News analysis: GCC hotels enjoy healthy revenues from wellness

Hotelier Middle East charts the evolution of spa and fitness facilities within hotels in the region, and finds out why wellness is such a lucrative business

Customers expect a complete wellness experience, combining F&B, spa, and fitness.
Customers expect a complete wellness experience, combining F&B, spa, and fitness.

Wellness offerings in Middle East hotels have come a long way. In the words of Laura Brown, spa manager at Dubai’s Fairmont The Palm, the term ‘wellness’ “has moved beyond the niche market of yoga retreats and fitness camps,” which in-turn has redefined every aspect of the travel industry within the luxury hotels segment.

The UAE leads the Middle Eastern wellness tourism market, with an average of 1.7 million wellness trips generating US $2.7bn annually. Several recent studies show wellness tourism is growing twice as fast as any other sector. The Global Wellness Institute (GWI), for example, states that the UAE has witnessed double digit growth in wellness-focused trips between 2012 and 2017, with an estimated 993,352 trips added and 17.9% annual growth.

Given these statistics, it should come as no surprise that the region’s first 360-degree holistic wellbeing resort, The Retreat Palm Dubai MGallery, recently opened its doors on the Palm Jumeirah.

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Tucked away on the coastline of Palm Jumeirah’s East Crescent, the beachfront destination houses 255 rooms and suites, all designed with natural elements and earth tones, guided by a Feng Shui philosophy.

According to general manager Samir Arora, wellness is at the heart of “everything” at the new hotel. The retreats are designed to fulfil a variety of well-being needs. The hotel also employs a variety of in-house nutritionists, life, health and nutrition coaches, and its programme includes wellness and nutrition consultations, holistic coaching, and weight-management retreats, to name but a few.

Arora believes that wellness tourism is no longer just about the spa and therapies offered within. “Customers now expect to have a complete wellness experience including food and beverage, fitness activities, wellbeing solutions, state-of-the-art equipment, and more. The wellness aspect is also no longer limited to the duration of their stay. They expect to be able to benefit from the retreat even after they check out of the hotel,” he told Hotelier Middle East in a recent interview.

Wellness has now even permeated into individual hotel rooms. Many hotel brands, especially in the luxury space, have launched wellness-oriented rooms, and earlier this year, Hilton unveiled a new design that brings the concept of a gym into guests’ rooms. Hyatt bought Miraval and Exhale, and has expressed plans to incorporate those brands’ wellness experiences into its broader portfolio of hotels. According to experts, hotel fitness has become more on-demand, tech-driven, and branded.

Following that theme, the Six Senses Spa Dubai is set to open in the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Dubai in February 2018. There will be six treatment suites  dedicated to each of the five senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell — plus one for the ‘sixth’ sense of intuition. The interior of the spa — which is located on level five of the property — has a colour palette of sand and light naturals, with floor-to-ceiling windows.

The new Six Senses spa is also claiming to offer a “never-before-seen” sensory experience for the Middle East, which forms part of its holistic approach. For example, the Sound Suite offers a So-Sound Legato Healing Lounger, which allows healing sound vibrations to ease away stress and relax both body and mind. There is also an interactive hanging chime feature, a steam shower, and a sauna where guests can choose music to help them relax.

The Sight Suite heightens visual senses using techniques such as chromotherapy in a steam room, digital images projected overhead in the sauna, and a relaxation area with circadian rhythm lighting that was originally developed for use by NASA astronauts. The Good Night LED lamps help to regulate the body’s natural melatonin by eliminating disruptive blue-sky light waves.

This is complemented by Awake & Alert, a luminaire to enhance natural alertness, energy, and focus. The units have specific app-based colour and spectrum settings, in addition to on-board sensors to monitor air quality and assist with improved breathing, allergy relief, and mood.

Fairmont the Palm’s Brown is of the opinion that guests at wellness resorts now expect another level of experiences to be available to them.

“It isn’t just about holistic experiences of having a spa or fitness session during your stay; it’s a full, 360-degree approach, from dining and having healthy and nutritious menus, to working out with the most innovative fitness equipment and top trainers, having ‘you’ time in a relaxed environment, meditating daily, or experiencing the latest in anti-ageing treatments with an exclusive spa experience, for example,” Brown added.

Nonetheless, according to Arora, the UAE is not a country that comes to mind when you think about wellness tourism. Through the combined efforts of Dubai Health Authority and DTCM, however, Dubai is slowly entering this niche market and starting to promote medical and wellness tourism, with a number of offerings, including dedicated hotels and resorts, and health and wellness initiatives.

Staff recruitment is also important when it comes to the success of a particular wellness outlet. According to Brown, to be successful, a wellness resort needs a whole range of experts, depending on which areas or specialisms the specific property is focusing on.

“For example, here at Fairmont The Palm we specialise in medi-spa treatments, so we got an aesthetic doctor from London, Dr Rita Rakus, to design the treatment menu and train the team on all of the specialist treatments,” she said. “We also have two experts in wellbeing, who provide a range of meditative spa experiences combined with guided relaxation and sound healing.”

For Fairmont, having all these experts on board helps ensure that its offering stays ahead of industry trends and manages to meet the guests’ expectations.

Hotel design plays a significant role in success of a wellness experience, according to Arora.

“Different factors are to be considered in terms of design including the colour scheme, furniture design, lighting, and so on. At the Retreat Palm Dubai, we incorporated Feng Shui elements and chose earth colours for the overall design aesthetic, to give a feeling of calm and peace,” he added.

For Brown, it is essential that wellness offerings reflect the tradition or culture of the area in which a property is located.

“For example, if you are at a health retreat in Switzerland, you would expect traditional Swiss treatments or the use of ingredients or elements that are original to that place, such as water bottled at source in the Swiss Alps,” Brown added.

Natural design elements are also incorporated in the Willow Stream Spa facilities, which boast features such as a water wall and authentic Arabic architectural touches. Experiential showers that feature tiles made from pearl reflect the history of Dubai and the emirate’s pearl diving culture.

During a design roundtable hosted by Hotelier Middle East and sister publication,  Commercial Interior Design, Euromonitor International research analyst, Rabia Yasmeen, highlighted the importance of design when it comes to wellness offerings.”

She continued; “UAE hotels report that 60% of total spa visitors are people who are not otherwise staying at the property,” she noted. “Hotels are now leasing spaces for more spa-related services as the demand increases.

“The trend towards health and wellness and medical tourism in this region is expanding. Health-focused tourists usually spend 130% of the expenditure of regular travellers, as they seek such experiences as part of their wider search for leisure activities.”

“There is now greater demand for experiences, ranging from two- to seven-night health and wellness programmes, to meditation, or cosmetic treatments,” she concluded.

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