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.
“Promoting a brand through emotionally charged narratives is an effective way to raise awareness and boost engagement. But telling stories for stories’ sake isn’t enough. You have to know your audience, tap into their psyche and spin tales that resonate with their needs and values. Pull this off, and the rewards are substantial.”
Tales Worth Telling
Industry leaders are coming around to the need to take charge of their narrative – to shape it and distribute it themselves. Here’s how a few heavy hitters in hospitality and travel are accomplishing that:
#1 Airbnb Took Charge of its Narrative with Storytelling
Airbnb has always had a knack for storytelling. Even the company’s unusual name is a story prompt that connects back to the founders’ early days of renting out an inflatable mattress in the living room of their San Francisco loft. It’s an origin story – one that survived full-on rebrands and continues to inform the company’s reason for being.
But they also understand that their core product is difficult to articulate. It’s not as tangible as a mainstream hospitality provider’s. Local hosts are on the frontlines with customers providing all the experiences – from lodging to city tours. They’re the ones doing the meeting and engaging.
In reality, Airbnb exercises little control over its users’ experiences. To counter this, the company has made a concerted effort to shape the way consumers think about its core product – and they’ve used storytelling to accomplish this.
A few years ago, they relaunched the brand with a video that spoke of a world ‘full of cities and towns’ that are ‘constantly growing larger’, one with disconnected people ‘yearning for a sense of place’. Then they move in for the kill:
“What would it be like to feel at home, even when you are away? Imagine having that anywhere.”
In one succinct brand video, Airbnb has taken hold of the narrative and framed itself as an agent of connection. This has freed it up to tell stories about the people it brings together, to tell stories about exceptional experiences offered by Airbnb hosts and to showcase the globe-trotting escapades of its users. This has become a main focus on their website. Have a look at Airbnb’s ‘Stories’ page, where they curate a mix of host bios, user-generated content and other stories related to their network.
#2 Jetblue Connected their Brand to Feel-good Stories
JetBlue was an early adopter in the new wave of branded storytelling. The airline’s social campaign – ‘Fly It Forward’ – focused on Twitter, where it encouraged users to nominate admirable candidates that deserved recognition. These nominees had nothing to do JetBlue.
But a new narrative was about to change that.
Judges selected a few outstanding nominees and offered them a free round-trip ticket. These winners then became goodwill ambassadors and were asked to ‘fly it forward’ by nominating other worthy candidates. The process continued.
By showcasing this goodwill and rewarding it with free flights, JetBlue aligned itself with these stories of selflessness and sacrifice. Of course, all of this was documented on social platforms like Twitter and YouTube. The result was a series of sharable stories about community organisers, survivors and other previously unsung heroes.
What emerged was a kindness chain with JetBlue at the centre. The fact that none of these stories had anything to do with the airline was beside the point. Or maybe it was the point. Twitter swooned.
This is just one example of JetBlue’s successful forays into storytelling. The airline’s ‘Recurring Dream’ video tells a feel-good fictional story about a pigeon who dreams of a better flying experience. It’s cute, memorable and highly sharable – and it links directly to the brand’s key messages.
Then there was the ‘FlyBabies’ campaign, which documented a so-called social experiment where crying babies on airplanes went from a fussy annoyance to a source of free tickets and a cause for applause. Talk about changing the narrative.
#3 Marriott Entertained Audiences with Pure Fiction
Marriott was one of the first major hospitality players to go all-in on using stories to market their products. In 2014, they launched a full-on creative studio to create, produce and distribute content on behalf of their vast portfolio of brands.
This studio set about producing a steady stream of polished video content designed primarily to entertain. A trilogy of Two Bellmen films are the crown jewels in this new endeavour. These highly choreographed action films run from 17 to 35 minutes and are shot on location at specific Marriott hotels. Each has racked up several million views on YouTube.
David Beebe, who founded Marriott’s Content Studio and ran it for nearly three years, once explained that the why behind the content was more important than the what. In other words, they weren’t making content for content’s sake. Most of the content they produced connected back to specific sales packages, thereby driving bookings.
A Brief History of Microcopy
The term ‘microcopy’ (if not the medium itself) was coined by Joshua Porter – a self-described ‘product designer and writer’ with a blog (bokardo.com) on Alexa’s top-100,000 leaderboard. Here’s how he defines it:
“That tiny copy (often shorter than a sentence) that helps clarify, explain, reduce commitment, or otherwise assuage someone performing (or considering) a task.”
In early incarnations, microcopy was mainly used to lead users through the process of navigating a website. It instructed them to ‘click’, ‘enter name’ or – at the most important junctures – to ‘submit’ or ‘purchase’. There were no bells and whistles.
But over time, a glimmer of tone crept in. The garden-variety ‘Click’ became ‘Click Here!’. The humble ‘submit’ button evolved into ‘Sign me up’. These online signposts started sounding more human, even if they weren’t exactly speaking in a branded tone of voice.
Some of the first all-out attempts at putting microcopy in tone happened on 404 pages. A few years ago, clicking on a bad link would strand uses on a page with lifeless notice – ‘404 Not Found’, or something to that effect. But today, just about every well-branded website ha a custom 404 page. In each case, the message remains the same – this page doesn’t exist on our website – but the tone varies.
Here are three examples from prominent 404 pages, running the gamut from matter-of-fact to lightly playful:
- Google: ‘404: That’s an error.’
- Airbnb: ‘Oops! We can’t seem to find the page you’re looking for.’
- Emirates: ‘Sorry. We’ve travelled the globe, but we can’t seem to find this page.’
The 404 page is the low-hanging fruit of microcopy – the easiest place to begin applying an in-brand voice. In fact, when QUO creates tone of voice guidelines for a brand, we often provide sample 404 copy to give an example of the tone in action. It’s a natural place to start.
First, a hard, cold dose of reality: more than half of website visits are made by bots, and a third of the money you pump into online ads goes to fraudulent companies lying about their statistics. Furthermore, half of online ad impressions in 2016 were never seen by human eyes, and – despite all this proven data – Expedia and Priceline still spend over US$8 billion a year in advertising.
Are you scandalised yet?
How are you supposed to develop your online business in these circumstances? The answer is that you need a trusted guide to navigate the myriad challenges and complex landscape of digital.
Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to reduce the complexity and realise the full potential of your website. The first, and most basic, is to make sure you and your visitors are secure from hackers by installing an SSL if you haven’t already. An SSL certificate ensures the safety of your most important asset – your guests. Without one, don’t even think about asking for the personal details or credit card information you need to maximise the potential of your site as a sales portal.
Second, your most important asset, after your guests, are your website visitors. They are already interested in your brand, but are you doing everything in your power to capture their direct engagement and convert them? My second suggestion is a strong conversion rate optimisation, or CRO, plan to get the most from your site visitors – ultimately turning them into guests and long-term advocates.
The third, and perhaps most important, thing is reading, understanding and harnessing the power of your own statistics and numbers. Accurate reporting of the right data is critical to pinpointing performance flaws and identifying opportunities.
Lastly is something that many business owners don’t like to hear: you must consider high-quality SEO services as a long-term strategic investment. If it helps, think of SEO and PPC as two equal line items in your traffic budget, one ushers in traffic organically while the other delivers traffic you’ve paid for with each click. In the end, SEO may prove the better investment, you pay for it once and the impact is long term. In the long-run, this expenditure will pay off for your business.