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Spa Business
2021 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Role model


Role model

New wellness businesses and propositions are cropping up daily. But what models are likely to stand the test of time? Lindsay Madden Nadeau investigates

Smaller, more private wellness sites offer the benefit of fewer overheads ©Preidlhof
Cocoon is a successful lease-based retreat in Portugal set on 275 acres ©Cocoon Portugal
Cocoon is a successful lease-based retreat in Portugal set on 275 acres ©Cocoon Portugal
Cocoon host retreats for up to 24 guests and partners with farmers for produce ©Cocoon Portugal
Priedlholf’s wellness programmes are run by Patrizia Bortolin (pictured) ©Preidlhof
At Maison Ila in France, guest-led routines are favoured over set regimes ©Maison Ila
Denise and John Leicester ©Maison Ila
Ebbio is an organic Tuscan farm where guests work in the fields ©RomainRicard
Ebbio offers a ‘food as medicine’ approach using healthy farm-fresh food ©RomainRicard

Steadily over the last three years, different types of wellness businesses have been showing up all over the world. Clinics are bringing together a variety of complementary medicines to support holistic treatment plans, while larger medical organisations in America and Europe predominately focus on diagnostics. In South America there’s a movement towards plant- and nature-based medicine and in Asia the focus is on using ancient traditional therapies that have been passed down through generations to support and rebalance the body. Wellness is showing up everywhere and it certainly isn’t slowing down.

The models mentioned above aren’t unusual, in fact they’re fairly standard. However, the onset of COVID-19 has led to the arrival of newer hybrids that are becoming more bespoke and are quickly evolving as the definition of wellness develops.

If you’re in the business of spa, it’s worth taking note of the hottest models in the marketplace which are currently in the process of creation. Perhaps they’re new competitors? Or maybe they can provide inspiration for growing your own offering.

Purpose-built lease spaces
This no-strings-attached model is making its way into the retreat arena. Savvy investors are scooping up beautiful pastures of land and creating small, unique spaces specifically with retreats in mind. There’s much interest from the likes of yoga and meditation teachers around the globe who want to lease easily accessible facilities to run their programmes.
The venue can be as simple as an existing old farmhouse in the countryside, a space for organic farming or a movement or yoga shala, accompanied by 10-12 guest rooms to host up to 20 guests. There’s a strong need for this type of offering in Europe, as most practitioners have to travel across oceans to secure a special spot like this.

Cocoon, on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, is a lease-based retreat space that’s done really well. Set on 275 acres of farmland, this special nest has 10 guest rooms with bathrooms hosting up to 24 people for retreats. There’s an indoor and outdoor yoga shala and partnerships are formed with local farmers and to source produce for its plant-based menu. Plus the area hosts plenty of activities to keep retreat goers happy in their spare time.

Another shining star in the purpose-built lease space is Sutra House in Switzerland. Both this and Cocoon are booked out at least one year in advance to host retreats. It’s a no brainer!

Boutique wellness hotel
Investors are realising not everything has to be large-scale to make money, what you need is a solid model that brings longevity to its concept and doesn’t have the large overheads of larger medical wellness facilities. As a result of COVID-19, people are looking for smaller, more private locations where they can access a variety of activities and programmes with minimal other guests around.

Preidlholf, south Italy, is a great example. It has 71 hotel rooms and five penthouse suites, over 10 pools and whirlpools, medi-spa and a six-storey sauna, yoga and meditation area. Transformation programmes are led by Patrizia Bortolin, but there are also complementary therapies such as acupuncture and a deeper dive into laboratory testing with an in-house doctor. For those looking for a less diagnostic-based treatment, there’s a full-service spa offering bodywork by visiting practitioners and facials, as well as a hammam and other Mediterranean delights.

There are benefits to investing in smaller wellness hotels – costs are generally lower and there’s an opportunity to create a very bespoke model while differentiating yourself at the same time.

Intentional wellness
Intentional wellness propositions are popping up all over Europe, usually in a beautiful countryside setting in an old chateau which is set up to facilitate outdoor activities, healthy eating and mindfulness activities such as yoga or meditation. There’s no set regime or routine, however, everything you need to retreat, to get away and focus on your own wellbeing, is available.

My favourite example of this in Europe is Maison Ila, created by Denise Leicester, the founder of therapeutic aromatherapy brand Ila. It offers anything from a short break from the city, a day spa using its amazing products or a private retreat booking.

Set in the rolling hills close to Montpellier, the small five-bedroom home features a bio café full of rich nourishing local foods, a beautiful garden abundant in healing plants and herbs, a thermal spring well and a petit Ila spa. To top it off, there are endless outdoor activities, not to mention nightly yoga nidra, meditation and sound healing to help you drift off. After a weekend here you leave feeling refreshed and nourished. Leicester has a genuine passion for wellbeing and embeds this in the offer. There’s no need for diagnostics or medical testing, or limiting diets – this is a scared space harnessing the healing power of nature.

Cal Reiet a 15-room retreat in Mallorca Spain is an equally exceptional example of a purpose-built wellness model. Its flexible, soft wellness approach focuses on workshops, relaxation and restoration activities alongside natural gardens, yoga shala, gym and spa treatments.

360 wellness tourism
The shift towards wellness tourism brings a more specific model with a 360 approach – operations which not only enable guests to keep healthy during their stay, but which also have measurements in place to gauge their impact on the environment as well as the community around them.
There are only a handful of these gems that exist in Europe right now. A great example is Italy’s Ebbio, a charming organic farm located in Tuscany offering a ‘food as medicine’ approach using Mediterranean flavours delivered fresh from the farm.

Ebbio’s philosophy is sustainable living and it encourages guests to work in the fields and learn how to live a more sustainable life. Ebbio gauges its impact across nine criteria – energy, water, food, waste, carbon footprint, education, health, employment and happiness – and works with local farmers and artisans to raise the awareness of these principles.

When you stay at Ebbio you can participate in a range of activities from swimming, biking and hiking to massage and family constellations. Embedded in the story of Ebbio is a long history of artisans making it part of the programming to offer programmes and workshops that reflect their passion for art and sculpting. Visiting other local farms and sampling the olive oils and wines means visitors get to connect with the greater community that surrounds them with some amazing cooking workshops.

Wellness in hospitals
We’ve seen wellness in hospitals pop up in North America in the larger brands like Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic which incorporate complementary therapies as part of their treatment plans. After all, this is the era where medical meets wellness, offering a complementary treatment plan that uses the best of modern medicine and traditional therapies for a truly holistic approach.

We’re now beginning to see similar movements in the Middle East where hospitals are looking to dedicate not only a particular floor to wellness, but also incorporating wellness in the values of the hospital and the patient, visitor and employer experience. This steps outside the traditional hospital model while making room for a more comprehensive offer throughout the entire hospital journey.

photo: Lindsay Madden Nadeau

Lindsay Madden Nadeau owns wellness consultancy Meraki | [email protected]

Originally published in Spa Business 2021 issue 3

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