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High-end resorts are competing to offer ever more personalised ‘wellness’ programmes
What’s the biggest physical change that’s happened in the hotels and resorts business in 20 years? After two decades of travel writing I’ve got my answer: the rise of the spa.
When I set out, luxury hotels were content to offer a gym and a visiting massage therapist – if you were lucky. Today, the growth in spa revenues exceeds that of rooms for the first time in the USA, according a CBRE Trends report. Not that the two are in competition: the same researchers found that hotels with good spas are able to push room rates higher. When the SPATEC conference (“the original appointments-based event for the spa, wellness and beauty industry”) opens in the Ritz-Carlton’s Tenerife resort in June, it’ll celebrate a global business that’s in appropriately rude health.
A treatment room at the Amanoi
But for some top end resorts, offering big brand beauty products and 180-minute massages is no longer enough. Mental and physical cleansing is the mission today.
So much was clear when I checked into the Amanoi resort south of Nha Trang in Vietnam for a three-day ‘immersion’ programme. Aman – which has pioneered many of the ideas we see in high-end hospitality today – claims this course takes the concept of wellbeing to a new, highly personalised level.
There followed a three-day schedule, written specifically to meet my physical and psychological goals, of raw food, juices, acupuncture, meditation, plunges, saunas, healing touch massages and oriental philosophy within one of the resort’s new Spa Houses: part-suite, part therapy centre set on its own lake in the sunny southern coastal forest.
But of course it’s what’s left out that’s meant to appeal to the urban and high-performing: things such as coffee, bread, tobacco and alcohol. Combine that with the trend for ‘digital detox’ and you have an industry that’s dead set on making you pay big bucks not for limitless indulgence – but enforced abstinence.
I left undeniably rejuvenated – if unconvinced how truly ‘personalised’ these experiences can be (how many times did I have to explain that foot massages are emphatically not my thing?).
What’s also undeniable is the way these resort brands are encroaching on territory previously reserved for health professionals. Another luxury pioneer, Como Hotels and resorts, promotes “proactive holistic wellness, combining modern science with ancient healing” through its wellness operation.
We haven’t seen this identification of leisure and health since the early 20th century, when affluent tourists would ‘take the waters’ at fashionable spas in Europe and America. Only now the fashion is for treatments based on ancient Chinese and Asian practices. So maybe any hotelier looking to do something truly radical should look to resurrect old-world western practices. Anyone for leeches?