27 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Leisure Management - Heating up

Industry insights

Heating up

Hydrothermal spa experiences are growing in popularity as new medical studies are showing their benefits. Don Genders, chair of the GWI Hydrothermal Initiative and CEO of Design for Leisure, outlines the biggest trends

Salt brick thermal rooms need halogenerators for real health benefits
Kneipp therapy walks or wading pools have long been popular in Europe, and help stimulate blood circulation
New research shows a deep drop in anxiety levels after just a one-hour floatation treatment
Even the smallest of homes can incorporate the benefits of wellness with a private sauna
Don Genders

The health and wellness benefits of hydrothermal spa experiences have been sought out for centuries; whether it’s a Roman bath, Finnish sauna or Turkish hammam, cultures have craved the cleansing, healing pleasures of heat and water. Today, medical studies back up what we already instinctively knew: these self-administered treatments can offer a host of health benefits, including improved blood circulation, improved cardiovascular health heart health, pain relief and blood pressure management.

The cleansing and healing powers of water and heat – and the unique health benefits of hot/cold contrast therapy – offer wellness benefits that are difficult to achieve any other way. The bonus for spas is that the health benefits can be self-administered so are achieved without high labor costs, but increasingly, we’re seeing consumers adopting these practices at home as well.

With the popularity of hydrothermal treatments on the rise, the Global Wellness Institute’s Hydrothermal Initiative has identified six trends for 2019, which are outlined in the following pages.

1. Salt therapy for real results
In 2019, we predict the use of salt in thermal cabins to soar, as spas start putting the health benefits of salt before the aesthetic beauty of pink Himalayan salt blocks. The popularity of designer salt rooms in spas has soared in recent years – and sexy, pink-hued salt brick walls have become ubiquitous in thermal areas of spas across the world.

However, though the backlit bricks may look pretty, the salt they are made of offers little to no health benefits. Expect thermal rooms with or without salt walls to add functional salt systems, such as halogenerators for distributing fine particles of dry salt or a nebulizer for a steam-style inhalation of salt. Both enable bathers to reap the actual benefits cleansing salt offers, including better respiratory health (studies show salt inhalation can even alleviate asthma symptoms) and benefits to the skin, including conditions such as acne, rashes and eczema. Devices, such as Klafs SaltPro X, a portable, battery-operated halogenerator, are helping to bring the benefits of salt to any thermal room or home sauna.

2. Kneipp therapy gets a reboot
Kneipp therapy, named after a 19th century Bavarian parish priest who discovered this “water cure” for healing his tuberculosis, has long been popular in Europe. Kneipp walks or wading pools are a popular introduction to the health benefits of hot and cold contrast therapy. Bathers alternate walking through hot and cold actions to stimulate blood circulation throughout the body, and because they can be self-administered (no therapist required), they are growing in popularity in both Europe and North America.

3. Getting cold gets hot
The importance of cooling down after using saunas, steam rooms or hot pools has become better understood in recent years. The evidence around the benefits of hot and cold contrast therapy is mounting, and has resulted in a greater interest in treatments, such as snow rooms, snow showers and cold plunge pools. Even the humble shower is getting a significant makeover to help bring hot/cold contrast therapy into homes.

Manufacturers, such as Dornbracht and Hansgrohe, have introduced specialist “deluge” showers and waterfalls that are specifically aimed at the spa and wellness market and are being used in both residential wellness suites and in professional builds.

4. Coed thermal bathing gains traction in the US
After many years of resistance, we are seeing the development of exciting and creative unisex wet thermal areas in spas across the US – something most Europeans have long enjoyed. Privacy issues are handled by installing small private areas in coed locker rooms, allowing the main spa areas to be designed and built as social, communal spaces.

This trend is gaining major traction in the US, where younger generations seek out social and group wellness activities and recognise that the unique wellness benefits of social spa-ing far outweigh what they get through single-sex, thermal bathing. Some shining examples include the coed facilities at the award-winning Faena Hotel, Miami Beach, and the newly built wellness area in the luxury condominium property at 111 Murray Street in New York’s TriBeCa.

5. Floatation therapy in resurgence
Floatation therapy looked to be big back in the 90s, but it never quite took off. Now, seemingly every new hydrothermal project is incorporating a floatation element – from fully enclosed pods, to the more popular open tubs that mitigate any claustrophobic element of floatation, to large-scale, multisensory pools that offer flotation, light and underwater sound therapy.

An extension of this trend is a resurgence of Watsu pools for therapist-led floatation therapy, which is gaining popularity and being sought-after by a new generation of spa-goers. One explanation? New research shows a deep drop in anxiety levels after a one-hour float. H2Oasis Float Center and Tea House in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the US is an interesting example – it combines tea, oxygen therapy and floatation pools in one location.

6. Adding hydrothermal wellness elements at home
Once the domain of the wealthy, wellness real estate is becoming more democratised, with installations of hydrothermal features in more and more private residences. And more compact designs mean it’s possible for even the smallest of homes to incorporate the benefits of wellness with a private sauna.

This trend is also being seen in multifamily living environments, where apartment and condominium developers are incorporating spa and wellness features into almost every new build. In the past, a fitness centre and maybe a pool were considered differentiators, but now, communal wellness and relaxation areas are must-have amenities. Recent GWI research backs this up: The value of real estate developments incorporating wellness elements is projected to grow from US$134bn in 2017 to US$197bn in 2022.

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2019 edition

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