Spa & Wellness to witness immense growth opportunities in the After-COVID world, says Industry experts

The hotel spa is just the first stop in the wellness journey. The global wellness hospitality industry, worth almost $4.5 trillion, is evolving to dovetail the concept of healing with everyday living. India, the citadel of traditional wisdom, is following suit

Wellness, Wellness tourism, Hotel spa

The COVID-19 crisis has ensured that we are well-versed with the need to focus on wellness. Not just a medical sort of wellness, but a holistic one, focusing on nutrition, rest, rejuvenation, and centred on everyday wellness.

Wellness, then, is a crucial segment that offers hoteliers immense opportunities to grow in the After-COVID world. The GWI (GlobalWellness Institute) projects that wellness tourism will grow at an average annual rate of 7.5% through 2022, considerably faster than the 6.4% annual growth forecasted for overall global tourism.

Once the world opens, it is likely to be obsessively focussed on wellness and safety. In some sense, wellness will move from the realm of an additional hospitality service that helps hotels earn revenues, to the centre-stage.

In hotels, wellness products are an integral part of several service verticals such as F&B menus and guestroom amenities. “Historically, hotels have looked at a spa being a line item for their revenues. Most owners first build a hotel and then build a spa. Butcnew-age hotels need to ensure that their design and brand philosophycis pivoted on making a wellness centre and spa facility first and then building the retreat around it,” says Manu Rishi Guptha, CEO, Niraamaya Retreats.

Atmantan is offering ‘Isolation Getaways’ to guests who can drive down to the wellness retreat in the Sahyadris

India’s wellness potential
Despite India’s first mover’s advantage, the country is yet to realise the potential of this segment despite being a true-blue spiritual home of modern wellness movement. Consider its ancient practices of Ayurveda, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, naturopathy, panchakarma and holistic health, therapies that travellers will seek out.

Karin van Zyl, General Manager, Amanbagh in Alwar, Rajasthan, says, “India’s ancient wellness traditions have received interest from the domestic and international markets. In the past years, we have seen a pick-up of guests wanting to discover more about these traditions. The introduction of wellness immersions with personalised spa programmes, are a result of this demand.”

The wellness industry has rapidly evolved from a highly unstructured ecosystem in the late 1990s to a more active sector today. The fear of disease in an After-COVID world will spur it further. “Every five-star hotel has a well-equipped wellness spa to tap into the growing demand.

Even business guests seek these for a quick-and-easy way to unwind,” informs Sanjay Pagi, General Manager, Mercure Goa Devaaya Retreat. Wellness has become a sensory experience; the more the senses are involved, the more memorable and beneficial the experience will be. “Resorts and spas are entering into alternate medical tourism, offering programs, which are developed and executed by professional Ayurveda and naturopathy doctors,” Pagi adds.

Alternative wellness therapies are offered to help guests reset their lives. As Shoba Menon, founder, RARE India, which consults with and markets some of the biggest resorts across India, says, “Holidays will increasingly become a means of renewing yourself, reworking your lifestyle, understanding and picking up new food and nutrition ideas. You will be addressing everyday issues.”

Niraamaya Retreats has put wellness at the fulcrum of their philosophy. “The entire industry will pivot towards the unexplored and the underappreciated world of wellness. Not only would this hold for the hospitality industry, but also for all aspects of human existence,” says Guptha.

The evolution of the wellness hospitality industry has been dynamic. From catering to nutritional needs and exercises to curating a lifestyle to follow, it can be seen in nature of the services offered. “At Dharana at Shillim we offer weight management solution for internal detox, and as a solution to serious ailments and even mental wellbeing. Our customer base consists of urban young individuals, international consumers and the business class in their forties, who are trying to foster a healthier lifestyle,” says general manager Srikant Peri.

The domestic market will shore it up

Work-related stress and polluted cities have made Indians seek out secluded wellness properties. As Nikhil Kapur, co-founder and managing director at Atmantnan Wellness Resort says, “The domestic market is our largest client base. Indians are mindful about viewing holidays as opportunities to rejuvenate, heal and come back stronger to their regular lives. We have guests who come to us more than two times in a year and this includes guests from Tier II & III cities.”

The resort in a secluded spot in the Western Ghats, near Pune, continues to field enquiries from guests who can drive down from cities such as Pune and Mumbai. Atmantan is offering what they call an ‘Isolation Getaway. "No guest who has travelled overseas in the last two weeks is unfortunately welcome at the property; we have a large team of doctors who conduct check-ups when guests’ drive-in and we have largely moved to a vegetarian diet.”

Mekosha, set on the beautiful banks of the Attingal Aaru River, offers the best traditional Ayurveda therapies in the most stunning setting. The rather modern-looking spa-hotel has what they define as “beautiful homes and not rooms, which include spa suites”.

Guests don’t have to step out to get to the spa room for the massages (unless you are taking one of those exfoliating baths or Shirodhara). The masseur comes to your room, which has an attached private spa suite, where therapies and massages are administered.

The days of ‘smelly’ Ayurveda are over. Founder Ram Wasan says, “Unlike other Ayurveda spas, we do not slot a massage at some unearthly hour. Our guests are often stressed out from vagaries of urban living and need to catch up on their sleep. We have built an ambience that blends the best of both worlds — the wisdom of ancient medicine and the comfort of a modern facility. The aim is to offer transformational vacations. While the approach is clinical, the ambience and the setting are relaxed and easy.”

The wellness segment is likely to become more important in the After-COVID era. “Detox, healthy living or lifestyle, right diet and home-cooked meals, meditation, yoga, organic goods et al will offer a boost to the luxury spa industry,” says Kush Kapoor, CEO, Roseate Hotels & Resorts.

However, according to Guptha, the Indian hospitality understands the needs to understand what makes for the “pillars of wellness. I believe that people would start looking a lot towards their wellbeing and enhancing their immunity. There are a few simple things in daily life that depend on nutrition and hotels need to understand that.”

The many facets of wellness hospitality
Wellness goes from niche to normal: Hotels worldwide are finding creative ways to implement the wellness concept into an everyday element of the guest experience, from design to operations, taking it out of the spa zone.

As far back as 2018, in Wellness: Themed v/s Wellness Hospitality, a Horwarth HTL report, Ingo Schweder, its founder and managing director cited specially furnished fitness guestrooms, concierges who focus on local jogging courses, healthy menus and cooking classes as a few of the wellness initiatives hotel companies have launched. “A lot of hotel chains are jumping onto the wellness wagon to co-brand or associate their products,” Schweder said.

You can see this in action on the ground. At Pullman & Novotel New Delhi, guests are offered a pillow menu that is inclusive of a variety of options to choose: synthetic, natural and mix natural, even leg pillow and neck pillow. Getting adequate sleep during a business trip is a challenge. The 670 rooms at the hotels have soundproof walls and windows to keep sounds from the nearby airport at bay.

Some resorts such as Dharana at Shillim offer guests an opportunity to stay connected even after they leave the property. “There is a long-term relationship between the wellness coach and guest. With technology, it is easy to video connect and have virtual sessions,” says Peri.

The emergence of immersive wellness hotels: Many hotels such by Westin (Marriott) and EVEN (IHG) position themselves as wellness-centric properties. Almost a decade ago, GWI had identified a segment that will grow rapidly. The emergence of a distinctive type of resort catering to what the GWI defines as “primary wellness tourists.” These are the travellers who seek out properties far from the chaotic cities, which are focussed on enhancing personal wellness.

Marriott International’s upper-upscale Westin brand began focusing on wellness in 2011. It incorporates amenities such as a health-focused breakfast, saline swimming pools, fitness centres, a bike-share program and electric vehicle charging stations, and has spent millions on a wellness-themed marketing campaign.

Westin Hotels have also partnered with Peloton bikes to offer in-room cycling options. The move has paid off. The brand’s revenue-per-availableroom index grew almost eight points, says Brian Povinelli, Westin’s global brand leader. Before coronavirus shut down the world, the group had planned 60 properties as wellness-centric hotels.

Amanbagh offers wellness immersions with personalised spa programmes in response to demand for
general wellbeing.

“That market-share growth is validation that what we're doing is resonating with consumers,” he said. “The development community wants to continue to build our brand, which is an endorsement that they believe what we're doing is paying off for them as well.” AccorHotels’ Mercure brand has expanded into wellness-centric hotels. Its last wellness offering in India, the Mercure Goa Devaaya Retreat offers integrated alternative medical treatment at its beautifully landscaped property. Says Pagi, “In the post- COVID-19 world, the importance of preventive healthcare will occupy more of the consumer’s mindspace. They will seek more preventive healthcare and wellness-related holidays for boosting immunity to stay safe from any kind of infections.”

Mercure Goa Devaaya retreat offers integrated alternative medical treatment at its beautifully landscaped property.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. expanded into the wellness space by acquiring the Miraval wellness resort brand in early 2017 and then the Exhale spa and fitness company. Hyatt is offering Exhale locations and programming at its hotels and will help the spa brand itself grow with more freestanding locations. The company earmarked a further $160 million to expand its existing resorts and studios and open new Miraval resorts in Austin, Texas, in February and Lenox, Mass., in summer of 2019.

Hilton Hotels’ ‘Five Feet to Fitness’ guest room concept boasts over 11 fitness equipment and
accessory options.

In 2017, Hilton Hotels launched its ‘Five Feet to Fitness’ guestroom concept, installing more than 11 different fitness equipment and accessory options in hotel rooms. Since the roll-out, the concept has been installed at 13 properties, including some of Hilton’s flagship branded hotels, six DoubleTrees, an Embassy Suites hotel, a Garden Inn and a Homewood Suites, across a range of price points. The idea is to ensure that wellness is not a concept that guests get to partake in if they are staying at a luxury property.

Group wellness travellers: Despite the growth of wellness-centric resorts, many travellers come to resorts in search of a blend of experiences: heritage, adventure and wellness. This has inspired retreats to tweak their wellness offerings to go beyond the spa. “At Amanbagh, people are looking for a sanctuary
to find balance and to spend time with family and friends. No longer is wellness about solo travellers visiting yoga retreats.

Groups visit a wellness-focused property together now. Many have a more active approach, taking part in our daily yoga sessions, while others ask for more-health centred treatments at the Aman Spa,” says van Zyl.

The property recently introduced a Traditional Medicine Immune Support Retreat, rooted in the principles of Ayurveda. Guests receive a comprehensive wellness consultation conducted by the resort’s resident Ayurveda physician, who evaluates doshas and tailors a bespoke wellness programme.

Tracing carbon footprint through food: Food is a big contributor to the feeling of wellness and here, hotels have pulled in their entire arsenal: local produce from organic farms and working with the community they are based in, to create dishes and menus that are seasonal and regional. At Amanbagh, guests can enjoy a ‘Mindful Menu’ comprising of healthy dishes using the freshest local produce from the resort’s two-acre organic vegetable garden. “Dishes include maple porridge with forest honey, stewed dates and figs for breakfast, Zafrani Jheenga and garden beetroot salad for lunch, and a pot curry with almond, pumpkin and garden greens for dinner. Our properties, Amanbagh and Amanin-Khas in Rajasthan both source their vegetables, fruit and herbs from small local farmers, which mean all dishes are nutritious but also traceable.”

Patiently Cooked Meat is among the innovative dishes served by Chef Ishwar at Radisson Blu Resort,
Cavelossim.

In some of Aman Resorts properties, the spa menu and wellness menus are available on in-room iPads should guests wish to choose a healthy dish for room service.”

At Radisson Blu Resort, Cavelossim, Executive Chef Mahesh Ishwar works with farmers and rice growers in the state to source fresh local vegetables and Goan rice. He has also introduced a healthy menu, which spawns local dishes and home-made kombucha. “We have put several local fermented foods, poee, kombucha and other such on the menu. Among them is Goda Phovu, a traditional breakfast
or tea-time recipe made with beaten rice, coconut and jaggery.

Mighty Mango is among Radisson Blu Resort’s popular seasonal dishes for which mangoes are sourced from farms around the hotel.

Slightly sweet and extremely nutritious (packed with iron and instant energy), Goan Goda Phovu is originally made of locally grown red rice which is de-husked and flattened into flat dry light flakes.”
Culinary experts at Pullman New Delhi Aerocity work with an inhouse farm of 5,000sq.ft. Guests are able to pick the vegetables of choice that are plucked in front of them, brought back to the kitchen,
and cooked and served fresh.

“Guests will be looing for an environment that allows them to eat clean, fresh and hygiene food if they are choosing to dine out with their friends or family,” says Director of Culinary , Chef Neeraj Tyagi Marriott’s AC Hotels and AccorHotels’ upscale 25Hours brand serves organic food in casual lobbies. At Roseate House, DEL—the world cuisine bistro offers diners a choice of vegan, gluten and sugarfree dishes. “Our chefs also curate personalised dishes basis availability of ingredients and guest dietary requirements,” says Kapoor.

Personalised treatments: Most likely, every treatment will be personalised  according to the need of a guest in the future. “It will be as personal as it gets, ranging from the kind of oils to be used, fragrance, music, innovative treatments including Reiki, Tai Chi and the like,” adds Kapoor.

Niraamaya Retreats are now diversifying their scope with pioneers of functional medicine – The Daivam Wellness. The therapies will address specific issues relating to diabesity (diabetes, obesity, and hypertension). “We are getting into programs that help reverse these three diseases. We are also launching our flagship immunity booster program,” says Guptha.

Connecting with healing nature at the Pool Room at Roseate House, Delhi.

The challenges

The AYUSH ministry has worked to maintain the quality and authenticity of treatments offered by hotels and spas. The Indian government has collaborated with Quality Council of India to present quality management and extended the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Wellness Centres (NABH) certification to spa and wellness centres.

And yet, challenges remain, particularly in the After-COVID world. Safety and hygiene are major concerns for the wellness hospitality industry. Kapur believes that the industry needs to improve India’s brand image. “Our travel partners in Europe frequently tell us that their lady clients don't want to travel to India because it’s highly unsafe.

Wellness destinations don't belong in the big cities but in tranquil and calm natural surroundings. No one
is working towards improving the commute to these destinations.”

The growth of wellness travel
As a world battered by coronavirus opens up, hotels will continue to adapt and stay ahead in the game. “I don’t think wellness is just about food or a luxury bathroom or a fancy restaurant,” Schweder has said. “It is simply about creating an environment in which you can relax, bond with others, create a feeling of community of sense of being and sense of self, where you can learn. It is incredibly important that we don’t only sell wellness through a fancy meal that costs a lot, but a simple meal made from vegetables grown on an organic farm— and the organic farm movement is huge.”

The state of Kerala has done well on wellness and healthcare fronts by effectively dealing with the coronavirus scare and putting in place several protocols. Hotels across the vast swathe of India—from the Raas hotels in Jodhpur to hotels across the mountains of Uttarakhand—have begun digging into their traditions to come up with unique offerings.

Nainital was once considered the centre for rest and rejuvenation in India, first discovered by the British. It is time for destinations in the Himalayas to regain wellness positioning. Other parts of India, too, have their wellness traditions such as Siddha medicine, which comes to us from the forest dwellers of Tamil Nadu, and sound therapy, which resorts such as Svatma have adapted. These traditions could be leveraged.

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