With a growing understanding of holistic health comes the desire for a different type of holiday; one that optimizes mind, body and soul. From mindfulness coaching and meditation to sleep therapy and silent retreats, a new crop of wellness travel experiences is going further to revive and restore sufferers of modern-living burnout.
Sunrise yoga class
Poolside superfood breakfast
Soaking time in hot springs
Life coaching session
Nutritional wellness presentation
Hiking with mindfulness exercises
So begins the itinerary for a typical day on the “wellness package” at Colorado’s Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. And there you were thinking “holiday” meant a Danielle Steel novel, a sun lounger and a few too many Pina Coladas.
The global wellness sector is now worth $3.72 trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute, and it is causing major shifts across the travel industry, too. More than 690 million wellness-focused trips were taken in 2015 worldwide. A new breed of retreats is flourishing, offering workouts, meditation, life coaching and healthy eating in stylish, exotic settings. The Caribbean Tourism Organization has designated 2018 as “Year of Wellness and Rejuvenation.”
Affluent tourists, it seems, no longer simply want to relax; they wish to return home restored, optimized, and transformed.
“Switching off is no longer about lying still and doing nothing,” agrees Laura Swain, a hospitality analyst at trend-forecasting company Stylus. “They want to maximize their time away and are looking to seek self-improvement opportunities at every touch point.”
From ‘healthy’ to ‘well’
The past few years have seen a seismic shift in how society defines health, from a myopic idea about being simply free from disease, towards a far more holistic view that encompasses psychological and emotional wellness. As the constitution of the World Health Organization states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.”
With preventable diseases responsible for approximately 70 percent of premature deaths worldwide each year, it is perhaps no surprise that people would start to take health into their own hands. An aging population is compelled to lay down better habits. There is a greater awareness of how unhealthy lifestyles can significantly increase the risks of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Managing stress, “clean” eating, and boosting well-being have therefore become hot topics.
Beth McGroarty, research director at The Global Wellness Institute, observes: “There is a profound shift in the way that people consume wellness. Once a luxury or add-on, it’s now being infused into every aspect of daily life – from how people work to what they eat and wear and choose to do in their spare time.”
And since studies have shown that experiences, rather than “things,” make us happy, satisfying one’s wanderlust may well be a wiser idea than splurging on material goods. In the words of travel futurologist Ian Yeoman: “Luxury becomes more about enrichment than materialism.”
Wellness, the Cayman way
The global wellness wave is arriving at the shores of Grand Cayman.
Brand consultant Sophie Prior and nutritionist Nadine Dumas spotted this growing market and partnered to launch Luxe + Well in 2017. Its inaugural eight-day retreat was held last October. With accommodation at Cayman Luxury Villas’ property Seahaven in South Sound, the group of female guests followed a program of sunrise workouts with CrossFit and private yoga classes (including paddle board yoga with Vitamin Sea Cayman), one-on-one life coaching sessions and inspirational daily seminars with Nadine, and a healthy cookery class.
“Wellness is really at the forefront of everything these days because we’re all working longer hours, never disconnecting and under more stress than ever,” Sophie explains. “The idea of going on a vacation where you’ll actually come back home in better shape both physically and mentally is so appealing, and frankly so in need, for many of us.”
Daily seminars focused on the state of each guest’s well-being, nutrition, fitness and mindfulness. Topics included body image, weight loss, chronic dieting, binge eating, digestive and immune health, mood, depression and anxiety. “My goal when working with women is to help them realize how much they can inspire others by the actions they take in their daily lives to live their best life,” Nadine says.
Meanwhile, a retreat-style “healing resort” is planned for the old Mariner’s Cove site in Prospect. Revive Resort, a project of Kim and Ashleigh Lund, will feature a spa, medical center, healing center, yoga and meditation. Other amenities include a bookshop, fair trade coffee bar and an organic food restaurant.
And construction is under way on Grand Cayman’s first wellness-focused resort, slated to open on Seven Mile Beach in early 2020. The six-story, 80-unit hotel will feature a farm-to-table restaurant, juice bar, and fitness center, according to developers NCB Group.
Premier Alden McLaughlin is one prominent advocate of the scheme. “I commend the hotel’s health-conscious initiatives,” he said in the Cayman Compass. “Just imagine landing on Grand Cayman after one of those long flights from London, checking into this new hotel in George Town, and being treated to yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes, a juice bar, fitness center and spa, along with such amenities as in-room yoga mats and fitness kits.”
Further pointing to the role well-being will play in Cayman’s tourism in future, Dart hosted U.S. travel journalists on a wellness-themed stay in January 2018.
That same month saw Pinnacle Media (parent company of this magazine) launch LiveWell 2018 at Camana Bay, a one-day event bringing together well-being practitioners from on and off the island to motivate people to lead healthier lifestyles. It included everything from group fitness classes and product demos to personal health screenings and pampering beauty treatments in a dynamic market-style setting.
Wellness tourism 2.0
As the movement expands, so it inevitably diversifies. What’s clear is that discerning travelers are no longer impressed with a token Pilates class and a Swedish massage; high-end resorts must up their game.
“We are seeing an increase in guests wanting to experience treatments that are not only pampering but also beneficial to them, in improving their lifestyle and health,” observes Maureen Fletcher, Senior Spa Consultant at the Kimpton Seafire. She points to examples like the Tranquility Meditative Ritual, a sensorial cocooning experience inspired by sound, touch, and aroma. The Seafire spa has also seen a rising interest in luxury anti-aging facial treatments and offers guests a high-tech solution in the HydraFacial.
“It’s not just individual holiday makers who appreciate the importance of health and wellness – corporate groups also now recognize the benefits. Because of this growing demand, our facilities will be continuing to develop; this means more classes, more activities, more spa treatments and products.”
Immersing guests in more exotic wellness narratives is one way that five-star facilities can deliver the transformational experiences these clients crave. “It’s all about that elusive, perspective-changing interior journey,” says The Global Wellness Institute’s Beth McGroarty.
For example, the new Six Senses Bhutan has created a multi-chapter wellness circuit where spa-goers journey between five lodges, each based around one of five key pillars of Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness Index.” Iceland’s Red Mountain Resort casts visitors as the fearless stars of a dramatic saga, as they follow the five-chapter emotional and sensory voyage of an ancient Icelandic hero.
Tailored programs that target a specific area of preventative health, complete with resident experts, are also a hotspot. “Looking beyond zen-like yoga retreats, I think there’ll be a rise in very focused forms of wellness travel,” says hospitality analyst Laura Swain. “For example, getaways that focus on areas such as improving gut health, as well as mental well-being.”
Here we pinpoint a few key examples:
Silence is Golden
Tom Bauer, chief operating officer of Vamed Vitality Resorts (Austria’s biggest spa operator), predicts that silence will be one of the most precious future luxuries. “In this era of constant communication, shutting out (and off) the cacophony of incessant chatter might be the biggest luxury of all,” he says. In December 2016, the company opened its first US$15 million stand-alone silent spa near Vienna.
Options range from retreats with a few hours of designated silence – like The Ranch Malibu’s new afternoon Silent Time – to those where a whole week is conducted without a chirp, such as the Springwater Center in upstate New York.
Many are aptly situated in converted monasteries, abbeys, crypts, or cave complexes – beautiful old spaces that are all about sanctuary and escaping the modern world. One such self-described “secular monastery” is Eremito in central Italy, famed for its 50-hour silent experiences. The 14th Century building is set in 3,000 hectares of protected natural reserve and at 8 p.m. each night a gong announces the start of a silent candlelit dinner. This formula all added up to it being named Conde Nast Traveler’s 2016 “Best Mental Recovery” retreat.
Often going hand in hand with the above, many facilities are also encouraging – or forcing – their guests to unplug from technology. Think: Wi-Fi blockers, or lockers to leave your devices in upon check-in. Even in the heart of Manhattan, Mandarin Oriental suggests guests follow a regime developed by the Mayo Clinic, involving surrendering your phone and receiving instead therapeutic coloring books. At check-out, the device is handed back cleaned and repackaged in a protective gold case.
At Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa’s Villa Stèphanie, Germany, the installation of unique copper plates in the walls means that guests can now hit a bedside “kill switch” to completely disconnect their room from Wi-Fi, mobile reception, and even electricity.
Food as Medicine
Today’s pill-popping culture (seven in 10 Americans take prescription medication, according to the Mayo Clinic) has sparked an interest in replacing pharmaceuticals with more natural remedies.
This includes trying to treat ailments with the right nutrients, and nutrition-focused holidays on which guests can discover the optimal diet for their body type and health concerns. A detox stay at SHA in Madrid includes macrobiotic cookery classes with a former El Bulli chef, a tailor-made menu to fit your nutritional needs and weight loss goals, lab tests, and medical/dietary consultations.
Some milestones in life require a deeper level of respite and healing. Miraval in Arizona is among the resorts offering a Grief Getaway, where the activities are all about healing and processing trauma – floating meditations, sound baths, Reiki and Native American shamanic rituals. Its signature Holographic Memory Resolution is a non-invasive approach to therapy that aims to help individuals release past trauma.
Such retreats are not only for those mourning literal loss, but can also help with other life changes, such as a divorce or an empty nest when the children go off to college.
Art Meets Wellness
The Global Wellness Institute has singled out “more arts and creativity at wellness destinations” as a major industry trend. The newly opened Amanyangyun resort near Shanghai has as its centerpiece a cultural pavilion based on ancient Chinese “scholars’ studios,” where guests can learn traditional arts such as calligraphy and painting or watch a Kunqu Opera performance.
At Australia’s prestigious Peninsula Hot Springs bathers can enjoy plays, concerts, and talks while floating in its seven pools thanks to state-of-the-art underwater speakers – hot baths effectively become an amphitheater.
Weight gain, depression, a weakened immune system – sleep deprivation has been linked to a myriad of medical issues. Yet research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that more than one-third of Americans are getting insufficient shut-eye. Enter a slew of hotels and resorts designing insomnia-busting boot-camp-style programs and slumber-focused amenities, from guided meditations to in-room bedtime stories.
“Sleep has been a specific focus for hotel brands – for example, the Corinthia Hotel in London has just taken on a mental health and sleep coach,” Laura says. In the Bahamas, The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat offers in-depth sleep-centric programming with psychologist and sleep specialist Rubin Naiman.
It seems a turn-down service and chocolate mint on the pillow will no longer cut it in this new age of wellness awareness.