27 Sep 2021 Spa Business Handbook

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Spa Business Handbook - Driving Change - Global Wellness Institute Initiatives

Industry Insights

Driving Change - Global Wellness Institute Initiatives

Tackling key issues for the spa industry - In the past year, the Global Wellness Institute has doubled the number of industry initiatives it oversees. We take a look at some of their accomplishments

Introduction by Susie Ellis, chair and CEO, Global Wellness Institute

One pillar of the non-profit Global Wellness Institute (GWI) is to support a fast-growing number of global industry initiatives, whose shared mission is to drive new global conversations about the most crucial wellness industry markets and solve the most pressing wellness industry issues. And the past year has been a major growth story, with the GWI doubling the number of initiatives it oversees as an “umbrella” organisation.

Wellness is a vast and deeply global US$3.7tn industry, but the individual 10-sector markets that it comprises – whether spa or workplace wellness or hot springs – can be fragmented. The “initiative” model allows experts to formulate a topic or mission, create a task force of industry leaders on that particular market or topic, and then empowers people to run with it. The model has proved a great success; the GWI could never accomplish on its own what these 20 expert-led initiatives have done.

The initiatives take on a life of their own, meeting regularly to move their projects forward, whether it’s new research or a philanthropic campaign. Every initiative chair and task force member selflessly donates their time and expertise for the greater good of their industry, and generally helps drive more health and wellness in the world. And that’s not always easy for international teams, where a strategy call can take place at 8:00am for one member and midnight for another.

Although all 20 of the GWI Initiatives are relevant to the spa industry, the following is a report on nine initiatives that have special connections to spas, from the Global Mentorship Programme to the WORLD Retreat Initiative to Wellness for Cancer. Some have just launched, while some have been running strong for years.

In the following pages, each initiative chair describes what their initiative is about, what they’ve accomplished this year, and what’s on the table for the next.

Beauty Meets Wellness Initiative 


Mark Wuttke, chair
Mark Wuttke, chair President & COO, Babor North America

This initiative was forged in 2017 in response to a new reality: we live in an age where beauty and health are converging in a meaningful way. In previous decades, beauty was tied to superficiality or perceived as “only skin deep”, but that concept is now being replaced by the realisation that we can only be our most beautiful selves when we are in our most healthy state – physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. This leads to an exciting moment for the beauty industry, which must now push the value of beauty and health as partners in the development of being our best. 

The Beauty Meets Wellness Initiative is focusing on two key deliverables: new research and trends forecasting. These two campaigns will help ensure that the beauty and wellness findings intersect and that the message is clear and direct.

The research planned will cover diverse topics. Can you have wellness without beauty? What is the impact of beauty on individual self-esteem and social connection? Are there gender differences in conceptualising beauty? How do specific cultures or belief systems impact the concept of beauty? What is the fallout from an addiction to beauty, the “pathology of perfection”?

The planned forecasting reports will identify trends for each of the topics above and, more generally, explore how the beauty industry reconnects with the times.

"This is an exciting moment for the beauty industry to push the value of beauty and health as partners"


Research topics include beauty’s impact on self-esteem and how culture affects ideas of beauty

Career Development Initiative’s Global Mentorship Program


Jean Guy de Gabriac, chair
Jean Guy de Gabriac, chair Founder & CEO Tip Touch International

A strong focus of the Career Development Initiative – one of the GWI’s very first – has been the Global Mentorship Programme (GMP), which is now in its third year.

The GMP was formed to address the lack of well-trained spa staff globally. It matches seasoned executives with at least five years’ experience with up-and-coming professionals in a mentor-mentee relationship. The mentees must have at least two years’ experience as general managers, spa directors, spa managers, assistant spa managers, lead receptionists or lead therapists. Mentors share their expertise with their mentees and, ideally, the mentorship lasts between three and six months, with one 60-minute call every two weeks. Mentees and mentors are bound by a code of conduct and registered at the Online Mentorship Platform.

In the past year, 32 global ambassadors have been named – with approximately 18 more soon to be announced.

The next objective is to create a living, breathing network of spa, wellness and hospitality associations worldwide, which encourages its members to use the GMP as a free benefit. We’re also creating a resource at mentorshipevidence.com, where spa management programmes will donate free online courses to the mentors and mentees. We’re working on a survey for all mentors and mentees, designed to find out what leadership in action means to them.

"The Mentorship Programme was formed to address the lack of well-trained spa staff globally"

Eastern European Initiative


Alla Sokolova, chair
Alla Sokolova, chair Founder & CEO Inbalans

The Eastern European Initiative was formed about a year ago, and in that time the framework of the working group has been defined. We aim to gather with official ministry representatives, entrepreneurs and practitioners to share wellness best practices from across Eastern Europe. Those practices are rooted in ancient wisdom, yet transformed into modern services to promote a wellness culture that has both local and global appeal.

The initiative team, now comprising five experts from the region – from Poland, Romania, Greece, Latvia and Estonia – ran a consumer survey in 2016 to explore the general awareness of wellness in the Eastern European region and to evaluate the limitations and opportunities of actively participating in wellness activities.

Our group is now working on expanding the team in order to produce a research handbook that will collect the traditional and contemporary wellness cultures from the region, with a publication goal of Q4 2017. Also on deck in the next year will be a series of roundtables, with resulting white papers and videos made available on the GWI’s Eastern European Initiative web page. The first, very successful, roundtable was held in April 2017 in Riga, Latvia, where the gathered group of experts tackled best practices for wellness in the Baltics.

Global Hot Springs Initiative
Amy McDonald, chair, Owner & CEO, Under A Tree
Mark Hennebry, vice chair, Board director, Danubius Hotel Group


Amy McDonald, chair and Mark Hennebry

In the past year, we’ve focused on increasing awareness of the global hot springs community. There is ever-growing consumer interest in this segment of the burgeoning global wellness economy. To support this effort, our presentation at the Global Wellness Summit centred around the (r)evolution of the hot springs experience, from its ancient cultural beginnings to its current resurgent status. Our panel presented the health benefits and business impact, and discussed how the global community is looking to the future of hot springs.

In the next year, our mission is to aggregate existing research and to support new studies on the health benefits of bathing in geothermal and hot spring mineral waters. We’ll also enhance and promote the wellnessevidence.com resource, which is a portal designed to help people explore medical evidence for the most common wellness therapies. Concurrently, we’ll also be creating a comprehensive and sustainable best practices profile for water sanitation and recirculation. An additional future plan for the initiative is to develop a map of natural mineral hot springs destinations across the world.

"Our mission is to aggregate existing research and to support new studies on the benefits of bathing in geothermal waters"


The initiative plans to map the world’s mineral hot springs

Social Impact Initiative


Jennifer Cabe, MA,
Jennifer Cabe, MA, Chair Wellness communications leader

It’s increasingly clear that we’re all part of one interconnected world, and that we must tap into innovation, knowledge and experience across all sectors of society to address the challenges of bringing more wellness to more people. The wellness industry is deeply involved in community-focused healthy living efforts throughout the world. The recently formed Social Impact Initiative will identify and share the evidence-based, ethical practices and projects that companies and communities are collaborating on to benefit society. Our first step is to build the initiative team, and we’re recruiting a diverse group of experts to volunteer.

"We’ll identify and share evidence-based, ethical practices that benefit society"


The wellness industry is deeply involved in community-focused healthy living efforts

Wellness Architecture Initiative


Veronica Schreibeis Smith, chair
Veronica Schreibeis Smith, chair CEO & founding principal Vera Iconica Design

The Wellness Architecture Initiative was founded in 2016 and the committee is made up of experts from five countries.

With wellness architecture identified as a top trend, we’ve had an exciting year. This spring, the initiative launched a survey to gather a collection of sample wellness architecture projects from around the globe. These projects will then be mapped and promoted to spread awareness that design centred around human health and wellbeing is not a future ideal; it is the focus for leaders today.

In the summer of 2017, the initiative hosted a roundtable that facilitated discussions from thinkers across industries whose expertise relates to the built environment. Discussion included the definition of wellness architecture, how to overcome the dilemma around measuring qualitative aspects of human wellbeing, and tackling other key industry hurdles. Findings will be shared at the Global Wellness Summit in October.

"Design centred around human health and wellbeing is not a future ideal; it is the focus for today"


London’s BedZED is a model for low-carbon, sustainable housing

Wellness for Cancer


Julie Bach, chair
Julie Bach, chair Executive director Wellness for Cancer

In 2016, the Wellness for Cancer Initiative (WFC) extended awareness and built new bridges with local doctors and cancer organisations in Italy, the UK, India, France and Mexico. And it was in 2016 that we launched the first outreach project to bring peace and calm to end-of-life individuals living in the ghettos of India, which was set to be replicated in September 2017.

WFC will publish desperately needed evidence-based guidelines. Many cancer patients and survivors utilise spa, wellness and integrative therapies during and beyond cancer treatment to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Practical and authoritative guidelines are imperative to inform our industry on the use of safe, effective and evidence-based therapies.

WFC has assembled a strong panel, representing wellness industry experts from eight countries – and experts from another 29 countries through the extended network of our medical collaboration. These multidisciplinary experts were assembled at a roundtable hosted this year to develop guidelines for mind-body solutions.

"Practical and authoritative guidelines are imperative to inform our industry"

Mental Wellness Initiative


Professor Gerry Bodeker, PhD, chair
Professor Gerry Bodeker, PhD, chair Department of Epidemiology Columbia University, New York; and Green Templeton College, University of Oxford

In 2017, the World Health Organization reported that depression is the largest cause of disability worldwide. The World Bank said that “the foregone economic output because of mental, neurological and substance use disorders globally is in trillions of dollars.”

Simultaneously, the wellness community has been exploring paths to mental wellbeing, inner fulfillment, and development of qualities such as compassion, wisdom, joy, generosity, and enlightened leadership. These offer wider choices than the treatment of a conventional mental health framework. They offer ways to move beyond perceived limits towards a realm of human potential that is grounded in continuing growth – both neurological and experiential. A growing body of evidence lends support to their validity.

A group of sixteen experienced wellness practitioners has shaped the Mental Wellness Initiative’s broad-spectrum approach to wellness: from the molecular (microbiome and telomeres) to self-care through yoga, meditation, exercise and diet, to the wider influences of society and the natural environment in creating conditions for expanding human potential and fulfillment. A newly formed initiative, our mission in the next year is to identify paths to mental wellness and higher human potential, to develop guidelines and curricula, and generate a broad-spectrum body of searchable evidence.

"Our mission for the next year is to identify paths to mental wellness and higher human potential"


The initiative is exploring a variety of approaches to mental wellness, from molecular to meditative

World Retreat Initiative


Professor Marc Cohen
Professor Marc Cohen, MBBS (Hons), PhD, B MEd Sc (Hons), chair Professor of Health Sciences RMIT University, and chair, Australasian Wellness Association

The WORLD (Wellness Outcomes from Residential Lifestyle Destination) Retreat Initiative’s goal is to assess the health impact of immersive wellness retreat experiences. This builds on previous research done by my group at RMIT University at the Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, which indicated significant psychological, physical and cognitive benefits, along with reduced health symptoms, after a week-long retreat stay. In the next year, we plan to publish a systematic review of the literature to date on health retreat experiences and build a resource website, retreatscience.org.

We’ll also undertake a Global Retreat Survey (at retreatsurvey.org) that will be translated into multiple languages and will explore the characteristics, demographics and motivations of people who visit wellness retreats around the world. We will begin collecting data from retreat guests before and after their stay, with follow-ups at six, 12 and 24 weeks, in order to assess a range of physical, psychological, cognitive and clinical measures.

We’ve already enlisted the support of a number of retreat centres, including the Golden Door in Australia, Danubius Hotel Group properties in Eastern Europe, the Body Holiday in St Lucia, Lapinha Spa in Brazil, Sheenjoy in China, and Atmantan in India. And we’re hoping to enlist others, so we can make an impact on retreat science and help bridge the gap between the travel, tourism and healthcare sectors.

"We’re hoping to make an impact on retreat science, and bridge the gap between the travel, tourism and healthcare sectors"


shutterstock_By KPG

Research shows people experience a range of benefits after a retreat

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2017 edition

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