A Global Spa Summit and a Global Wellness Institute: Breakthroughs for REAL Wellness

A Global Spa Summit and a Global Wellness Institute: Breakthroughs for REAL Wellness


New York City-based spa industry executives spent over seven years building and honing two international organizations that today effectively promote and guide the resort spa industry. In this role, these leaders have shown owners and managers of spas and associated businesses how mastering and embracing positive wellness values ​​and programs can be both a civic duty and an attractive business opportunity.

The two organizations are the Global Spa and Wellness Institute (GSWI) and the Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

GSWI sponsors an annual summit that has helped in a different part of the world for each of the past seven years. It is an invitation-only gathering.

Global Wellness Institute

An umbrella organization – the GWI – is active all year round. It serves as a holding/umbrella organization. In addition to organizing the summit, it initiates and finances research and operates wellness tourism. It is an international think tank. It brings leaders and visionaries together. Its fundamental goal is to positively impact the future of the spa and wellness industry.

In fulfilling its mission, GWI strives to facilitate industry conversations and collaborations, create and make widely available research information and industry insights, and spark innovation in products and services, while maintaining a focus on sustainable growth and best business practices.

GWI has adopted a proactive (as opposed to preventive or medical) view of wellbeing, a global perspective and commitments to integrity (e.g., unbiased research), shared problem solving, and the highest standards of common sense, science, and integrity for evidence-based positions, whenever humanely possible.

All TRUE wellness enthusiasts should welcome this powerful ally who strives to advance the wellness movement on a positive and multidisciplinary basis, especially one with resources and connections at the highest levels of decision-making in the public and private sectors.

The global spa and wellness summit

dr John Travis gave some presentations at the 8th Annual Global Spa and Wellness Summit (GSWS) in Marrakech, Morocco in September 2014. He and I learned a lot about the spa industry, much of which we didn’t fully recognize or appreciate. We met delightful people who were committed to positive wellbeing and all that goes with it (e.g. environmental awareness, social politics, economic viability), just as we have in our decades of attendance at the storied University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point National Wellness Conference. And we have developed a new understanding of the potential of the spa industry. Last but not least (new benefits will surely emerge over time) we have established more than a few gratifying relationships and begun collaborations that are likely to prove enjoyable and productive for years to come.

There were three full days of presentations and all kinds of substantive meetings and fun activities. 45 nations were represented among the approximately 400 delegates. The scope of the presentations was impressive, including attention to architectural design adaptations to the nature of the spa experience, increasing focus on sustainability, likely consequences of earthquake-related generational and gender shifts, expected impact of technology on human interaction and much more. The economic weight of the industry? No less than $3.4 trillion.

To say that the summit was a remarkable event is an understatement. I had a feeling it could prove to be a game changer for the industry and maybe the wellness movement as well. It seems to me that spa leaders realize that they can shape the wellness movement toward positive wellbeing since wellness was first invented half a century ago by Dr. Halbert L. Dunn and others. By partnering with REAL Wellness, the industry will provide an immeasurable service to their communities while increasing the success of spas around the world.

The Spa Advantage

In terms of sponsoring REAL wellness education, destination resort spas have at least three advantages over corporate and other institutional (e.g., hospitals and universities) sponsors:

  1. Spa resorts have less reason to fear controversy. This allows wellness managers to offer lectures and workshops on topics where program participants may be offended by perspectives and facts that are at odds with their comfort zone. Corporate wellness managers, on the other hand, refrain from sponsoring important programs like sanity, scientific understanding and critical thinking skills, exploration of purpose, even a focus on humor and fun. Why? Because such discussions are likely to worry many employees who would rather not make such considerations. Many may feel that such issues push boundaries, are easily hurtful, or appear to be critical of established norms. Imagine a company lecture on the right to die. Probably not, but some experts, such as the late theologian Gerald A. Larue, have opined that until we have accepted the reality of mortality and our impending encounter with death, we are never fully aware of the importance of striving for life .

  2. Spa resorts don’t focus on cost containment. The company’s wellness offerings are designed almost exclusively to provide short-term savings through reduced medical care use. The so-called wellness tenets are actually medicalized risk reduction and prevention efforts.

  3. Spa resorts are not primarily staffed by physicians and other medically trained personnel. Professionals promote what they know, and they are not trained in or aligned with the principles of physical and mental initiatives that lead to advanced states of well-being that are entirely independent of disease or health problems.

The power of the spa industry to inform/design true wellness

The spa industry has great economic power and many opportunities for imaginative programs. The extent of this influence can be glimpsed in a report on the global spa and wellness industry prepared by SRI International. A slide show on the GSWS website highlights the key facts in this report.

Some of the most salient results can be mentioned:

  • The spa and wellness sector is currently a $3.4 trillion industry.

  • The spa industry can be divided into four economic segments namely 1) spa industry, 2) wellness tourism, 3) wellness lifestyle, products and services and 4) thermal and mineral springs.

  • One segment, wellness lifestyle, products and services, is now valued at $2.806 billion alone. That is a growth rate of 13 percent over the previous year.

  • There are 105,591 spas in operation worldwide. Asia has the most with 32,000 facilities. The increases in all regions are attributed to the growth of the middle class.

The future is ahead of us

The spa industry has more promise and influence than any other to take the wellness movement back to its roots as a positive life-enhancement concept, to think health as much as possible with optimism and joy in a non-medical way. All of the key presentations at Summit 2014 can benefit a global audience thanks to the generosity of GSWS. Spa professionals and clients who were unable to attend the Summit, and the rest of the world, can learn much from the resources available on the GSWS website.

This is for the lucky 400 attendees, by the way, as multiple sessions were held simultaneously at different locations at the Four Seasons – and even the delegates were not able to attend all of the educational offerings. Don’t worry – GSWS will be posting videos, white papers, transcripts and powerpoints from all or most of the sessions, and hundreds of professional photos of the presentation and all celebrations are also available on the website.

How many conferences offer such generosity not only to their paying customers, but to all who need and will surely appreciate such educational opportunities?

More facts about the GSWS

GSWS is an international organization based in New York City. I had the pleasure of visiting and touring the main office a few years ago and a few months later Susie Ellis, the Chair and CEO, joined me in presenting on spas and wellness at the 2011 National Wellness Conference at Stevens Point. WI.

The GSWS mission states that the organization:

represents senior executives and leaders who share a common interest in advancing economic development and understanding of the spa and wellness industry. Delegates from various sectors, including hospitality, tourism, health and wellness, beauty, finance, medicine, real estate, manufacturing and technology, attend the organization’s annual summit, held in a different host country each year.

While the annual Summit is limited to senior spa industry leaders and a few others with close industry ties from related sectors (and a few lucky misfits who win the speaker lottery by being invited to participate as artists), information from all Summits is eventually available to everyone. This is a very good thing and I encourage you to take advantage of it.

Have a good time – and enjoy your next visit to a destination spa – or the first if you haven’t had one yet. Take a look at the wellness agenda – you may find that REAL wellness education items are on offer.

Thanks to Donald Ardell