Earlier this year, Skift reported that wellness tourism is growing twice as fast as global tourism. And wellness tourists are significantly higher spenders, dropping 50 to 180% more than their non-wellness counterparts, which makes wellness an attractive market segment to everyone in the hospitality industry.
We sat down with Ingo Schweder, CEO and Founder of GOCO Hospitality, a pioneering consultancy, development and management company creating, designing and operating tomorrow’s spa and wellness hospitality concepts. He shared his thoughts on wellness for all and how brands can incorporate this ethos into their mission—even if they can’t drop USD 10 million on a spa facility.
He noted that most of what’s being marketed to spa clients today as ‘new’ has roots in much older traditions such as Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Homeopathy— systems that, historically, were never the exclusive domain of the affluent.
“Yoga and breathing? That’s repackaged Ayurveda. Cryotherapy and thermal treatments? They work on the same principles as the ancient Roman frigidarium and laconicum from 2,000 years ago,” he said.
“These therapies are just re-emerging in a modern context. In this wave, however, the luxury, high-end consumer is the one who jumped on it and the middle classes were squeezed out.”
When asked if he sees the pendulum swinging back, he quickly corrected, “It’s moving to the right spot. To where it should be, to where the majority of the world has the right to be well, eat healthy, exercise and know about nutrition.”
His Glen Ivy Hot Springs, in California, exemplifies that, offering wellness for the masses, with an average spend of just USD 150 for a whole day—including food and massage. They call themselves ‘everyone’s resort’.
GOCO has also developed limited but targeted platforms for hotel groups like Emaar Hospitality, creating services for seven of their Address Hotel properties in Dubai. “I believe many other hotel groups will enter that ‘limited- service space’ and that their guests will have a ‘right’ to spa services too,” Ingo said.
However, he does see some pitfalls when every hotel on the block attempts to offer what they believe is wellness. “I like democratisation and don’t like elitist behaviour, in principle. The problem with democratisation is that a mid-range hotel may hire a second-class yoga teacher or therapist that has no experience, and that’s very dangerous—it runs counter to wellness and could leave clients in a worsened state.”
So how can a budget hotel incorporate wellness without destroying their budget or risking their guests’ health?
“It doesn’t have to be treatment. It can be clean food options on the menu, natural light in the rooms,” he said.
He invited brands to look at amenities that don’t cost much. “Create an atmosphere of wellbeing, the right music, a wellness feature programmed into a smart TV, training staff to speak nicely on the phone and use guests’ names.”
“Wellness is not only the spa. It’s the air you breathe, the water you drink, the light in your room. You don’t always need to build a wellness centre. It can be sensitivity in architecture and fabric, softer things that create a feeling of wellness is a great place to start.”
The hotel was founded by Vũ Hồng Nam and Nguyễn Thị Phúc, the husband-and-wife team behind Silverland Hotels & Spas, who wanted to offer something new to the landscape. Instead of opening another Silverland, they decided to take a risk—creating something that could propel them far into the future.
“I needed to build a brand to meet a new set of expectations, a place to make a different kind of memory, and tell a fresh brand story,” said Nam.
The story of local culture, deep comfort and contemporary design was told in conjunction with award-winning Vietnamese architect Nguyễn Hoà Hiệp–all without a blueprint in sight. Nam set his sights on Hoà Hiệp, with his reputation for wild creations and rebellion, after other architects called the concept for The Myst too bold.
Hoà Hiệp, of a21studĩo, accepted a meeting but said he’d only take the gig if he felt the two had a connection and shared similar ideas. He’d never designed a hotel before, instead making his name with community spaces and large-scale art installations that blend indoor and outdoor spaces in unusual ways.
“At that meeting,” said Nam, “we chose each other. And it was our ‘lương duyên’, a Vietnamese word for fate, that we would work together.”
A few weeks later, they met again, Nam expecting to see Hoà Hiệp’s blueprints.
“Instead, he pulled out a blank sheet of paper and coloured it green, leaving a white square in the centre.” The architect noted that all the buildings in the neighbourhood were glass and concrete and he wanted to create something different, something closer to a forest in the city.
Hoà Hiệp continued on the project with no formal plans or drawings, instead explaining his ideas to construction companies that, unsurprisingly, turned him down.
Though Hoà Hiệp lacked hotel experience, Nam believes it actually worked to the pair’s advantage, allowing them to completely step out of traditional hotel design thinking.
He likened the process to, at times, being lost in a forest, but in the end finding the light through the extraordinary design of The Myst. The new hotel quickly received acclaim and began turning a profit.
When asked about The Myst, Nam likes to say, “I did it all for money!” but that’s only partially a joke, he says, clarifying, “All that we did would be useless if people didn’t find it valuable enough to book it and enjoy it.”