which emphasises the best scientifically-vetted practices of mind, body and spirit,” he said. He challenged the audience to “develop a health and wellness policy platform that will allow you to speak as one” as a first step.

In a special appearance, John Hickenlooper, the Governor of Colorado, echoed Carmona’s concerns for healthcare. His advice was that “the message [of leading a healthy lifestyle] needs to keep being rewritten and kept fresh to get the point across”.

Meanwhile, in a provocative and profound statement, Peter Rummell, chair of the Urban Land Institute and ex-chair of Disney Imagineering, warned the industry that it has a “deadly definition – that spas are only for rich, white women. If I was king of your world, I’d get rid of the word ‘spa’ because it’s ruining your reputation and brand”.

Insightful and interesting pointers on technology were presented by Ted Souder, head of industry and retail at Google. What are spa businesses doing to communicate with customers via smartphones and tablets as well as TV and the internet, he questioned, as these forms of technology are where the future lies. Incentivising clients to ‘check in’ via Facebook or foursquare; full-blown videos of facilities, treatments and products on YouTube; and allowing guests to view all treatment rooms and book their favourite plus a treatment in real-time and online are all worthy of attention, he said.

Pinterest, the online bulletin board, he added, “is a phenomenal tool that has endless potential” and he predicts the emergence of specialist sub-categories such as Spa Pinterest and Wellness Pinterest.

Actress and wellness advocate Mariel Hemingway talked openly about mental health issues and how spas can help. “I come from seven suicides, including my grandfather [writer Ernest Hemingway], uncle, cousin and sister,” she says. “That’s why I sit here and talk about lifestyle. The food you eat, thoughts you think, water you drink and moves you make are all connected to your mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing, yet lifestyle is being ignored as a solution.

“Having an understanding of holistic living is a powerful tool. I think the spa industry is doing a magnificent job of creating a sense of body, mind and spirit but you could be doing more as there’s still a perception its pampering rather than lifestyle.”

Industry insights
The third day of the summit was focused back on the industry where – once again – much-needed key data and research was released.
For the first quarter of 2012, luxury hotels in the US sold more rooms (6.75 million) than ever before, announced Jan Freitag, senior VP of operations at hospitality benchmarking firm Smith Travel Research, who also said that this could be a lead indicator for where the hotel spa industry is headed.

In addition, hotels are seeing a resurgence of corporate and high-end leisure travellers which bodes well for ancillary spend in F&B, leisure activities and spa. But the numbers aren’t there yet. Average treatment room revenue from 2009-11 sat between us$136-137 (€111-112, £87-88), compared with the peak of us$146 (€119, £93) in 2007. This value erosion may have been heavily influenced by the arrival of flash deals like those by Groupon, said Freitag. Treatment room occupancy rates were also at a low of 26 per cent in January 2011, compared with 33 per cent in January 2007 and Freitag’s advice was to “question the number of employees in your workforce and your opening hour metrics”.

On the back of PKF’s 2012 Trends in the Hotel Spa Industry report (see sb12/2 p44), the company’s vice president, Andrea Foster, plotted change in luxury hotel spa demand in the US against Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In an economic downturn, she said, spa demand could be compared to self-actualisation – higher level needs which are typically only fulfilled once the basics have been taken care of – while hotel rooms and F&B could be compared to shelter and sustenance which are more fundamental, necessary, requirements.

With recovery happening in hotel room and F&B income, she predicts spas will follow suit, saying: “After several years of decreasing revenues, hotel spas saw increases in 2011 and [operators] have anecdotally said they’re not only beating budget this year, but are reporting the best months their spas have had when compared to the same months in previous years.”

The key piece of research unveiled at the summit – Spa Management Workforce & Education: Addressing Marketing Gaps – focuses on the state of global spa management training. Conducted by SRI International and commissioned by the GSWS, the report takes stock of management training worldwide, reveals where it’s failing and suggests improvements. SRI’s senior economist, Katherine Johnston, presented findings which showed that there are 130,000-180,000 spa managers and directors in the global industry and only 4,000 students on management degree courses which vary widely and which operators don’t really feel meet their needs (see sb12/2 p38). In future, SRI suggests spa businesses and operators need to collaborate more closely with training providers and organisations to ensure courses deliver what’s needed.

* See p60 for the Spa Business investigation into global spa management training.

Healthy ways
The importance of health (and wellness), illness prevention and the role spas might play in relation to this important work was a topic that dominated many presentations and discussions over the three days.

Dr Elissa Epel, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, captured delegates’ attention with her presentation on telomeres – a field that’s galvanised medical interest since being the focus of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine. Telomeres are caps at the end of chromosomes that protect them from deteriorating and are an important marker of age-related disease risk. Exciting research suggests that telomere length is negatively impacted by unhealthy behaviours and positively impacted by healthy ones such as stress-reduction, exercise, good nutrition and meditation (see sb11/3 p90), so it’s possible to reverse aging with a healthy lifestyle. Dr Epel, along with Nobel Laureate recipient Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, has set up Telome Health to offer telomere testing on a wider scale. She says: “Telomere science is just the tip of the iceberg” and that as the connection between healthy behaviour and the measurable forestalling of disease and cellular ageing grow stronger, the implications for the spa/wellness industry are profound.

Employing health and wellness coaches could be one way for spas to encourage people to make lifestyle changes, says Meg Jordan, professor and department chair at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She spoke about how people lack the skills to make lifestyle changes themselves and educated delegates about an emerging tier of health and wellness coaches along with official bodies such as the National Consortium for Credentialing Health & Wellness Coaches (NCCHWC).

A panel of experts, led by spa, wellness and hospitality consultant Mia Kyricos (see p24), hosted an enlightening presentation on corporate/employee wellness and how spas could position themselves to offer health-focused packages – encompassing everything from massage, yoga, meditation, nutritional counselling and personal training – to generate more productive and healthy workforces. The key, however, will be for spas to deliver quantifiable measures of success with such packages. And in a separate talk, Jay Williams, president of Health Technologies Consultant, suggests spas could white label mobile apps, biometric monitoring devices and online games (see sb12/2 p80) to create systems to track, record and prove measurable results in this area.

In a moving speech, Deborah Szekely – fondly known as the godmother of the mind, body and fitness movement in the US and co-founder of destination spa Rancho La Peurta and the Golden Door – reflected on her 72 years in teaching wellness. Having just turned 90, her birthday wish is for people to join the Wellness Spring movement by signing up to www.wellnesswarrior.org. Her reasons for setting up the movement, she says, is to get people to share their thoughts, ideas and practices around wellness, with a view to bringing modern society out of its downward trend and towards total health.

Meanwhile, Jeremy McCarthy, director of global spa operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts (see sb10/3 p24), gave a thought-provoking presentation on happiness, having just published a book on the subject (see p18). He says pampering isn’t necessarily a bad thing: “I’ve heard a lot of talk about wellness and health and about the need to be more scientific and to offer evidence-based programmes using technologies. I think this is great and that we need to continue and improve on that. But there are a lot of other healing institutions that are already doing this much better than us. What we do really well, is provide healing that feels good. There’s no other healing institution that people look forward to going to, that people enjoy when they’re there and that they remember fondly afterwards the way they do with spa. As we’re focusing on wellness, we should stay close to that core strength we have – wellness that feels good.”

India for 2013
In his closing remarks, Bourguignon said: “I invited a lot of people to talk here – politicians, consultants, real estate developers – and they were all surprised to discover such a vibrant, new community. They had no idea beforehand what this industry was about. So, I think our mission for the next 12 months should not be to just market what we do, but to educate the wider business community.”

In a closing presentation, delegates heard that next year’s GSWS will take place in India and will be headed by co-chairs Andrew Gibson, group director of spas at Mandarin Oriental; and Emmanuel Burger, former CEO of the Victoria-Jungfrau Collection and founder and managing director of Berger Hospitality Management. The exact venue and dates have yet to be revealed.

Ellis, who will be a co-chair once again, concluded: “No other country encompasses ancient and modern spa and wellness like India. Its millennia-old wellness practices, like yoga and ayurveda, have made it one of the true spiritual homes of the global wellness movement. It also happens to be one of the most innovative countries on the planet, with a fast-growing, modern spa industry.”

Originally published in Spa Business 2012 issue 3

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