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Global Wellness Summit 2023: a time of transformation

This year’s Global Wellness Summit – which relocated from Doha to Miami in just weeks – was a star-studded event that proves wellness is on everyone’s mind. Jane Kitchen reports

Published in Spa Business 2023 issue 4
The event had a true Miami flavour, despite having only three weeks to relocate / photo: SHUTTERSTOCK/Mia2you
The event had a true Miami flavour, despite having only three weeks to relocate/ photo: SHUTTERSTOCK/Mia2you

In what seems a run of unfortunate circumstances for the Global Wellness Summit (GWS), unrest and war in the Middle East forced organisers of the 2023 event to pivot from Doha to Miami in the US only three weeks beforehand.

I’m not sure if the team has simply had enough practice with last-minute changes – four of the past five summits have had to move for a wide range of reasons, from civil unrest to the pandemic – but you’d be hard-pressed to notice it was ever meant to be anywhere else. Amazingly, the dates were kept the same, the celebrity keynote speakers were all still able to make it and the event found a flavour of Miami, with morning walks among the Brickell high-rises, a salsa band at the opening party held under palm trees on the shore of the Miami River and a throng of industry icons letting loose on a pulsating dancefloor at the colourful gala dinner at Sexy Fish.

“When we decided on this year’s theme of ‘a time of transformation,’ we had no idea we’d be the ones doing the transforming,” said Nancy Davis, the chief creative officer and executive director of the summit, in her opening remarks. That theme of transformation ran throughout, with music producer Timbaland telling attendees of his personal journey from addiction to wellness; Welsh future generation commissioner Sophie Howe talking about her mission to move beyond GDP as a measure of wellbeing; and gymnast Simone Biles detailing her bravery in standing up for her own mental wellness (see p10 for more on this).

GWS chair and CEO Susie Ellis also said it’s the industry itself that’s going through a great revolution. “For years, it’s been moving slowly; now, it’s truly transforming and taking flight,” she said. “The metamorphosis is fuelled by many factors, including technology, geopolitics, post-pandemic awareness and demand, medicine, tourism and more.”

That shift can be seen in real numbers as Global Wellness Institute (GWI) researchers Ophelia Yeung, Katherine Johnston and Tonia Callender revealed on stage that the global wellness economy is now worth US$5.6 trillion (see p22). “There’s real reason for optimism,” Ellis said.

Hospitality disruption
Evolution, change and transformation within the hospitality space were hot topics this year.

A panel on the intersection of wellness, sports and hospitality, moderated by Ellis, featured Amber Donaldson, VP of sports medicine for the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee; Patricia Ladis, founder & CEO of WiseBody; Enrico Manaresi, global PR & media relations for Technogym; and Leisure Media CEO Liz Terry.

Ellis detailed how technology from the sports field – cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, or infrared saunas – is making its way into spas. “Many spas are starting to look like a sports recovery station,” she said.

Lots of people travel for reasons involving sports, from running a marathon in a large city to escorting kids to regional tournaments or visiting a new country for a professional sports game. “This is a huge market. It’s a blind spot and it’s a perfect market for an array of people,” said Ladis, highlighting how players like the Nadal Academies or the new Sports Illustrated Resorts are moving into the space.

“These kinds of developments are going to rub alongside spa and wellness,” said Terry. “What’s driving this is a whole new generation of consumers. The people who are going to spas at the moment are going to be superseded by this new generation who want to be more active – so there’s an opportunity [for spas] to engage with them too.”

On a separate panel in which the heads of spa & wellness for four industry giants – Accor, Hilton, Hyatt and Westin – took to the stage, Emlyn Brown, global VP of wellbeing for Accor, concurred. “There’s an absolute tidal wave of demand for wellness and wellbeing and it’s getting ever more sophisticated with a new generation coming through,” he said.

The panel – moderated by Mia Kyricos, president of Kyricos & Associates – saw wellness leaders discussing the ways that they’re working to transform hospitality.

“Now more than ever, in 2023, the guests need something different from us,” said TJ Abrams, VP of global wellbeing experiences for Hyatt, saying his team are looking to move beyond just serving people to creating a lifestyle of wellbeing experience.

At Hilton, VP of wellness ,b>Amanda Al-Masri said she’s seeing a “tsunami of demand for wellness” across all of the group’s 22 brands. “More than half of guests, even at the lower end, are travelling and engaging with wellness,” she said. “Regardless of brand, regardless of the reason for travel.” This is driving the group to think about how it delivers wellness in a different way. She continued: “Guests don’t want it [wellness] any less because they’re staying in a different brand. This is a guest experience innovation, not just a wellness innovation.”

Similarly at Accor, which has nearly 6,000 hotels across 40 brands, it’s about bringing wellness to a diverse audience. Brown said: “Four out of five of our guests across all our brands are doing something every day to prioritise wellbeing, so we need to support that.”

Catherine Flint, senior director of global brand management for Westin, said that leveraging partnerships, such as the one it has with massage recovery specialist Hyperice, has been a great way for the brand to differentiate itself.

Abrams said transformation is required. “We’re one of the most dynamic industries in the world and we can’t show up and be relevant if we’re not willing to listen and transform,” he said.

Multi-generational wellness
Robbie Hammond, president and chief strategy officer for Therme Group US, talked about making wellness more affordable and accessible, highlighting that loneliness is growing fastest in the youngest age group.

Hammond spoke about the need for ‘wellbeing infrastructure’ in cities in the same way that we have infrastructure like roads, subways and even libraries. “If we really want better outcomes, this is what we need to think about,” he said. He contrasted a Therme facility – which is open from 6am to midnight, 365 days a year – to a sports stadium, which sits vacant and surrounded by empty parking lots on most days.

The giant hydrothermal facilities also attract a wide range of people, from seniors in the morning to families in the afternoon and young people at night. “One of the most important parts of wellness is social interaction,” he said. “You want wellness to be fun. People are not coming to Therme necessarily for their health – they’re coming because they want to meet up with their friends or their family. That’s an important part of making it more accessible to more people.”

Creating places for family connections is also important to Krip Rojanastien, chair and CEO of Chiva-Som International Health Resorts. Chiva Som’s Zulal Wellness Resort in Qatar focuses on cultivating close family relationships and inspiring the next generation. “It’s crucial that wellness knowledge and understanding be built into early education so that it lasts a lifetime,” said Rojanastien. “Our industry can make a valuable contribution to building multi-generational wellness into our lexicon. We have a part to play in solving the chronic problems facing our societies and it’s time to share the knowledge far and wide.”

One of the last sessions of the summit also focused on the wellbeing of children and the big opportunity our industry has to make a difference. “All over the world, there’s an epidemic of really serious mental health issues among teens,” said Amy McDonald, CEO of Under a Tree Health & Wellness Consulting. “If resorts or even day spas can reach out and bring something as simple as mindfulness to teens and teach them about gratitude – those are powerful tools. Our industry has catered to 25- to 65-year-olds really well, but that younger group really needs us.”

Senses and music
An interactive session led by Anna Bjurstam, wellness pioneer for Six Senses, tapped into the inner emotional and spiritual realm, as she explored the idea of transforming wellness through sensory integration. Bjurstam gave real-world examples of some of the cutting-edge programming Six Senses has created, including somatic experiences combining floatation with sounds of the ocean, bio-alchemy sculptures infused with scent and a geodesic dome with vibroacoustic floor. “By using sensory integration, we can multiply our senses,” she said.

Bjurstam was joined by Luuk Melisse, founder of Sanctum, a fitness company designed to “empower the body and expand the mind.” Based in The Netherlands, Sanctum uses special blue-glowing headphones to deliver their classes, which combine music, spoken word, chanting, breathwork and mindful movement practices and verge on the spiritual. GWS attendees were able to sample the classes in early-morning sessions on the riverfront.

A panel on beauty delved into the visual side of wellness. Featuring GWS regular Dr Anjan Chatterjee, a neuroaesthetics expert, as well as Jessica Jesse, CEO and founder of BuDhaGirl and wellness architect Veronica Schreibeis-Smith, the panel explored the theme of how seeing something beautiful affects the mind.

Dr Chatterjee talked about his mission to teach ‘slow-looking’, savouring works of art and how looking at beautiful things engages multiple parts of your brain. Schreibeis-Smith added: “True beauty – you know it when it moves you. It’s a full experience of your entire body and your emotions.”

A second panel on beauty, moderated by Irene Forte, CEO of Irene Forte skincare, saw representatives from Elemis, Biologique Recherche, Natura Bisse and Babor, discussing how sustainability innovations are transforming the sector.

Freddie Moross, the founder of Myndstream, focused on the music and wellbeing connection. In an onstage conversation with Timbaland, the two talked about the music producer’s journey from Oxycontin addiction to wellness and weight loss before detailing their partnership. The duo are collaborating to create a new kind of wellness music based on Timbaland’s synesthesia abilities – where he sees colours when he hears music.

Timbaland talked about using frequency to change the mood of a room and finding tones that move through the body in different ways. “When I visit spas, I listen to the music they’re playing and I wonder ‘why don’t they play my music?’,” he said. “It’s cool to be in the club, but I could be in your spas too.”

Between Timbaland and Biles, this year’s GWS was a star-studded event, proving that wellness has indeed moved into the mainstream. As Louie Schwartzberg – whose beautiful films have opened summits for years – said at the start of the summit: “If you want to create a new culture, throw a better party. And that’s what this is all about.”

photo: Global Wellness Summit 2023

"For years, the industry has been moving slowly; now it’s truly taking flight ... There’s a real reason for optimism" – Susie Ellis

photo: Global Wellness Summit 2023

"Wales is on a mission to move beyond GDP as a measure of wellbeing" – Sophie Howe

photo: Global Wellness Summit 2023

"Sports tourism is a blind spot and it’s a perfect market for an array of people" – Patricia Ladis

photo: Global Wellness Summit 2023

"Social interaction is an important part of wellness ... you want wellness to be fun" – Robbie Hammond

photo: Global Wellness Summit 2023

"Our industry can make a valuable contribution to multi-generational wellness" – Krip Rojanastien

photo: Global Wellness Summit 2023

"There’s a tidal wave of demand ... and the new generation is ever more sophisticated" – Emlyn Brown

Coming to Scotland

Next year’s Global Wellness Summit will be held at the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa, a Kohler resort, in Scotland on 4-7 November

photo: Global Wellness Summit 2023
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