Wellness Overload: What Does “Wellness” Actually Mean?

“Wellness” means something different to every traveler—and every travel partner. Start here to make sense of it all.

Wellness Overload: What Does “Wellness” Actually Mean?

A hot-stone bath at COMO Uma Paro in Bhutan.

Courtesy of COMO Hotels & Resorts

Wellness is defined broadly as “the state of being in good health.” Seems simple enough. And everyone in the travel industry seems to agree that wellness is, indeed, a trend. But every traveler has a different definition of what wellness means to them, and with so many experiences being marketed as wellness experiences, has overexposure made the word meaningless?

Embark CEO Jack Ezon says the travel industry has been careless with the term and that clients are overwhelmed. “Wellness is a huge opportunity, but we need to define it as an industry,” he says. “Suddenly, every hotel with a two-room spa is a wellness expert. Who are the real wellness players? The key to staying relevant in this space is to define your position. Are you focused on fitness, sleep, diet, or Eastern medicine?”

Defining Wellness

For some travelers, wellness might mean yoga and spin classes; for others, blood tests and brain scans; still others might define a wellness trip as one where they have time to pursue their passion. Because everyone has their own definition, travel advisors play an important role in matching partners and experiences with clients. Advisors have to get very specific with what individual travelers want. Is it a tech-free zone and a good night’s sleep? Is it medical treatments for a health issue? Is it a very specific request, such as equine therapy or a silent retreat? Or maybe it’s just organic food and a wonderful spa?

For Ignacio Maza at Signature Travel Network, there is one underlying theme: People need to calm down and reduce their anxiety. “We’re all on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” he says. “Stop the email and texting madness, take a breath, and be present. Stop looking at your phone and at where Kim Kardashian says you should have lunch. We have to go back to the wonder of travel, to letting everything go.”

Business travelers want to maintain their routines, not gain weight, get a good night’s sleep, and come home healthy. “For a corporate client, it might mean making sure they’re in the right airplane seat, that there are healthy food options, and that the gym has the right equipment,” says Karen Magee, a VP at Tzell Travel Group who is also a certified yoga instructor and an industry leader on the wellness space. “On business trips, you’re more likely to need your room audited for noise and light pollution.”

On the leisure side, travelers might seek “wellness” by having experiences that take them beyond their comfort zone, immerse them in the unfamiliar, or allow them to pursue a personal interest and explore new sides of themselves.

For Maza, that meant a specific sightseeing itinerary in Austria. “I have an obsession with art nouveau,” he says, “and I wanted to see the Otto Wagner house in Vienna. This was a personal passion of mine,” he says.

Others might pursue cooking and wine; local authors and books; walking tours and museum visits—all personalized experiences that enhance overall wellness.

Wellness Trends (and Where to Stay)

The industry has yet to define wellness in specific (and sophisticated) terms. But there are many places that do a good job with “classic wellness”—a menu with a variety of locally sourced food, a fully equipped gym, and a great spa. Many clients choose a luxury hotel to access these kinds of amenities.

Ezon says Europeans love clinical treatments, like genetic testing and laser technology for skin. Americans want their yoga and spin classes, plus weight-loss programs. Of course, top spas and hotels offer a bit of everything to reach as many people as possible.

The Lanesborough in London takes this approach. “It’s an example of an iconic hotel using wellness to reach a younger generation of travelers,” Magee says. “There is an amazing gym with classes throughout the day, and a beautiful club lounge with juices and salads. It’s a great place to have a business meeting and a refreshing change of pace from the ‘get-a-drink-at-the-bar’ late-night scene.” And you can book both an osteopath treatment to heal back pain and catch a yoga or Pilates class.

In European spas and resorts, you’ll find more cryotherapy, medicinal treatments, and in-depth nutritional evaluation options, says Magee. SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain caters to the European market, with a huge health clinic. Options range from better sleep and anti-smoking programs to genetic medicine and traditional Chinese treatments. It also offers three different menus, depending on a guest’s goals.

Ezon says Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are at the forefront of wellness trends: “The Swiss do wellness well, with healthy air and cutting-edge treatments at properties like the Dolder Grand in Zurich, the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, and the Bürgenstock Resort.” The Bürgenstock Resort overlooks Lake Lucerne and has four different hotels to choose from, including Waldhotel Spa, built specifically for health and wellness clients. All guests have access to the 100,000-square-foot Alpine Spa, with five pools, 13 treatment rooms, and a spa menu with classic massages as well as more innovative options.

The infinity pool at Bürgenstock overlooks Lake Lucerne.

The infinity pool at Bürgenstock overlooks Lake Lucerne.

Courtesy of Bürgenstock Resort

For more of the spiritual element, Maza loves the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona, for capitalizing on a sense of place in the red rock canyons and integrating that feeling into its spa, Mii Amo. Spa stays are focused on a “journey” to well-being, what the hotel calls “tuning into your unique frequency,” with Native American–inspired therapies.

One trend hailing from the United States is the Peloton spin bike, which, having sold more than 400,000 bikes worldwide, has quickly turned into a global fitness status symbol. Magee recently stayed at the renovated Oceana in Santa Monica for a 12-hour layover but was able to squeeze in a spin class thanks to the Peloton bikes. The Beaumont in London has a Peloton in its gym. And since each rider has an account, travelers can keep track of their personal records, rides, and challenges no matter where in the world they are.

Many in the industry point to the new Equinox Hotel at Hudson Yards in NYC as a wellness leader. The hotel has the largest-ever Equinox gym and offers complimentary classes to guests, and the rooms have been designed to be healthy cocoons with ideal light and temperature.

As a brand, COMO excels with food and integrated wellness menus, says Maza. “At COMO Uma Paro in Bhutan, you have three menus—a wellness menu called COMO Shambhala [which offers organic produce plus juice, broth, and alternative milk options], a Western menu, and a Bhutan menu. This is so thoughtful,” he says.

Even the scenery for a wellness experience is changing in response to trends. You used to find retreats in the desert or near water, says Magee, but now more are popping up in the woods. “In Asia, there is a huge trend with forest bathing, where they prescribe that people go out and be among the trees,” she says. “They’re taking this development to the United States—one example is Miraval launching in the Berkshires next spring.”

To help their advisors sort through endless options, Tzell launched Select Wellness, an adviser training program that focuses on the different offerings and highlights hotel properties that are doing it right.

We’ll continue to navigate the world of wellness and tips on how to help your clients find what they’re looking for.

>> Next: What Annoys You About Luxury Hotels?

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