All You Need to Know About Spa and Wellness Travel

The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, offers the brand’s signature Heavenly Spa.
(Photo by Mark Knight)

Wellness tourism is a rapidly growing travel niche for which spending is expected to hit $680 billion this year, according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) — and it’s expanding 50 percent faster than the overall tourism industry. Wellness trips can be lucrative for travel agents, as these travelers spend 130 percent more than the average vacationer, says GWI. 

Better than two out of five respondents in MMGY Global’s 2016 Portrait of American Travelers consider a “destination spa that offers complete spa / wellness programs” to be a desirable vacation feature. And while only 5 percent cite a spa visit as a “primary purpose of at least one vacation,” it’s worth noting that for Millennials that figure is nearly double (9 percent). 

Likewise Spafinder Wellness 365’s most recent State of Wellness Travel Report (2015) indicates that wellness elements at properties, from healthy food to fitness classes to spiritual healing, rank as more important for Generations X and Y than for Boomers. That same report also noted that an overwhelming majority of travel advisors expect wellness travel to grow, with most noting that consumers have become increasingly aware of wellness travel.

Of the 10 top trends cited in Spafinder’s 2016 global forecast, three are potential hooks for selling clients on a wellness vacation: Temazcals, Spa & Wellness for Kids, and Healthy Cruising — all of which we touch on later. 

Virtuoso’s Wellness Network

Last summer, Virtuoso brought together its top advisors and select preferred partners to create a wellness travel community. This new platform serves to unite travel advisors who serve a health-conscious clientele with hand-picked suppliers, including hotels, cruise lines, tourism boards and tour operators for networking, education and marketing. 

“Simply defined, wellness travel encompasses physical, mental and social well being, as well as spiritual health,” says Albert Herrera, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of global product partnerships. “There’s no doubt that this trend will only continue to flourish. Through our Virtuoso Wellness community, we can connect like-minded individuals and develop a true community that, through regular interactions and peer-to-peer collaboration, can share knowledge, develop expertise, and ultimately work together to better serve consumers seeking healthy travel experiences.”

Mandarin, Green Spa Team Up

In another alliance of note, Mandarin Oriental Group has partnered with the Green Spa Network (GSN) to create a Group Sustainability Assessment, which will adapt the Sustainability Assessment Tool (SAT) for use in global, multi-property hotel brands. The Green Spa Network, a non-profit dedicated to bringing sustainability to the forefront of the spa and wellness industries, created the SAT as a resource to allow individual member spas to evaluate and better organize their most effective green efforts.

“Mandarin Oriental is the first global hotel brand to enlist all of its properties into the Green Spa Network, and the first brand to implement the Group Sustainability Assessment,” says Jeremy McCarthy, Mandarin Oriental’s group director of spa. 

“The insights that will be revealed will help us to fulfill our goal to act responsibly for a sustainable future and bring a special focus to the contribution from our Spa division to Mandarin Oriental’s own goals for sustainability and corporate responsibility. We are delighted to embrace this initiative, to ensure that our Group’s spas are advancing sustainability in our industry and in our communities.”

Once developed, the Group Sustainability Assessment will be made available to other hotel brands within the industry, as Mandarin Oriental will continue to work with GSN to encourage a greater awareness of sustainability within the industry and promote the adoption of the assessment by other group brands within the GSN.

Mexico’s Temazcal Trend

Indigenous practices and ancient rituals have long been part of authentic Mexico tourism. But they’ve taken on a trendier status, now that wellness is on everyone’s mind. It helped that the ancient Mayan practice of temazcal took the number-three spot on Spafinder’s trends report.

The ritual incorporates heat, steam, aromatics, chants and prayers under the auspices of a shaman. It’s a spa menu fixture throughout the Mayan Yucatan. Spafinder gave temazcal kudos to the Riviera Maya resorts of El Dorado Royale, Rosewood Mayakoba and The Viceroy, but there are others worthy of consideration, particularly in Los Cabos where this particular regimen is nothing new at Solmar Hotels & Resorts’ Spa Collection: Playa Grande Spa, Grand Solmar Sea Spa and Solmar Spa Cabanas. Solmar’s Temazcal Ceremony & Pre-Hispanic Bath includes a two-hour steam lodge treatment.

A private temazcal session is also a highlight of the new Wellness Retreat Package at Mexico Grand Hotels’ Hacienda Encantada Los Cabos Resort and also part of the treatment menu at JW Marriott Los Cabos Resort & Spa

Down along Mexico’s Pacific coast, Imanta Resorts Punta de Mita’s year-old Jungle Spa, constructed of palm leaves, wood and quarry stone, has a temazcal sweat lodge that is overseen by a third-generation practitioner. Back in Riviera Maya, The Muluk Spa at the new Hotel Xcaret, opening in December, will offer 50-minute temazcal sessions, as well as a Flotarium and 18 treatment caves carved out of natural rock.

JW Marriott in Cabo is one of many Mexico hotels that offer a temazcal (sweat lodge) experience.

London Calling

Catering to a global clientele, London’s luxury hotels have upped their spa game in recent years to compete with the best around the world. The newest, the five-star Regency-style The Lanesborough Club & Spa opened in March on the corner of Hyde Park. The swanky, new 18,000-square-foot spa and fitness club has been in the works for nearly five years. Massage is by Beata Aleksandrowicz, creator of Pure Massage; facials are by the founder of “The Method,” Anastasia Achilleos, primarily known for her use of craniosacral massage; fitness training and nutrition guidance is by Notting Hill-based Bodyism, whose founder James Duigan counts Elle Macpherson amongst his clients. The Lanesborough is his first hotel partnership, and his team consists of five personal trainers, each with a different expertise, from yoga to boxing. A Spa Butler is on hand to assist after workouts with towels, concierge services, or even just words of encouragement.

Keeping pace with the Lanesborough is The Aman Spa at The Connaught, in Mayfair. The only Aman spa outside of an Aman Resort, this outpost embodies the best of their properties all over the world. There are four signature treatments, each using traditional rituals of renewal from four destinations. Inspired by India is a chakra balancing treatment; from Thailand, the spa offers massage and herbal compresses to ease muscular tension; influenced by China is a restorative meridian treatment used to revitalize the body’s Qi; and from North America there is the purifying sage and cedar wood smudging and grounding hot river stone massage.

Firmly established as one of the slickest and most extensive spas in London is ESPA Life at Corinthia London. The 35,000-square-foot spa is set over four floors and includes a full Thermal Floor (black-mosaic steam room, silver-steel pool, vitality pool with massage jets and massive glass-box sauna), 17 treatment rooms, full gym with Technogym’s most advanced range, Artis, and a hair and nail salon. Beyond the physical facilities, the ESPA Life is known for innovation, which is exemplified by their latest offering, “Brain Power Packages,” under the guidance of Dr. Tara Swart, a trained doctor, psychiatrist, leadership coach and author, who is in the midst of a year-long post at the Corinthia as “neuroscientist in residence.” 

Around the Globe

Claiming the title of the “City of Spas” since the 1930s, Budapest’s wellness culture has a history spanning many hundreds of years, reaching as far back as the Roman era. Making its contribution to this field is The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest, which opened in March. The hotel’s spa offers a variety of amenities, including a steam room, sauna and a glass-enclosed pool as well as a 24-hour fitness center. All treatments provide a personal, bespoke experience to the visitors, and two of them — Serenity on the Danube and The Royal Palace Ritual — were exclusively created by ESPA for the Hungarian edition of the luxury chain.

A highlight at the new The Oberoi, Marrakech is the destination spa, sprawling across a private island on a lake within a citrus orchard. Covering 21,530 square feet, facilities include hammams, swimming pools, a fitness center and treatment rooms where guests can choose between Ayurvedic and Moroccan-inspired treatments or Balinese, Western and Oberoi signature rituals. In addition, yoga classes are held in the gardens.

More than 153 years after opening, Sri Lanka’s Galle Face Hotel will soon unveil the new, 12,000-square-foot, Spa L’Occitane En Provence. It will offer guests eight therapy rooms, including couples and Ayurveda rooms, as well as a nail spa, indoor and outdoor areas, steam rooms, dry saunas and Jacuzzis. Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the spa’s outdoor area will have a spa menu with healthy snacks and cocktails.

Back in the Western Hemisphere, Travel Agent had the opportunity to visit The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal in Guanacaste during a recent visit to Costa Rica. The resort’s Heavenly Spa has six treatment rooms, including couples and hydrotherapy rooms, saunas, hot and cold whirlpools and a relaxation room. The signature treatment is the Shells Massage, a fusion of organic coconut oil and hot shells for a relaxing and revitalizing experience. The spa also offers couples massages, and bridal party buyouts (maximum of 12 people).

Domestic Bliss

Your clients don’t have to leave the U.S. to keep up with their wellness regimens. Here are some recent spa developments on the domestic front.

Guests at Brooklyn, NY’s new, 29-suite 1 Hotels Brooklyn Bridge, which debuted in February, can take advantage of the nine-treatment room Bamford Spa, a Field House fitness center, and a yoga and barre studio operated by POE Yoga.

The Confidante Miami Beach, an oceanfront hotel that is part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, has just launched a monthly Spa Nights experience. Guests and locals alike are invited to the open-air rooftop Spa at The Confidante after hours to enjoy a more upbeat list of music, a complimentary glass of champagne and special pricing on the spa menu. Hosted on the last Friday of the month from 7 to 10 p.m., Spa Nights replaces the traditional mellow music with a more upbeat vibe, prepping guests for a night out in Miami. Included is a complimentary glass of Prosecco and a 15 percent discount on the full menu of massages, facials, body wraps and mini treatments. 

For expanding families and moms-to-be, The Ritz-Carlton Denver recently added a “babymoon” overnight package and a collection of pre-natal spa treatments. Babymoon Bliss Escape includes a $150 spa credit to use toward Mommy-To-Be experience or any treatment(s), and bottle of sparkling cider and “craving” snack upon arrival. Mommy-To-Be Spa packages, priced at $230, $320 and $355 for first, second or third trimester, respectively, include facial, pedicure and manicure, plus rubber ducky and baby bib of choice. Second and third trimester guests also get a Naturally Nurtured Massage. A full spa cuisine menu is also available.

The Lanesborough Club & Spa in London includes an elegant 18,000-square-foot wellness facility.

W Las Vegas has lunched its AWAY Spa — the latest spa concept from W Hotels — which uses bright pink lighting and accent walls, plus “energizing” ambient music for an “instant sensory stimulation.”  The 10 treatment rooms use green accents paired with adjustable LED lighting (guests choose between sensual green or soothing white); each room also offers two music playlists: one designed to energize and one to relax.  

Las VegasHigh Roller Observation Wheel at the LINQ Promenade now offers onboard yoga seven days a week. The experience includes a one-hour yoga session, which is two rotations on the wheel. Each cabin can hold the instructor from Silent Savasana and up to six guests, who will be guided through the experience by wearing a headset to hear the instructor and music.  

The new spa menu at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay offers guests a new way to take in the sights and sounds of the Northern California coast. The seasonal spa experiences will take cues from the resort’s natural surroundings, mirroring the property’s emphasis on embracing the elements of the coast. There may only be a single treatment on the menu at a given time, or up to three. From full-body treatments using local farm (and winery) ingredients to facials with top-of-the-line products, the one-of-a-kind experiences offer guests a new way to indulge. 

On the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, the latest in the Wanderlust festival series will bring together a group of yoga and meditation instructors, musical performers, speakers, artists and chefs for a transformational retreat at Turtle Bay Resort, March 1-4, 2018. Tickets go on sale September 26. Participants choose their own adventure with multi-level yoga and meditation sessions, a variety of organic foods, music, lectures, workshops and boundary-pushing outdoor activities. “Soulscape” yoga sessions are accompanied by Wanderlust DJs’ exclusive playlists; the Oahu event’s classes will be devoted to the music of Moby and Coldplay. Live music on Friday, March 2, will include Capitol and ATO Records’ R&B singer Allen Stone and two-time Grammy-winning guitarist Eric Krasno.

Wellness at Sea

Spas have long been a fixture on cruise ships. Today, some lines, particularly those offering expedition-style sailings, take it a step further. Here are a couple of examples.

Silversea’s Silver Discoverer has complimentary wellness-themed programming on a quartet of expedition voyages to Micronesia, Melanesia and Australia, including departures on October 4, 18 and 25, and November 9. A comprehensive and complimentary program includes stretching, yoga and Pilates classes, daily lectures and cooking demonstrations, gym sessions led by personal trainers using Technogym fitness equipment, and choice of one complimentary spa massage treatment.

Star Clippers is offering complimentary yoga, meditation and fitness classes on back-to-back Royal Clipper round-trip cruises from Barbados. Back by popular demand, yoga instructor Catherine Derrow will offer gentle, hatha-style daily yoga on the December 9 sailing. Paige Welborn — a Buti Yoga Master Trainer, and counselor in the Compassionate Integration Method of meditation — brings her holistic approach onboard for the December 16 departure. Yoga Alliance’s Shannon Aleska holds court on Star Flyer’s October 31 Malaga-Las Palmas cruise.

For a look at the latest spa developments at sea, visit luxurytraveladvisor.com/cruises/spa-tastic-voyages.

Catering to Kids

While Spafinder’s number six top trend, “Serious Spa & Wellness for Kids,” is more about parents instilling healthy habits in their children at an early age, an increasing number of resorts are offering carefully curated wellness programs for teens and younger children. The exposure to spa life could encourage them to return as adults to enroll in more serious health and fitness regimens. Note:  As a rule, minors must be accompanied by an adult during most spa treatments.

JW Marriott Cancun’s spa menu includes mom-and-daughter mani-pedis and hair styling.

Designed exclusively for kids and teens, Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit’s Puerto Vallarta Kids Spa (for ages 4 to 15) offers relaxing and hydrating massages and beauty services. Kids massages have names like Easter Bunny, Tarzan and Jane, Princess, Flower Shower and Snowflakes. Older children can get body wraps and facials at the Spa for Teens. 

The Kids Menus at the JW Marriott Cancun’s Mayan-inspired spa focuses primarily on skin care education, teaching teens about their skin type and how to care for it. Treatment includes standard cleansing and light exfoliation. Older teens (ages 15-17) can also get massages. Services for younger children include “Mayan Princess for A Day” in which mother and daughter get a pedicure and manicure, followed by a hair-styling session, glitter make-up, lip-gloss and sunscreen. 

Ginger Lily by Red Lane Spa at Beaches resorts offers teen and tween ladies a variety of fruit-themed hydrations, scrubs, facials, manicures and pedicures. The “Dads and Dudes” menu includes customizable Agave Oil Sports Massage and Citrus-Grass Foot Treatment. Itty Bitty Ginger Lily and Lil’ Prince provide interactive and customized spa experience for five-to-eight-year-olds.

Spa Grande at Maui’s Grand Wailea – A Waldorf Astoria Hotel offers Keiki (ages 6-12) and Teen (13-17) therapies, such as Chocolate Tsunami, a 25-minute chocolate massage, plus manicure and pedicure for the younger set, and, for teenagers, the 90-minute Kokolek, which includes a chocolate polish, chocolate massage and a facial. 

Six Senses Set to Grow Its Resort Portfolio

Luxury hotel and spa brand Six Senses is planning to expand its portfolio over the next few years while also ramping up its integrated wellness offerings across all properties, Travel Agent learned during a recent visit by Six Senses CEO Neil Jacobs to our New York offices.

When Jacobs’ private equity group, Pegasus Capital, bought Six Senses five years ago, “We saw the opportunity to really draw on the ethos of the company and re-engineer a little bit to take the group out of being just a resort group in Asia and the Middle East and take it global,” he says. The brand currently owns and operates 12 hotels and 33 spas worldwide but that number is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years with new properties in the works.

Increasing Brand Recognition

Last year, the company successfully launched its first European property in Portugal, Six Senses Douro Valley, as well as added a lavish new property in the Seychelles and a village-style retreat in one of China’s most sacred locations. Looking forward, Jacobs says the group’s main focus is to increase brand recognition worldwide. To do so, the brand’s portfolio is growing to encompass resorts in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the South Pacific and more.

On the topic of brand recognition, Jacobs notes that in the past, Six Senses was never on the average American’s radar. “When we took over the company, the American market was virtually minimal,” he says. “The previous owners didn’t really know the U.S. and were more focused on Europe. [Their] top three markets had always been England, Germany and France.”

Since the acquisition, Jacobs and his team have taken the American market from nonexistent to No. 4 on the list of top Six Senses markets. He credits this to the brand’s continued growth. “The brand is in Vietnam, Thailand, the Maldives — places where Americans travel,” he says. “Now that we’re building in New York, the Caribbean, the brand recognition will continue to go up.”

Coming Soon

Slated to open in late 2017 / early 2018 are Six Senses Fiji and Six Senses Bhutan. Other 2018 debuts include resort in Bali; Krabey Island, Cambodia; and Zhiben Hot Springs, Taiwan. In 2019, the company plans to open its first North American property, Six Senses New York. On May 1, Six Senses took over management of what had been Canyon Ranch Kaplankaya in Turkey. “Over the next year, the design, environmental, and wellness operations will be enhanced to bring Six Senses to the beaches of Kaplankaya,” says Bernhard Bohnenberger, president of Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas. While this will be the company’s second resort in Europe, it also operates spas in France, Greece, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

Thailand, home of Six Senses Yao Noi, was targeted by the company as a place where Americans travel and a source of continued growth.

Jacobs tells us there is a possibility of a few projects developing in popular beach destinations — such as Cabo, Sayulita, Careyes and Tulum, Mexico; South America and Turks and Caicos — in the future; although discussions are still in the beginning stages.

Integrated Wellness

While launching several new properties over the past couple of years, the hotel brand has also launched their own version of integrated wellness.

“When people come to our hotels, they have this kind of biometric testing done where they place their hands and feet on plates and we’re just testing the makeup of moisture in the body, which allows us to analyze things,” Jacobs says. The Six Senses team uses the results of the analysis to recommend lifestyle changes and what a guest should do at the resort, and so on.

For a multi-faceted approach, the brand is integrating Sleep with Six Senses and the soon-to-be Eat with Six Senses. Sleep with Six Senses is “extremely involved, if you want it to be,” according to Jacobs. The concept stems from the two biggest elements that impact quality of sleep: light and heat / body temperature. To improve guests’ sleep quality, Six Senses offers blackout curtains, moisture-wicking bedding, sleep ambassadors and a resident sleep doctor, Dr. Michael Breuss.

Six Senses is also in the process of launching Eat with Six Senses. Guided by nutritionist, Dr. Steven Gundry, the program centers on awareness of ingredients. “We have smoothie bars, we do Bulletproof coffee, we have a raw food chef,” Jacobs says.   

Luxury Hotels Innovate as Wellness Tourism Grows

Travel Agent recently attended Organic Spa Magazine’s annual NYC Experience Wellness & Travel Media Event at Conrad New York in Manhattan, where a collection of panelists spoke on several wellness topics. The first panel, titled “What Is the Wellness Traveler Looking For?” consisted of: Tom Botts, CMO of Miraval; Andrew Gibson, VP of Well Being, AccorHotels; Kathleen Shea, CMO of Canyon Ranch; and Nicolas Dominguez, managing director, Hamak Hotels. Panelists discussed why wellness travel is becoming increasingly popular, what the wellness traveler is looking for, and what their respective properties are doing to accommodate that type of traveler.

Wellness travel, says Gibson, “has been a notable branch of tourism for decades — we just now have the ability to measure it, the means to better understand it, and the demand to keep the niche market afloat.” He says wellness travelers are seeking an overall state of “well-being,” and that “wellness” is the set of services on the path to well-being. Luxury hotel brands are aiming to provide guests with luxury, convenience and stress-reduction. He spoke about one of his brands that is going above and beyond to accommodate, impress and provide that “wellness path” for travelers: Swissotel, Zurich.

Swissotel Zurich offers a Bio-Sauna and other wellness facilities to complement the Vitality Room experience.

Swissotel, Zurich is home to the Vitality Room; a lavish guestroom that allows guests to work, play and rest all within the same space. Many of the room’s amenities were developed specifically for the Vitality Room, including hydraulic furniture that raises the coffee table to a height-specific work station and the “Wellbeing Wall,” where guests have access to different training modules, workout equipment and a cyber-trainer — all within the room’s wardrobe. For travelers fighting jet lag, the room has circadian lights that allow the light color to change, influencing the secretion of melatonin to the brain and helping guests to adjust. One of the room’s most impressive wellness offerings is the air purification system that filters in fresh Swiss air.

At Miraval Resorts, Botts says the brand is taking similar steps to provide guests with a stress-free, personalized wellness vacation. Miraval offers 120 wellness and renewal programs, including a group-healing session in a Himalayan Sound Bath, a Water Lotus ceremony, and out-of-the-ordinary activities like cardio-drumming, traversing a tightrope, and Naga, a Thai-inspired massage using suspended silk ropes. Botts says, “[Wellness travel] is essentially selling the fountain of youth. Who wouldn’t want to come back looking younger, or at least feeling younger or thinking that you’re going to live longer?”

Piggybacking Botts’ statement about the growing desire for wellness, Shea touched on the Canyon Ranch Life Enhancement Program, which offers Specialty Weeks designed to hone on specific areas that guests might need help with: weight loss, tracking a health concern, exploring spiritual paths, or simply living healthier.