Destination Spas: Centers for REAL Wellness

REAL wellness, unlike plain vanilla wellness, is less about preventing problems, more about boosting prospects for a higher quality of life. Unlike corporate wellness programs which seek to lower health risks, the nature of REAL wellness is to promote, advance and otherwise boost not only health status but joy in livining. Some top-of-the-line destination spas can seize the day by gradually adding REAL wellness educational elements to their current offerings. In this way, they could address a growing consumer desire for more joy in life and related quests for new learning tracks and experiences.


Shifting Paradigms

Around the world, there is a growing interest in changing the way we take care of ourselves. Not just our bodies, but also our minds, our communities and the larger realm - the environment.

Some futurists foresee a paradigm shift from reactivity (treating and fixing problems) to proactivity - becoming weller as its own reward. Some promoters of healthy habit patterns, like myself, embrace a lifestyle philosophy and mindset called REAL wellness.

REAL wellness, unlike plain vanilla wellness, is less about preventing problems, more about boosting prospects for a higher quality of life. Unlike corporate wellness programs which seek to lower health risks, the nature of REAL wellness is to promote, advance and otherwise boost not only health status but joy in living.

An opportunity for spas

Some top-of-the-line destination spas can seize the day by gradually adding REAL wellness educational elements to their current offerings. In this way, they could address a growing consumer desire for more joy in life and related quests for new learning tracks and experiences.

Though many spas offer more, the public perception of spas is focused on traditional images of luxurious retreats for relaxation, pampering and beauty treatments. Nothing wrong with any of that, but a great leap for the industry will come from evolving to the next level: enabling life-enhancing learning opportunities.

REAL Wellness

The REAL in REAL wellness is an acronym for key elements of a new mindset - reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty. Such skills and experiences are obviously associated with lower risks of ill health but such a pleasant consequence is a side effect, not the primary purpose of REAL wellness thinking! Real wellness is more than a lifestyle, though it is that, too. It is also a philosophy, a value system, a mindset and, to borrow a phrase from my first book, an alternative to doctors, drugs and disease.

Therein lies the opportunity unique to first-rank destination spas. Such institutions are in a position today to seemlessly evolve into centers that promote life-enhancing insights and experiences. For spa owners and investors who find REAL wellness appealing, I foresee new markets, revenue streams and enhanced reputations. Resorts that embrace REAL wellness and integrate both programs and customs into current spa business models derive a double payback: Commercial gains while rendering an invaluable public service.

Spas that adopt this role will become Centers for REAL Wellness. Henceforth, in the interest of space and ease of memory, I'll refer to Centers for REAL Wellness simply as CRWs.

The trend reports

In an earlier commentary, I identified research within the spa industry that supports an expanded role for spas. This research comes from within the spa industry. The recommendations are fully consistent with the suggestion that qualified spas plan a conscious evolution in order to grow into the Center for REAL wellness (CRW) function.

The key document that best describes this research is a trends report prepared by SRI International (SRI) at the behest of Global Spa Summit (GSS). It is entitled, Spas and the Global Wellness Market. This landmark study has already motivated many spa industry leaders to embrace REAL wellness functions, apart from the larger strategy of building an expanded business model. (See summaries at SeekWellness and Der Jubiläumsblog des Deutschen Wellness Verbands.)

Destination spas already have established functions that will complement a CRW model. These programmatic efforts have been described as healing and rehabilitation (sometimes called medical wellness), multiple services for physical problem issues (e.g., weight loss and diet, skin care, fitness) and health assessments (risk analysis and risk reduction) For some spa patrons, the appeal is fitness; for others, detoxification. Name your interest - spas have items on offer.

Spas appeal to all segments of the population: retirees and seniors, couples, affinity groups, individuals and business executives. Destination spas that become CRW will no doubt  fine-tune their marketing language and package offerings to render their destinations appealing for lifestyle education on many levels. Examples might include:

  • Places for special public events.

  • Resources for renewal and growth.

  • Centers for learning.

  • Homes or bases for supportive communities of interest.

  • Forums for exploring varied themes and vital issues.

  • Settings for encounters with great ideas.

  • Benefactors of communities advancing key interests.

Incorporating mental enhancment via philosophy, science, and art

Spa leaders can initiate the planning process leading to future functioning as centers for REAL wellness at any time, but a market and reputational advantage will go to the first to gain such recognition. A thorough planning process is advised as a first step. The challenge is to study the nature of the CRW model and then decide on a unique REAL wellness educational mission. From this base strategies can be shaped for expanding spa offerings for the wider and more ambitious spa mission.

A first question to address might be something like, What would the spa offer as a CRW that is not on offer today? The answer, I believe, is adult education in the art of living well, not just healthfully but wisely. As a CRW, the spa would complement the pampering factors and all the rest provided at present with an overarching focus upon enhancing the mental and emotional well being of its clientele. This might mean less emphasis on beauty and more on positive psychology - happiness, joy, exuberance, pleasure, love, delight, enthusiasm and celebration. Who would not want more of that in their lives?

A CRW would be recognized as an institution that stands for something most would highly value - REAL wellness lifestyles. In a popular TV series some years ago, Bill Moyers interviewed mythologist Joseph Campbell, who remarked that people today are not so much looking for the meaning of life as for meaningful experiences. The English philosopher David Hume held that the great end of human industry is the attainment of happiness. A spa functioning as a CRW would appeal to and satisfy such instincts. As noted in the SRI trend report, the challenge for the spa industry is to take the spa out of its usual box or niche - to attract a larger base of consumer segments.

There are no expiration dates on beginnings. Destination spa managers can assess the market for REAL wellness and proceed little by little and bit by bit, if a role as a CRW appeals. But, it's never too soon to take that one small but profound step forward. As a CRW, spas could become great institutions that integrate current offerings (e.g., beauty, medical wellness, retirement activities, exercise and so on) as but elements of a significantly larger purpose. That greater purpose is facilitating seekers of knowledge, happiness and meaningful experiences. It entails helping a broad spectrum of individuals and groups discover how they can enhance the quality of their own lives and become better people in the process.

The power of philosophy

Spa programs are conducted by specialists in nutritional and fitness areas, as well as beauty consultants, nurses, physicians and other medical specialists. In the future, spas functioning as CRW might feature resident and visiting lecturers and consultants in wider range of fields, including but not limited to philosophy, ethics, poetry and literature, art and theater, science and business. Today, few people associate spas with such functions. This could change. Learning is something most desire; there are no inherent reasons for spa leaders to shy from a role of liberating and freeing human possibilities.

Engage to Change: The Customer. The Money. The Future
David Hume wrote that, the sweetest and most inoffensive path of life leads through the avenues of science and learning; whoever can either remove any obstruction in this way, or open up any new prospect, ought, so far, to be esteemed a benefactor to mankind.

While spa leaders might want to shy from such claims in the early years of public education, the impact of a CRW would almost certainly benefit spa patrons. In a realistic sense, a spa functioning as a CRW might have a plausible case that it is a benefit to mankind.

REAL wellness in a spa setting will have to be grounded by staff, owners, investors and other key players in the institution who are committed to the educational mission. Yet, the delivery of seminars, lectures, discussions and other supportive roles can be provided by outside experts. The importance of developing in-house staff commitment and familiarity with the spa's REAL wellness culture is an essential step. Lutz Hertel, head of DWV (Deutscher Wellness Gipfel of Dusseldorf), believes a renewal process of discovery is most likely to occur through staff interacting with guests. The culture of improvised learning timed to visitor expressions of interest or teachable moments will give staff vital  opportunities to encourage insights and curiosities. In this manner, spa staff will be the convenient, most reliable REAL wellness guides for most spa visitors.

Initiating the process by developing a crw mission statement

Such a statement must reflect the spa's own REAL wellness philosophy. Shaping this reflection of spa purposes and values should be a stimulating period of education and renewal. What insights will be embraced? This will certainly vary from one spa to another, but all should consider the ideas from such philosophers as Cicero, Epicurus, Seneca and other among the respected ancients. These people were exemplars who touted reason, pleasure (exuberance) and many other timeless wellness qualities. All believed that people become wiser through philosophy, that philosophy helps overcome human frailties such as meekness, that philosophy builds confidence and provides consolations against life's persistent worries. How useful it would be for spas to help clients to worry less or not at all about such matters as whether one is popular enough, thin enough, smart enough, loved enough and so on - topics addressed by these great minds from long ago. The life of the mind offers a circus of entertainments that can nurture and channel patrons toward noble values. How valuable it would be for many visitors to a CRW to read that such esteemed thinkers offered great practical advice. A few examples:

  • Reality, unfortunately, does not always turn out to be convenient for our preferences.

  • We are powerless to change events, but we are free to change our attitudes about them.

  • The art of living comes in finding uses for our adversities.

  • Valleys of despair must sometimes be crossed to reach fulfilling peaks of joy and accomplishments.

Is success as a Center for REAL wellness a sure thing? Of course not. What is a sure thing in this life? Conditions are never perfect for changing course or adding new directions. The stars will never align nor will the traffic lights of opportunity all turn green at the same time. But, things don't work the other way, either. There is no conspiracy afoot to discourage innovation or to inhibit success at something new and wonderful. While the universe is not against you; it doesn't go out of it's way to line up the pins for you, either.

Recommend first steps

  • Thoroughly review the Spa Industry Resources available as downloads at the website of Global Spa Resources.

  • Become familiar with the nature and substance of the wellness movement. Examine the National Wellness Institute website, giving special attention to the annual National Wellness Conference programs. 

  • Evaluate the results of studies of international worksite wellness.

  • Involve staff and other key stakeholders in orientation sessions concerning the nature of REAL wellness.

  • Develop an initial mission statement concerning that communicates the essence of the REAL wellness concept. 

  • Consider that successful programs of a CRW nature are marked by six elements:

1) organizational commitment;
2) incentives for employee participation;
3) effective planning;
4) state of the art theory and evidence-based interventions;
5) effective implementation; and
6) ongoing program evaluation. Each of these stages are important to consider in order to plan and sustain a spa center for REAL wellness.

Author: Donald B. Ardell, Ph.D.  |  ARDELL WELLNESS REPORT

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