Jennifer Hawkins
Jennifer Hawkins

It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of “wellness” was the exception in the luxury hospitality industry. As recently as the turn of the millennium, travelers seeking to enhance their personal health and well-being and bring balance to their demanding and disconnected lives had to seek out wellness-focused destination spas and resorts for programs to benefit their mind, body and spirit. Hotels were places to check in to on business or relax on vacation, not places for personal transformation.

How times have changed. Over the past decade and a half, wellness has worked its way into nearly every inch of the hospitality industry, from hands-on cooking classes for guests to master techniques for creating healthy dishes at home, to spa menus that highlight products made from local ingredients and authentic treatments drawn from ancient cultures. Even as the definition of wellness continues to evolve and its application differs from program to program and address to address, it’s everywhere.

Along the way, the relentless growth of wellness has transformed the way my public relations firm works with our clients, partners, and the media.

O'Dwyer's Jun. '18 Travel & Tourism PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jun. '18 Travel & International PR Magazine

As with any trend, there are plenty of individuals and enterprises seeking to capitalize on opportunities related to the concept. And why not? According to the Global Wellness Institute, “wellness” is a $3.72 trillion global industry encompassing preventative/personalized medicine, beauty and anti-aging, healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss, the spa industry, fitness and mind-body, workplace wellness and more.

While there’s much for hotels, resorts and tour operators to gain from the growth of wellness, my firm has seen a lot of attempts to attract wellness seekers go awry due to lack of knowledge and proper investment, financially, logistically and spiritually.

Here are some things we’ve found:

Travelers and hoteliers equate wellness with a new form of luxury, and guests are willing to invest significant time, money and attention upon it.

Wellness programs are transforming local communities and tapping into a different demographic to add new revenue streams for hotels.

Wellness and wellbeing are authentic extensions of a brand or a personality, and we, as communicators, can use these diverse offerings to better tell a local or brand story.

As consumer interest continues to grow, media focused on travel, bridal and fashion are hungry to cover places, properties and experiences that incorporate health and wellness.

Wellness is the new luxury: Guests will spend significantly more on wellness offerings. Here in New York, at least, it’s almost impossible to walk anywhere without seeing a sign for a yoga studio or a juice cleanse. This was not always the case; throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, hotel and resort spas and yoga studios were the exception, rather than the rule. Today, wellness comes packaged to inspire consumers and meet resulting demand. It can be found in urban hotels offering halotherapy (salt inhalation room) or cryotherapy (intense cold chamber) for business guests seeking a quick-and-easy way to unwind; rooftop yoga to raise the spirits of vacationers as high as the sights; or, as offered by Carillon Wellness Resort in Miami, a grocery guru to accompany guests on their trip to the local market for a stress-free lesson on deciphering nutrition labeling and making healthy choices.

One thing’s certain: People will spend more time and money for wellness. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the average international wellness tourist spends nearly 61 percent more on a wellness vacation than a traditional tourist. Compound that with the fact that wellness tourism accounts for close to one in six tourism dollars spent and it’s easy to see how wellness programming can be lucrative for hotels or a good investment for entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, from a communications perspective, it has been exciting to watch the ways in which wellness is changing the travel industry and to share innovative examples of authentic offerings around the globe. Whether it’s horseback riding, meditation on planes, or immersive wellness programs, we have seen an influx of wellness professionals able to personalize itineraries onsite at hotels, as well as relaxation and advanced healing treatments available to give guests the next level of comfort and well-living.

Discerning where wellness ends and hospitality begins: Wellness programs are transforming local communities and tapping into different demographics, adding new revenue streams for hotels. Hotels can similarly provide access to a bells-and-whistles fitness center — if not right onsite, then through partnership with a nearby facility. Meditation partners or yoga practitioners offering onsite instruction and activities in a bustling city are also the sorts of programs customers will flock to.

There’s an entire community aspect found in wellness, and wellness-focused guests residing at luxury hotels often long to be part of a community scene, from eating healthful cuisine created from local ingredients by a local chef to engaging in communal experiences such as bath houses and infrared saunas. As such offerings are cost-effective with minimal ongoing labor costs, they’re a win-win.

Guests also desire for wellness experiences to extend throughout and beyond their stay. Many hotels now offer access to yoga videos for guests to practice in their rooms, and every hands-on cooking (or cocktail) class led by an executive chef (or bar manager) includes recipe cards for guests to use in their own kitchen at home. Similarly, the goal of the grocery guru at Carillon Wellness Resort is to help guests continue on a path to better health and wellbeing, while the Mindful Living Program offered onboard the luxury yachts of Seabourn includes the daily practice of meditation and yoga as well as wellness seminars to lead guests toward change both during and after their cruise.

Keeping wellness “real”: wellness offerings can help tell a better story. First and foremost, we’re advising our clients to keep wellness “real.” As consumers and the media become more and more knowledgeable, only authentic wellness programs and experiences will find customers and coverage.

Resilience is another wellness-associated trend in the hospitality industry, and we’ve seen many creative properties use their perceived challenges as opportunities. For example, a business hotel whose clients regularly clear out on the weekends might fill guest rooms by hosting wellness-themed retreats from Thursday through Sunday. The iconic Gstaad Palace in Switzerland offers complimentary “woga,” or winter yoga, for guests in its pool during those months, as well as the services of a Nike Pro trainer who offers custom workouts, including training for skiers.

Gaige House
The Moon deck at the Gaige House + Ryokan in Glen Ellen, California’s Sonoma Valley wine country.

In Glen Ellen, California in Sonoma Valley wine country, Gaige House + Ryokan recently relaunched with an Asian-inspired redesign that incorporates a number of mindful, wellness-inspired features, including a peaceful Sun Deck and Moon Deck for quiet relaxation overlooking the property; a Meditation Deck with views of the garden and pool for quiet reflection or yoga practice; and information and locations for guests to dive into “forest bathing,” a new trend for the mindful exploration of nature.

Media outlets — from those focused on travel and markets, to those covering bridal, fashion and food — are hungry to cover destinations, properties and experiences that focus on healthy living. As consumer demand for wellness has grown, we have seen a corresponding growth of wellness-focused offerings throughout our client base as well as interest from media covering luxury hospitality. As such, our agency is not only adapting to the needs of the market, but also adapting to meeting the needs of the media. A few months ago, for instance, we brought a coach from Carillon Wellness Resort to lead a Pop-Up Spin Class at the downtown offices of a major media conglomerate in New York City. It was a big success, drawing editors and writers from onsite lifestyle and news publications and piquing interest that we hope will result in more extensive coverage of our client.

As the wave of wellness rolls on, public relations firms are well advised to hold on tight and enjoy the new opportunities that wellness stories, personalities and events can provide. It has been a great learning experience for us, our clients, and the media and we can’t wait to see what happens next.


Jennifer Hawkins is CEO and founder of Hawkins International PR.