Bye Bye ‘Bliss Baiting’, Welcome Genuine Mental Health Initiatives

Last Updated


As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, QUO Chief Branding Officer Catherine Monthienvichienchai asks how can the hospitality industry engage in this critically important issue.

mental health wellness

The health app on my smartwatch isn’t happy. My sleep patterns are poor, my exercise routine is off and my heart rate has been spiking slightly more than it should. I—like millions of others around the world—am stressed. I’m juggling a full-time job with parenting two children, amongst other demands and challenges. Life post-covid seems more intense, more pressure-filled and more anxiety inducing than ever before. Time feels like it’s constantly out to get me and balance a state so far out on the horizon I’ve lost sight of what it looks like.

Thanks to social media, I know I’m not alone. Platforms like Instagram, TikTok and others are awash with stories about anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. On TikTok, #MentalHealth posts accumulate almost 50 billion views, whilst on Instagram it’s close to 40 million. The Reddit community on depression has reached nearly a million members. Mental health—once a point of shame, a topic shrouded in stigma and negativity—is now suddenly an open, engaging topic that everyone wants to be part of.

With society as a whole talking more openly about mental health issues, it has become increasingly important that brands also join the conversation. In fact, according to YPulse data, 71% of Gen-Z consumers like it when brands make mental health a part of their marketing and messaging.

This younger demographic (those born between 1995 and 2012) may be at the forefront of the conversation—as many as 70% report their mental health needs the most improvement over any other element of their wellbeing—they are not the only ones struggling. In fact, the World Health Organization revealed that the pandemic triggered a 25 per cent increase in anxiety and depression globally.

It’s perhaps no surprise then to see a number of hospitality brands make a concerted move in the right direction, as they move away from the traditional gym and spa-type offer towards a more holistic, integrated approach to wellbeing—one that includes addressing mental and emotional health.

Last year, for example, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants ran a year-long partnership with online therapy company Talkspace, providing up to 1,000 free therapy sessions to its guests. Hyatt, meanwhile, has partnered with meditation and mindfulness app Headspace. Headspace’s content is available to World of Hyatt members via the World of Hyatt app, as well as in-room at select Hyatt hotels. The alliance with Headspace builds on Hyatt’s holistic wellbeing strategy, which focuses on positively impacting how employees, corporate customers and guests feel, fuel and function.

Hyatt’s multi-prong approach, including its guests and employees, is key. It is perhaps no surprise to learn that hospitality—an industry associated with long hours, shift work,  and physically demanding jobs—is one of the worst for mental health issues. A recent study from RSPH found that mental health and wellbeing is under significant strain amongst hospitality employees. In its latest report, Service With(out) a Smile, over four out of five (84%) hospitality workers reported increased stress, whilst, almost half (45%) of respondents said they would not recommend working in hospitality as a result.

It is critical then that brands address the issue from all sides. This is not just about your public face—what you say and offer to your guests, but also what goes on behind the scenes. Consumers are quickly and easily turned off by superficial marketing speak. As with any social issues—whether environmental concerns, CSR or #MeToo— empty messaging and posturing will do more harm than good. In the context of mental health, ‘bliss baiting’—like greenwashing before it—will quickly lead to mistrust and a negative brand image.

So how do you start to address this extremely topical, important and yet highly sensitive issue? The first thing to remember is that hotels—unless they are specialist wellness/medical retreats—are not mental health experts and nor should they try to be. Instead, they should start with the basics. Many of us are dealing with a plethora of stresses in our daily lives, so when we travel the first thing you can do as a hotel is simply ensure those stresses aren’t exacerbated by unnecessary pain points.

In a recent article about smart design, Ross Dowd, an award-winning industrial and interaction designer, talked about this point: “By subtly removing unnecessary friction from any hotel experience, guests are empowered with spontaneity and more engagement… The less stress a guest has to deal with, the more healthy and fun their experience can be.”

Technology, data and automation are likely to play a significant role in enabling this in the very near future, but in the meantime hotels would be wise to start with some simple questions: Is the check-in experience as quick and seamless as possible? Are the guest rooms calm, quiet and conducive to sleep? Are my teams happy, engaged and supportive of individual guest needs? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you’re already making the first steps towards better emotional wellbeing.


Everything we do begins with a conversation.
This is a good place to start.