Wellness was once dismissed as being just another amenity at a hotel. You had the gym and the swimming pool if you fancied a bit of relaxation or a workout, but for many these weren’t considered essential. That’s all changing as the industry responds to calls to provide a top class, all-encompassing service that puts the emphasis on health and vitality from the minute you walk into the lobby until you check out.
It’s certainly a trend that hotels haven’t just had to notice, they’ve been forced to act on it or risk being left behind.
“People are obsessed with their well-being so much that equipment is becoming more innovative and affordable by the day,” says Gates Hospitality CEO Naim Maadad, who counts Six Senses Zighy Bay in his portfolio.
“It is taking the extra mile to invest in good health and hence owners / operators are taking the initiative to invest their capital in enhanced facilities at their premises.”
Its’s one thing to accept that trends will change, by their very nature, but it’s quite another to identify them and give people what they want.
There has been a clear focus in the hospitality industry to give people a wellness service that’s more specific and dedicated to their specific needs. There has been an evolution of wellness with a number of hotels and resorts, in the region, offering a vast range of services from mobile app-guided meditation, hikes in the sunshine to in-room colouring-in kits aimed squarely at adults.
Guests at the St Regis Dubai’s Iridium Spa are being treated to the greatest luxury of all – time – as the clocks have all been set to midnight. That’s in addition to a 24-hour fitness centre.
“New age wellness with products such as crystals is something the team at our spa have predicted will be big for 2017,” says Clive Smith, general manager of Grand Millennium Al Wahda, Abu Dhabi.
Esmerelda Van der Westhuizen, director of spa at Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara, Oman, says she has identified a need to focus on mental health to improve not only the client’s personal life but also cope with the pressures of work.
“People are becoming more aware and open to discussing the issue of mental health and the pressure we face in modern life,” she says.
“There has been a big surge in corporate wellness with companies like Google and Virgin leading the trend where they insist on their employees living a healthy lifestyle which leads to better productivity and commitment.”
App-guided meditation is the latest trend that Vanessa Alegre, health club and spa manager, Shangri-La, Dubai, has come across.
“Some find mobile app-guided meditation to be convenient while others have been going to meditation classes or participating in flotation therapy, where you spend an hour in an epsom salt bath, enclosed in a dark pod which eliminates both sound and light,” she says.
“New technology is constantly emerging, so I think we will see great advances in this field in the years ahead.”
Al Baleel Resort Salalah’s Van der Westhuizen said:“In comparison to a few years ago, when most hotels didn’t have any wellness focused options, we have found that because of the demand and the worldwide interest in living better, more meaningful lives, hotels have had to adapt.
“People want to stay fit and healthy on holiday and we have seen increasing numbers of attendees for our daily yoga sessions as well as an increase in enquiries about meditation, de-stress activities and detox programmes during guest stays.”
Smith, general manager of Grand Millennium, says no corners can be cut when it comes to providing wellness facilities to guests.
“Wellness has always been important to our guests, but as the trend for wellness and health increases, so does the appetite for it,” he says.
“We are constantly evolving our offering, which we think is extremely important when striving to keep our guests happy. In the past year alone we have added new classes at our health club that follow the latest exercise trends.
“Most recently this has included offering kizomba dance classes which have been a great success so far.”
The focus on wellness comes as little surprise to Gabriele Kurz, director of nutrition operations and projects, Jumeirah Group.
“People nowadays make generally better choices for their wellbeing. Healthy lifestyle habits in all aspects have become vital to keep pace with the demands of our times and being on top of our energy levels,” says Kurz, who as Jumeirah’s wellbeing chef is responsible for the group’s Talise Nutrition plan that promotes clean eating – with dishes aimed at weight loss, shape and skin beauty.
“Speaking about my field, food, it shows an almost instant reward once food and beverage intake is clean, pure and nourishing.
“Hotels and restaurants more and more cater for people with dietary requirements and allergies,” adds Kurz.
“What was a tiny niche before has become almost mainstream and lifestyle choice. A trend that will evolve further and hotels are responding to it.”
Food is a vital part of the wellness package at the W Dubai – Al Habtoor City, which has a designated FIT Bar serving healthy snacks and drinks.
One hotel, the Shangri-La in Dubai has even gone as far as providing a colouring-in pack for adults (see box-out) and meditative postcards, to colour-in, are left in all guest bedrooms, as Vanessa Alegre, health club and spa manager, is concerned it is merely a case of responding to clients’ needs.
“With travel taking a large toll on the body and mind, we have seen a noticeable increase in guests looking for wellness related options,” she says, adding that the demands range from guest to guest.
“We have looked to offer options to suit every guest’s need, taking notice of popular trends and activities from around the world.
“We noticed that a niche demand for vegan and organic products has also surfaced in the spa industry, which is why we have introduced vegan treatments that use 100% natural ingredients.
“In addition, we offer meditative postcards for colouring in the all guest rooms, a growing trend that is widely believed to help people unwind.”
Gates Hospitality CEO Maadad comments: “Most people in the modern lifestyle with long hours at the workplace prefer the path of holistic wellness nowadays and holidays are becoming more imperative and there is a trend of a greater number of people rewarding themselves through such an approach.”
It hasn’t been an easy transition for hotels to make, in some cases it has come with more than a few hurdles.
“In the Middle East, especially in smaller cities like Salalah, the biggest challenge is striking a balance,” says Van der Westhuizen, Al Baleel Resort Salalah.
“The majority of guests who take part in the classes are Europeans and Americans who practice at home and want to continue, on holiday, but locals are less inclined to get involved and enquire about programmes and activities because lack of education surrounding wellness and its benefits.”
With so many hotels competing with each other, for others the challenge is clear.
“With the number of wellness options a hotel can offer, the biggest challenge has probably been choosing which trends and advances suit our guests,” says Grand Millennium Al Wahda’s Smith.
It is human nature to treat change with caution, but that’s simply not an option for anyone who wants to stay at the forefront of the industry.
“Specific approaches to wellness may come or go, but overall, I believe wellness is here to stay,” says Alegre, from Shangri-La.
“Wellness is self-fulfilling in that when changes, big or small, are made to a person’s lifestyle they feel more energy, less stress and an overall improvement in well-being and they want to continue and even add to their wellness routine as a result.”
Van der Westhuizen speaks about the importance of hotels offering the right wellness package to guests.
“The trend has been hugely stimulated by social media and the idea that anyone can be well, but that is not always sustainable,” says the spa director at Al Baleed Resort Salalah.
“From a hotel side we will continue to help guests pursue their wellness journey and make it to a place where they can be encouraged and supported to eat well and exercise, both mind and body.”
That said, it’s not enough to open a shiny new facility and rest on your laurels as Smith explains, speaking from his experience at the Grand Millennium, Al Wahda, Abu Dhabi.
“Trends in their nature change so what wellness looks like in 2017 is going to be much different to 2020 for example,” he says.
“Our job is to make sure we stay current and evolve to suit our customers’ needs.”
One health club operator has urged hotels to tread carefully though and make sure they are fully aware of the responsibilities that come with providing wellness facilities.
“The hotel cannot offer solutions for the client without knowing the needs of the customer and should do this using diagnostic techniques,” says Angelo Caroli, who owns a chain of spas across the world as well as a line of amenities, and is targeting a new location in Dubai.
“Spa operators should use a series of medical tests to build the client an optimal health programme that they can follow even when they go home.
“Today all fitness centres are specialising in different services but often neglecting the most important aspect that is to use qualified operators that can bring real results.
“By this I mean you need a medical team to take care of all aspects for the customers, not just giving them a programme during their stay at the hotel but teaching the customer techniques to use for a better lifestyle. This then in turn gives the hotel a great value.”
It’s not just the wellness options for guests that hotels have had to step up.
“Wellness is also an important sector for staff so now more hotels are encouraging their teams to take part in a healthier lifestyle, offering daily yoga classes, mediation, gym memberships and group sports days,” says Van der Westhuizen, spa director at Al Baleed Resort Salalah.
The Jumeirah Group has taken steps to ensure it stays at the front of the pack, as Kurz explains: “Functional training is the evolution of the fitness industry and provides the strength, stability, power, mobility, endurance and flexibility that you need in daily life or sport.
“Talise Fitness as part of the Jumeirah Group has embraced this, all our clubs have dedicated functional training zones providing equipment and accessories that offer the most natural form of movement for maximum results.”
She then spoke about what’s trending in the wellness sector.
“It’s thoughtful design, wellness rooms, F&B menus with a dedication to pure, authentic ingredients, including lifestyle choices such as vegan menus, detox juicing and souping,” she says.
“Alternative therapies, lifestyle and nutrition coaching.”
So what does the future hold for the wellness sector?
“2017 will continue the growth journey of wellness and health in hotels and resorts,” says Maadad of Gates Hospitality.
“Owners and property developers will need to put in focused efforts to ensure that these facilities are part of the brand DNA.”
There are huge financial benefits to be made from wellness, Maadad says, suggesting that now is the time for hotels to invest.
“The facilities of wellness and health have become part of the brand DNA wherein these have become centres of driving revenue for the hotels and resorts,” he says.
The Westin Dubai has went as far as establishing six pillars of wellness. These are: Sleep Well, Eat Well, Move Well, Feel Well, Play Well and Work Well.
The aim of which is to ensure that each and every service the hotel offers is connected to these pillars.