Andrew Gibson may be based in Dubai, but he’s on the go at least 15 days a month to check in on wellness projects across the network of luxury and upper upscale brands of AccorHotels, including Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. “One of the ironies of being a VP of Wellbeing is that traveling the way I travel with my work demands isn’t the easiest way to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle,” he admits.
Gibson, who’s been working in this field since the 1980s, also knows there are plenty of others struggling to fit healthy habits into their lives. “There’s a lot more awareness of wellness today—and more need for it,” he says. Read on for his insights.
What are your travel rituals?
I’ve refined my packing to be very efficient and organized. Even so, I prefer to check my bag so that I’m not carrying loads of stuff through the airport. Second, I’ve identified my preferred seat on a variety of aircraft configurations—typically an aisle seat in the AB section, two or three rows from the exit. I always wear my compression socks when flying and make a point to get up and walk around.
What are your tips for staying healthy on the go?
I always put my mind and my time into the place where I’m going. I do that right from the airport departure, that way I try to time my sleep and everything else so that I fit into the patterns of the destination and avoid suffering from jet lag.
I also recommend trying to maintain a healthy, regular diet as much as you possibly can and continue with your exercise routines while away from home. I do about 30 minutes every morning in my room, a mix of yoga and calisthenics, and if I get the chance to run, I run.
What’s the first thing you seek out in a new place?
The walking routes. I was recently in Las Vegas for a conference and probably 85% of the delegates were staying at the conference hotel or next door. But it’s a 25-minute walk to my hotel, and I’ve chosen that on purpose so that I get my exercise in. Besides, I enjoy the opportunity to be outside; I can meditate and think about the day and it gives me that mental break to be productive. Same in Paris—I’m there regularly for work and always choose a hotel that’s a 40-minute walk to the office.
What does it take to become a VP of Wellbeing?
I could write a book on that subject alone! I’ve been very lucky that my whole career has been focused around wellness (though earlier it was called fitness, then spa, and now wellness). I’ve had the good fortune of working for like-minded companies, from the sustainability-oriented Six Senses to Mandarin Oriental, with its supreme level of luxury. I’ve had a varied and interesting career, with a focus on innovation, quality, and service combined with a global perspective, which is now absolutely vital.
When Fairmont, and its sister brands Swissôtel and Raffles, were being organized under one umbrella, I was approached with the opportunity to help define wellness strategies for those brands. That excited and tempted me to stretch my capabilities. Then, with the AccorHotels acquisition, I was asked to take on wellness for all of AccorHotels luxury and upper upscale brands (Sofitel, SO/, Pullman, MGallery and Grand Mercure).
So I thought, what do I call myself? I came up with VP of Wellbeing because wellbeing is a state of mind that we want guests to leave our hotels with. Wellness is all the different services we provide to get them to that state of wellbeing, even including our guestroom design and food and beverage programs.
We’re working on a new wellbeing platform for the brand with a set of tools for hotels to follow to get a wellbeing designation. We’ve got about three that meet that criteria so far and have been doing fantastic programs at Fairmont Kea Lani in Hawaii, the Fairmont Grand del Mar in California, and Fairmont the Palm in Dubai.
Fairmont the Palm, for example, offers full moon yoga; two treatment rooms assigned to a skincare specialist from London; and a mix of meditation, yoga, and counseling dubbed “the state of one” that is revolutionary for a hotel and has proved extremely popular. Plus, they have an interactive studio with walls and floors that move and open-kitchen cooking classes teaching healthy super food menus to both guests and locals.
What trends are you seeing in the wellness space?
At the moment, fitness is going through a big revolution; the current form is high intensity, social, and immediate results. I think high intensity is something that will not last but fitness will. We’ll see new designs that take fitness out of the gym and encourage guests to be more active as they move throughout the hotel building.
We’ll also see a greater appreciation for the needs to relax and meditate; we’ll reach a point where the public will be willing to pay for advice and sessions in meditation, sleep, and stress relief.
With new Fairmont designs and concepts in the works, I think we’re going to have some award-winning spas. I’m especially interested in the opportunities to elevate the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club and in plans to make the spa at our hotel in Taghazout, Morocco, a true sanctuary and place to spend time with or without treatments.
Ultimately, I’m intrigued by how to get the entire AccorHotels organization thinking about wellness, a vague term that means lots of different things to lots of different people. If there’s one thing I’d like AccorHotels to tackle, it would be air quality. The World Health Organization has identified air pollution as one of the biggest threats to humankind. I’d love to say that any AccorHotels luxury and upper upscale hotel will guarantee you the best-in-class air quality for that city in the world. Wouldn’t it be great if every hotel, regardless of where you are in the world, gave you such a detox?
What’s a custom from another culture that you'd like to implement into your life?
I’ve had the good fortune of living in so many different places and cultures: I’m from England, and my wife is Swedish, yet our daughter has also grown up among Muslim, Thai Buddhist, Greek Orthodox and Chinese Confucian influences. What’s resonated with her most—and with me—is the Buddhist desire to gain credit for your next life by helping others in this life. When you starting giving to people, it’s a very rewarding feeling for yourself, too. One of the things I enjoy is spending time at universities; I’ll give a half-hour presentation and often find myself sticking around to talk about anything at all.
The other things that come to mind are the Swedish concept of gender equality—which gets closer, I think, than any other—and of lagom. It means not too much, not too little, just enough. If you apply that in your life, I suspect you’re going to be a happy person.
Let’s play spin the globe—name the one place you’ve always wanted to go.
I’ve always said to my wife, we haven’t been to Australia and New Zealand and I actually don’t want to go until I’m no longer working and can spend a year or two traveling around and stopping off wherever we want to explore. You have to have dreams!