Well, Well, Well

Daniel Grossberg, Brand Strategist at QUO, predicts a long life for this year’s biggest hospitality trend.

What’s the biggest hospitality trend of 2018? Stop by the nearest hospitality and tourism event this weekend and survey ten attendees. You’re likely to hear the same answer ten times: ‘wellness’.

Wellness is already everywhere in 2018, and it’s only February.  Vogue kicked off the year with Lupita Nyong’o in tree pose on their January cover. The concept has reached the hedonistic realm of cruising. It’s also influencing in a big way tours and airport facilities. Even whole hotels dedicated to wellness are on the rise. You could liken wellness’s spread to a disease.

Promising Vitals

When you look at the numbers, it all makes sense. Globally, the industry is worth approximately 3.7 trillion USD, accounting for a little more than 5% of the world’s total economic output.

This swift growth has impacted the hospitality industry in remarkable ways. From 2014 to 2016, the wellness tourism industry grew 14% – more than twice as fast as overall tourism during the same period. No longer a niche market for hippies or new-age, patchouli-scented spiritualists, wellness tourism now accounts for 16% of all tourism expenditures. That’s one in every six tourist dollars spent.

Over the past decade, wellness has become something of an omnipresent mantra, a catch-all panacea for any brand at all that wants to stay on-trend and capture consumer interest. While the details shift from year to year – 2018 just can’t get enough moringa, 2017 was all about turmeric, and before that kale and quinoa – the overall concept of wellness is generally presented as an inherent and indisputable component of human life.

The wellness industry was not always the marketing juggernaut it is today. Just 40 years ago, it was considered a fringe, cult-like fad, with little scientific basis or credibility. Few had even heard of the word wellness, things like nut-milk yogurt were weird and gene-based dieting was something from dystopian sci-fi. So how did wellness become so deeply ingrained into our everyday lives, and why does it now play such a prominent role in the hospitality industry

“ The wellness industry was not always the marketing juggernaut it is today. Just 40 years ago, it was considered a fringe, cult-like fad, with little scientific basis or credibility.

From Mumbo-Jumbo to Mainstream

Though its origins stretch back thousands of years to the teachings of Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine and ancient Greek medicine, our modern idea of what ‘wellness’ constitutes only began during the 1950s, developing over the 60s and 70s. Our present day use of the word – first recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in the 1650s – can be traced back to physician Halbert L. Dunn, chief of the U.S. National Office of Vital Statistics from 1935 to 1960.

In 1961, Dunn published a book titled ‘High-Level Wellness’, which he defined as ‘an integrated method of functioning, which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable’. The book was not exactly a best-seller, in fact it struggled to make an impact at all.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, before a small group of doctors and thinkers – including Dr. John Travis, Don Ardell, Dr. Bill Hettler and others – began to embrace and expand on Dunn’s ideas.

Interestingly enough, the term ‘wellness’ itself also took a while to gain traction. Dr. Travis, an early advocate of Dunn’s concepts, initially “thought the word ‘wellness’ was stupid… it would never catch on”. Nevertheless, he still used it to name his pioneering Wellness Resource Center in Mill Valley, California, in November 1975, thus sealing its fate as today’s biggest buzzword.

The Wellness Resource Center was instrumental in gaining a wider audience for the fledgling movement. There, Dr. Travis and his small team of doctors focused on addressing an individual’s overall state of wellbeing and championed self-directed approaches to treatment, rather than traditional illness-oriented medical procedures. In 1979, Dan Rather brought international attention to the Center with a short segment that aired on ’60 Minutes’.

“Wellness,” Rather says, introducing the segment, “now there’s a word you don’t hear every day.”

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

One of the first business to jump on the wellness bandwagon was Canyon Ranch, which opened in 1979 in Tucson, Arizona. Founded by an overweight property developer named Mel Zuckerman (he’s since slimmed down) and his exercise enthusiast wife Enid, Canyon Ranch was billed as ‘America’s first total vacation/fitness resort’.

It’s telling that one of the first modern wellness-related business ventures was in hospitality. At the time, the idea that you might need to travel hundreds of kilometres to have such an experience made sense – there simply weren’t many other options. However, there was also a historical precedence for such retreats, which could be traced back to European spa towns like Baden Baden, where baths were first built during the Roman Empire.

Canyon Ranch got off to a slow start, but by the late 80s they were financially successful and ready for expansion. They’ve since built a brand that’s well-known for its upmarket interpretation of wellness (rates start at USD 1,000/night), as well as its variety of products, including spa clubs, Las Vegas hotel spas and cruise ship spas. In many ways, their story epitomises the rise of wellness itself, from a small, fringe concept into a global symbol of luxury and status.

Wellness for the rich and famous, however, is only part of the story.

In the mid-80s, nearly half of the U.S. population worked out on a semi-regular basis (up from 24% in 1960) and they were starting to demand more from hotels than just a room to sleep in. Travellers increasingly wanted new amenities like a pool, a spa and a gym included as part of their stay. Hotels were slow to get with the programme, however. By 1991, 40% of hotels in the U.S. contained some sort of gym, but the quality was inconsistent and often gym-goers were squashed elbow-to-sweaty-elbow into an unused guest room or a dim, shag-carpeted basement.

Finally, in 2003, Westin launched WestinWORKOUT, effectively reimagining the hotel gym for a new generation of travellers. Featuring state-of-the-art equipment, workouts designed in partnership with Reebok, upscale amenities and a focus on natural lighting, Westin made wellness an integral part of the travel experience, rather than an add-on feature. In doing so, they sparked a hotel gym arms race that, 15 years later, shows no signs of slowing down. One only has to look at upscale gym Equinox’s move to launch a hospitality brand in order to understand how important the gym, as well as the broader concept of wellness, has become to hotels.

Wellness on Steroids

So why has wellness exploded to the extent that is has? Much of it has to do with the same global and technological forces that have transformed overseas travel from a relatively expensive and uncommon undertaking into a far more accessible, familiar and varied experience. And just as travel and wellness have become mass-market industries, they’ve also become the perfect status symbols for those living today’s most luxurious lifestyles. Both are powered by the same type of desire for rare and remarkable experiences, as opposed to traditional material objects.

The ever-growing wellness industry also taps into our age-old thirst for better health, better bodies and just generally better selves. And the future of wellness in hospitality will be focused on enabling this transformational potential, not simply providing a physical escape from daily life or throwing a yoga mat into the wardrobe your guest room. As Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, argues, ‘the path to wellness is much more about embracing enriching experiences than avoiding stressful ones’.

Hotels occupy a singular position within the wellness spectrum. They have the power to create immersive and highly impactful experiences, which can play a big role in our overall happiness. Like any diet or exercise programme, only the brands that can enable sustainable lifestyle changes will go on to define the future of wellness hospitality.

Wellness services/products we’d like to see in hotels:

  • Generous and delicious vegetarian and vegan menus
  • Classes that are actually fun (parkour, ballroom dance, rock climbing)
  • Guest room tech integration with smart watches
  • Fitness incentives (such as paying for a soda in squats)
  • Tech-free zones for more personal interactions
  • Guided meditation meeting breaks

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Designing Profitability

Benjawan Intrasuwan, Head of Digital at QUO, reveals why smart website design means much more than just making it look nice.

Online travel agents (OTAs). You love that they help significant numbers of guests book at your hotel, but those commission fees just don’t feel right. What’s more: what happens to the fantastic brand you created that is perfectly tailored to appeal to your target guests? On OTA websites, hotels are reduced to pretty much just a basic comparison of price, location and amenities. There is very little space left for an original brand to shine through. You have almost become a commodity.

For these reasons, the ultimate aim is to obtain commission-free direct bookings through your hotel’s own website. This is where smart website design really shows its value.

Express Your Brand

Your site as a whole should embody the mission and culture of your hotel and show visitors how you are different. Each page should feature content that clearly portrays its purpose. There should be a distinct sense of style, whether you are going for a sophisticated look or a laid-back vacation vibe.

Here are 8 principles we keep in mind as we build websites designed to  significantly boost the number of visitors who actually convert and make a direct booking.

1. Be Quick

Worse than someone who comes to your website and doesn’t make a booking is someone who doesn’t even reach your website to start with. Forty per cent of users abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. Part of any delay is server speed, but website design also has a major impact on loading time. High-resolution images, video and advanced design elements slow down a website. You need an experienced designer to ensure that image and video weights are compressed and advanced design used sparingly to keep things fast.

2. Grab Attention

Research shows that the vast majority of users will abandon a website within the first 10 seconds if they don’t get a good feeling from it. This makes the design of the home page incredibly important. As soon as the site loads, it should enchant the guest and convince them that the rest of the website will provide them with what they are looking for. A good idea is to feature a ‘wow’ hero image or video that encapsulates what you want the guest to know about the hotel.

3. Make it Intuitive

Visitors come to your website with a clear purpose. It is important to make the experience as easy as possible for them. The navigation of the website needs to be simple. Approximately 25 per cent of users report leaving a website because it is too hard to navigate. Users especially shouldn’t have to search for the ‘Book’ button. It needs to be on virtually every page, prominently positioned and visible at all times. Using a bright colour that contrasts with the surrounding space ensures it catches the eye.

4. Personalise

A website should be designed to appeal to target guests. Are you looking to attract business travellers, young families, couples or groups of friends? The design needs to reflect that through the choice of images, styles and colours. Users will book if they feel a connection with the hotel’s brand. With modern websites, the content and layout that is presented can change depending on the user’s IP, so you can target geographic areas and returning visitors. Personalisation is the key to making a deeper connection with a user and encourages bookings.

5. Be Responsive

Your website must adapt to different devices. With the massive proliferation of smartphones, a major proportion of the visitors to your website will be viewing it on a device that is not a desktop computer. If your website is not responsive and has not been designed to look good when displayed on a smartphone screen, you will frustrate and lose many of your visitors.

6. Share Experiences

One of the most important parts of your website is engaging content, and one of the most important forms of content is photography. Photos and videos should be professional, tell a story and deliver a strong message. Hotels can also use blogs to build the brand’s narrative, give exciting updates and inform guests about events and attractions in the area. Your content should be professional, informative and entertaining. Your website is the digital front door to your hotel. If you can’t wow a guest online then they will assume your hotel has nothing exciting to offer.

7. Provide Social Proof

Around 78 per cent of people trust peer recommendations, but only 14 per cent trust commercial advertising. Many people will not book a hotel until they have first checked out reviews from fellow travellers. If a user has to leave your website to find these reviews, there is a big chance they won’t be coming back. Integrating guest reviews into a website helps to give potential guests the reassurance they need to make a booking. Sites like TripAdvisor provide the ability to insert review widgets into hotel websites so visitors can check reviews without leaving the site.

8. Measure and Test

Optimising a website is an ongoing process. It’s important that usage is measured and analysed to spot areas where people are dropping out, getting frustrated and not doing what you want. Running constant tests to see what works and what doesn’t and making relevant changes will increase the percentage of visitors making bookings. Google famously ran a test using 41 different shades of blue for their advertising links. The result for Google was USD200 million per year in increased revenue.

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