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How current wellness trends are changing the way we travel, work and live

Since 2007, the annual Global Wellness Summit has been bringing together the key trendsetters, decision makers and thought leaders of the US$4.2 trillion wellness industry. If you’re a business owner looking to find an edge in the industry, the GWS is the place to be.

Held on 15–17 October this year at the Grand Hyatt Singapore, the Global Wellness Summit invited experts to speak and learn about the timeliest issues in health and wellness. Themed under ‘shaping the business of wellness,’ the comprehensive agenda spanned keynotes and panel discussions (as well as yoga breakfasts and spa breaks) all centring around the growing trends in spas, travel, medical health, technology, design and wellness at the workplace, offering invaluable insights for companies looking to focus their wellness lens.

Highlight topics this year included the role of stress, anti-cancer strategies, the growing popularity of CBD oil, beauty trends worldwide, and even the notion of dying well — finding the best way to make a graceful exit from the world after a life well lived.

So, what’s new in the world of wellness? We spoke to Mia Kyricos, Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s senior vice president, Global Head of Wellbeing, who was on a panel to discuss what it means to have a ‘well hotel’. As we learned, wellness trends from the hospitality industry are affecting businesses and in turn, the way we live, travel and work.

Kyricos has had a wealth of experience in both the spa and workplace wellness worlds: She spent eight years at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, helping to launch their spa brands. She opened the very first two Exhale Spas in New York City, which pioneered pairing fitness with spa wellness. She then worked at workplace wellness firm Core Performance (“I got to see firsthand what companies like Google and Intel and others wanted for their own colleagues”). 

Seven years ago, she started her own hospitality advisory firm, Kyricos & Associates, before joining Hyatt last August. Here, she helped launch Hyatt’s new Wellbeing Ideation Lab — a think tank that invites the hotel’s stakeholders to the table to chat about ways to improve the guest experience.


The changing demand for wellness

“I like to tell this story because I think it sort of shows how travel has changed,” Kyricos shares. “As a little girl, I would sit on my dad’s bed and I would watch him get ready for a business trip. He’d have his bag and he would take his freshly pressed pants from the dry cleaner, his shoes that had just been polished, his business socks and maybe a white starched shirt. He would take his briefcase and his business documents.” 

“Now, he sits on my bed and watches me pack. I take my refillable water bottle, I take my sneakers, I take my yoga gear, I think about the supplementation I’m going to take. And then I’m like, ‘Oh, what am I supposed to wear to that meeting?’ It’s the end thought. The nature of travel has changed right across the board.”

Packing essentials for the 2019 business traveller. (Image credit: oliur/Unsplash)

To a hypochondriac’s delight, there’s a lot more information about what’s impacting our health and wellness that didn’t exist before, particularly when it comes to mental and emotional health. We can’t hide from the pervasive cloud of stress that’s hurting our physical health. Quality sleep is widely touted as a measure of wellbeing. More and more millennials are suffering from burnout. “We’re all trying to maintain it in some way, somehow, much more so than we did before,” Kyricos says. 

With increasingly nomadic working styles, travel is becoming more ubiquitous. Wellness, then, just becomes a consequence of everyday life — a basic need. “People are trying to eat well, sleep well. They’re trying to manage their stress, they’re trying to connect with people that they care about. And in the meantime they’re trying to maintain their healthy habits on the road, and they get frustrated when travel gets in the way of that.”

With more demanding consumers, the idea of a luxury holiday has gone beyond the trifecta of spa, gym and pool. “Wellness is more about psychographics now, not demographics — it spans all generations,” Kyricos says. “I definitely don’t think wellness is a luxury proposition anymore in hospitality. It started there, but consumers have driven it to mainstream and people are seeking wellness at all levels of hospitality, when they travel and also when they’re home.”

At the same time, people are also taking more trips for wellness. “If you look at the data, tourism worldwide’s growing at about 3-3.2 percent. Wellness travel is growing over twice that. [People] are taking more trips to enhance or maintain their personal wellbeing, and that segment of tourism is growing twice as fast as global tourism worldwide. We’ve shifted from having to create demand for things that are wellness-driven, to having to now cater to it because the demand is really there.”

The rooms at the new Moxy East Village feature meditation videos on all the in-room TVs.

Hotels and resorts are now working to squeeze out moments of wellbeing for travellers with packed schedules. The new Moxy East Village, for instance, invites local wellness experts to offer rooftop meditation sessions in the mornings, as well as meditation videos on all the in-room TVs. Last year, The Park Lane Hong Kong introduced wellness on-demand in its rooms, offering yoga and workouts on its rooftop for guests as well as a yoga mat in every room.

Offerings at hotel spas have also become increasingly eccentric beyond the time honoured massage or dermatologically advanced facial treatment to quell the demand — to the point where guests rarely bat an eye. For instance, the Four Seasons Hong Kong’s Masters of Wellness programme launched last year, introducing visiting specialists in aura reading, astrology, and Hawaiian lomi lomi ‘massage’ movement. One of its most popular recurring programmes is its monthly full moon meditations, led by senior spa director Shoshana Weinberg. At the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, a revolving door of visiting practitioners and services include halotherapy and infrared saunas; knife massages; lymphatic system and breast health workshops; breathing workshops and emotional wellness sessions to increase your chi

‘Dao Liao’ knife massages offered at The Mandarin Spa, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

“Spas used to be commonly thought of as places you just go get your nails done. But the wellness movement that’s happened outside of the spa has actually lent people to say, ‘Hey, you know what, those things weren’t so crazy.’ It’s honestly legitimised and made spas more relevant in today’s world,” says Kyricos.


Transformational travel

The notion of experiential travel, in which visitors seek out ways to actively engage with the culture, history, people and environment of the locale, isn’t exactly new, but it’s more accessible than ever, so the bar has in turn been set much higher: People are looking for increasingly transformational, exclusive offerings. “For the luxury traveller, if you promised some level of experiential element that they can’t get someplace else or if you promise some level of transformation, that in itself can be deemed luxurious, even if it’s a price less,” says Kyricos. 

A cooking class at Amankila.

For example, at East Bali’s Amankila, it’s in trekking excursions that introduce medicinal herbs native to the forests around Mount Agung. It’s about cooking classes, dishing up fresh produce from local land. At La Siesta Hoi An, a boutique property by Elegance Hospitality Group, we once cycled through old villages to meet its elders and learn about their farming traditions.

Kyricos adds, “people are flying into Shanghai and driving four hours to our Alila property in Wuzhen, to experience the sustainable farming communities. They’re literally looking to escape the modern worlds. Alila is a great actual example of that throughout Asia. Their locations are really transformational because they’re off the grid in a way, even if it’s proximate to major cities.”

Belmond has also freshly unveiled its Good Living wellbeing concept, appointing a council of ‘Experience Makers’ to curate one-of-a-kind experiences across its portfolio, ranging from poetry workshops and anthologies inspired by rail travel; retreat rituals to foster self care; classical music playlists that go with a destination; trekking expeditions and floral art workshops.

The Sangha Retreat by Octave Institute in Suzhou.

Over at holistic health retreat Sangha Retreat by Octave Institute in Suzhou, it’s not so much an idea of escape, but more about enhancing your overall way of life, not just when you’re on holiday. As founder and Chairman of Octave Institute, Frederick Chavalit Tsao, stated to the press, “We need to understand that travel is no longer about escaping, it’s about engaging. The future of wellness travel is experiencing an immersive retreat that aligns your internal being with your external reality, for you cannot be well unless all aspects of your life are well, aligned and in harmony; external and internal, body and mind, personal and professional, physical and spiritual.”


Workplace wellness

Corporate meetings have also gotten more wellness-minded — Mandarin Oriental Group, for one, has its Mindful Meetings concept that helps reduce the stress of conference participants. Hyatt’s Wellbeing Ideation Lab has been a method to gather insight to improve corporate guests’ experiences during conferences and meetings.

But beyond the meeting spaces, companies are increasingly paying attention to their employee wellness, which creates a positive cycle of productivity. “As a company that prioritises health and wellness first on colleagues, we’re in a better position to deliver on our purpose of care, which is helping you to be your best,” says Kyricos. “If we care more for our colleagues, they’ll turn around and care more for our customers and guests. They’ll turn around and deliver greater returns for our owners, and they’ll turn around and be able to socially impact the communities within which we operate. And that’ll continue.”

“How do we make people feel that they have their permission to care for themselves before they turn around and care for others?”

Mia Kyricos, senior vice president, Global Head of Wellbeing of Hyatt Hotels

Kyricos adds, “what’s unique about Hyatt is that it’s not just prioritising health and wellness just within one of its brands — they’re looking at it across the entire portfolio. Raising the quotient of wellness across the board is one thing. But it’s the only company I know of — and I think this is unique, not just in hospitality but big business at large — that has created a focus around health and wellness for both its colleagues and commercially.”

“We’ve helped people to contemplate how to manage their energy better and how to contemplate work-life integration, which is more common than work-life balance, the way the world works now. We are helping people to get access to programs and platforms to drive healthy behaviours. What we’re realising at Hyatt is that, the commitment to colleague wellbeing is really about an extension of our purpose of care. And it has to come from the top down.” 

“That’s the work that we have ahead of us as a global company: “How do we make people feel that they have their permission to care for themselves before they turn around and care for others?”


Changing habits

In light of better engagement and connection, current wellness trends are even changing the way hotels are approaching guests. Kyricos says, “you can think of sexy products and services out there, but really what is it [people want]? Is it the temperature of the room? Is it how you’re greeted when you first come into the hotel. If you think about how you’re connecting with your colleagues, when you think about breaks in a meeting, how do you make sure that you’re doing that to manage the productivity and energy of the people attending?”

Hyatt’s World of Hyatt membership programme is already dedicated to incentivising wellbeing experiences. They’ve partnered with the recently acquired Exhale and Miraval brands and its gyms, retreats, tours and trainers with offerings that fit the hotel’s pillars of ‘feel’, ‘fuel’, and ‘function’. Members can trade points or bid on experiences such as hiking with wolves in Frazier Park, California, to ‘Goat Yoga’ — practising yoga with baby goats — in Las Vegas.

Most of all, what we’re seeing is the increasingly blurred boundaries between what constitutes as daily life and wellness experiences. It’s a personal yet collective journey to making our lives more meaningful. “Wellness in general is a very personal term for every single person. What defines your wellness versus my wellness and that of others, varies,” Kyricos concludes, “But at Hyatt specifically, we see wellness as a road, what you do to take care of yourself every single day, and wellbeing as the destination.”

How current wellness trends are changing the way we travel, work and live

Evelyn Lok

Managing Editor

When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.


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