21 May 2015

The Benefits of Weird Wellness in Hotels

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The 20th century was filled with prominent science fiction writers constantly throwing wild and prophetic ideas out to the world. The 21st century is where (some of) those ideas become reality.
We’ve already seen the rise of smartphones, smart watches and tablets—all predicted in some way or shape long before their mass market acceptance—and many more useful devices will reach our consumerist in due time. Now it is time for hotels and smart hoteliers to be the true benefactors and incubators for all these emergent technologies. Those who survive and thrive tend to be those who enrich our livelihoods in one way or another, whether it’s through enhanced communication, entertainment value or increased productivity.
One area where we are just beginning to make a dent with all our fancy new electronics is in personal health care. Yes, we already have powerful MRI machines at the hospital while our handheld devices have pedometers and calorie counters. But hoteliers are rapidly discovering an underserved niche in wellness that aims to not only enlighten guests with better bodily self-awareness, exercise routines and dietary regimens but also to enrich one’s health based upon one’s own DNA.
I remember several years ago when I signed up to have my DNA sequenced. Expecting only a rudimentary analysis, the results shocked me. They not only identified numerous and specific diseases for which I was genetically predisposed to acquire in my geriatric years, but they also pinpointed where in the world my ancestors were from for each of my four grandparents.
Now that the concept of DNA sequencing is relatively accepted, hotels are ideally placed to build upon this recognition by guiding and coaching guests on ways to maximize their genetic potential. It’s like taking the spa to another level.
Incremental upgrades
Before we dive into this Gattaca-esque development, it’s important to highlight some of the other advancements hoteliers are making on the wellness front, especially with regard to guestroom design. I address these because, as incredible as on-site DNA sequencing and counseling may be, it’s just not feasible for most hotels. For the average hotelier, smaller, incremental upgrades will have to suffice.
A much-vaunted guinea pig of recent has been the Stay Well rooms at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. And there’s no better place to test out sleep-enhancing features than a 24-hour gambling hall where weekend-long benders and erratic slumber cycles are the norm. The rooms start by reducing potential irritants via the use of hypoallergenic cleaning products and air purification systems. Next, blackout shades and special lighting systems have been installed to better imitate natural sleep conditions so that guests can maintain some semblance of a proper circadian rhythm amid all the craziness of The Strip. Last but not least, there are the highly publicized Vitamin C showers that ostensibly act to neutralize chlorine for softer skin and hair.
Taken individually, each of these features isn’t anything to write home about, but as a package they represent an excellent unique selling position for the property and a model to emulate for hoteliers wishing to build their own wellness guestroom programs. Most upgrades along these lines seem to involve some form of sensory modification:
  • lighting that stabilizes daily melatonin cycles (that is, preserving this hormone while it’s peaking during sleep) via warmer, natural hue projection or fancy LED nightlights;
  • aromatherapy via massive air purifiers or the subtle release of mood-altering scents;
  • healthy minibar options and nutritional food-and-beverage menus that are not only enjoyable for the taste buds but also beneficial for the waistline and energy levels;
  • hygienic or organic materials in furnishings that not only reduce skin irritation but are also more pleasant on the touch;
  • water filtration systems for smoother skin or cleaner drinking water;
  • sound-dampening materials or noise reduction via smart room and furniture layout; and
  • the use of magnets, negative ions, photo-catalytic patinas or other electromagnetic manipulations for a variety of functions (although based on my past experience as an engineer, this to me is bridging on pseudoscience).
In-room fitness
One of InterContinental Hotels Group’s latest unveilings, Even Hotels, takes in-room wellness upgrades a step further. Aiming for “repose-conscious spaces” in its guestroom configurations means the use of natural materials and mood-enhancing colors (think 50 shades of green). This Zen approach extends to the lobby, lounges and gym facilities with indoor plants and plenty of sunlight on top of the previously mentioned improvements.
The visual meat of this concept, however, comes via the chain’s dedication to in-room exercise through multipurpose accessories such as a coat rack that’s also a chin-up bar and a luggage bench (an overlooked guestroom feature in its own right!) that can be converted into a workout bench. These two examples are at the upper end of costs for potential fitness upgrades, but there are easier routes for the average hotelier to excel in this area. For instance, how difficult is it to stock yoga mats, foam rollers, medicine balls or resistance bands in each closet?
In-room fitness is more than just exercise, though. It’s a more holistic word.
Another compelling feature of the wellness rooms at Even Hotels is the pebble walk path on each balcony for reflexology—that is, the purported calming effects generated by stimulating certain nerve endings on the hands and feet. Although the science behind reflexology is still questionable, there’s no denying that such a pebble walk makes for a striking first impression upon arrival. Yes, water and air purifiers are fantastic upgrades, but they are invisible; they aren’t exciting from a visual standpoint, and this is a major issue when considering upgrades along these lines. If guests can’t see or feel the presence of such improvements, how are they supposed to develop a positive emotional connection to the room and to the hotel?
Building on the ideas of holistic fitness and visually palpable upgrades, any accessory that augments sleep and alertness also can be lumped in this category. Proper sleep is after all paramount for weight loss, muscle growth and hormonal balance. The Stay Well rooms have subtle red lights so guests can navigate to the washroom without having to turn on any bright, melatonin-disruptive lamps. Even Hotels have specially shaped posturepedic beds. Then there are dawn-simulating alarm clocks, vibrating sleep trackers and a host of other smart devices soon to be revealed.
The pinnacle of personalization
With this survey of incremental upgrades out of the way, let’s refocus on those pieces of code in every cell of your body: your DNA. Imagine for a moment you have in your wallet or purse a credit card or thumb drive that contains your entire genome for quick access. Bring it to any doctor, dietitian or physiotherapist and they can give you recommendations specific to your unique DNA, making for more effective results from their treatments or proscriptions. Looking at where we’ve come in the past two decades in terms of the technological advancements and social interconnectivity via the Internet, it isn’t farfetched to say that these sorts of DNA dealings could soon be commonplace.
I was first put on to this topic by Hotel News Now’s own Alicia Hoisington after she wrote about The BodyHoliday at LeSport, St. Lucia. Not only is the Caribbean location hard to beat but through their BodyScience program, guests are subjected to DNA sequencing followed by a battery of tests and regimes to de-stress, detoxify, bolster digestion, optimize exercises, promote weight loss and reverse aging, all individualized to each consumer’s genes. Plus, there’s far more perceived value than what’s provided by a one-off wellness retreat. Yes, guests at The BodyHoliday are pampered to the nines, but because of this highly personalized approach, guests come away learning valuable insights about their own bodies, thus making the experience near impossible to forget.
Although this might appear to be a novelty, as personal genomic mapping becomes more socially acceptable and less expensive, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more resorts adopt similar wellness programs, followed soon after by abridged versions at urban and business hotels. What’s most important to remember from all this is that these futuristic and esoteric wellness programs are emerging to meet a demand that’s already there.
As we delve deeper in the 21st century, this consumer desire for more health-conscious hotels will only increase. Espousing wellness will require experimentation—some features will heighten guest satisfaction while others won’t have any effect—but it is a worthy direction to nevertheless consider for your property. Incorporating DNA-centric amenities may represent the pinnacle of this trend, but my hope for you from reading this article is that you are aware of the multitude of other options also available in the wellness camp.

Copyright Larry Mogelonsky. Contact Larry at larry.mogelonsky@g7hospitality.com

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