The article is from the pen of Simon Saunders - our VP of Strategic Health & Wellness - has been published on Hotel Executive.
The sudden growth in demand for wellness pursuits has perhaps calmed with the recession of Covid-19, but general interest in the great outdoors and getting back to nature has remained strong, prompting more and more hoteliers to tap into this trend.
Outdoor adventures requiring equipment that could be easily purchased online often substituted going on a holiday during the pandemic.
Activities in nature fast became popular, and some of the spending previously directed towards vacations was used to buy mountain bikes, hiking boots, stand-up paddle boards, and changing robes for swimming.
Now that we are back in the game after the pandemic, we need to perpetuate and propagate these new-found pastimes and the desire to be in nature. Wellness hotels may widen their product offering and attract new audiences by providing seemingly uncomplicated but very much sought-after outdoor experiences that do not require high capital spend.
Many activities pursued as a hobby during the pandemic have since become available as adventure holiday packages, should it be paddle-boarding along the Green River in Utah, gravel biking in the Dolomites or a hiking tour in the Peloponnese.
Physical activities on land and water perfectly complement the sleep and culinary experiences of hotel guests by enhancing relaxation, creating a healthy appetite, and increasing the need for rest. Common to all these activities is an element of mindfulness, a pause in the moment to be grateful for nature, which significantly heightens the feeling of well-being.
Outdoor adventures generate thousands of memorable stories that guests love to share with others, promoting the desirable experiences your location has to offer. Guests will seek these experiences again and may keep returning with friends and family in the future.
Eco-therapies may include riding electric bikes, trail running or hiking on the property, or activities in the water such as stand-up paddle boarding and guided wild swimming. By further elevating these activities, properties can drive revenue and improve guest experience. Think of pairing a sauna session with a guided swim or a picnic hamper with a bike hire.
Specific examples of eco-therapy wellness experiences that can be integrated in your offering include the ancient Japanese practice of shirin yoku or forest bathing, which engages all our senses. Whilst among the trees, we should stop and rest. We can hear layers of sound such as wind blowing through the branches and bird song, we may see the light filtering through the canopy or the fine details of a single flower, we may smell the pine trees and taste the salt from a sea breeze, and we may sense the warmth of sunlight or a cool mist forming.
As we focus on these external stimuli, our own internal thoughts are silenced. As we become more focused on our surroundings, we become calmer, more mindful, and present in the moment. Shirin Yoku can be a solo experience or a led group practice, a shared mindfulness experience. Forest bathing has been proven to be beneficial to both mental and physical health, potentially reducing depression and anxiety levels, improving memory, as well as lowering blood pressure and resting heart rate.
But not all guests feel at ease in the wilderness or in a rural setting. We have become detached from the sights, sounds and smells of nature, and its lack of immediate convenience and the discomfort created by the elements may be unusual and confusing. New roles have appeared within hospitality to help lead guests back to nature. As we had animateurs or sports coaches, guests can now draw on the experience of botanists, foragers, hunters, woodsmen, and explorers who understand their natural environment and who can support guests in obtaining the most from the experience.
Another example of possible outdoor wellness offerings is wild swimming, which reconnects the participant with nature. The swimmer is fully enveloped by water and observing the world from an unusual perspective, with the added oddity of viewing their surroundings from water back to land. A beach holiday normally involves a swim in the sea, but we only recently started to consider sea swimming as wild swimming. It may also take place in lakes and rivers.
Not only does the swimmer attain a feeling of adventure and literal immersion in nature, they also have the benefits of exercise and cold-water therapy. The potential health benefits of cold water therapy, or cold hydrotherapy, include alleviating the symptoms of depression and anxiety, boosting of the immune system and metabolism, improving the circulatory system and reducing muscle soreness. A gradual increase in exposure to cold water is recommended, and a short dip rather than a swim may be the first step.
Water holds and loses energy, so swimmers may face the challenge of bracing temperatures and feeling the force of building waves, the residual energy of storms and the draw of tides. Swimmers claim to be able to feel the mood of a body of water. Sending guests into unknown waters is not best practice, group swims are safer. They create a great social experience and also build confidence.
Unlike for a refreshing swim between bouts of sunbathing, poorer weather is almost a bonus for wild swimming, as moderately stronger waves or rain heighten the experience. In cooler climates, the experience is often linked to a contrast therapy from a thermal experience. Pairing a led wild swim with a sauna, a hot-tub or a culinary experience on the beach creates a memorable experience and drives revenue.
Hiking a trail loop or an A to B route provides a great sense of achievement, even for slower hikers, and this may be further heightened by the landscape through which they travelled. Additionally, we can walk with a purpose and become mindful of the surrounding nature. Walking with mindfulness is an adaptation of the forest bathing principle, as we are absorbing our environment with a multi-sensory effort and slowly coming to our senses.
Not all of our wellness experiences need to take place in a wilderness or a rural setting, we can also find places of interest and green spaces to rest in busy cities. Putting together an urban exploration programme that takes visitors on a mindful city stroll is a great opportunity for hotels to enter the realm of wellness.
Nature is the accepted challenge with cycling. To some extent e-bikes have made the terrain as challenging as we feel inclined, gravel bikes with their adapted tires and frames and have allowed access to the countryside without the technical riding skills required for mountain biking. The provision of mountain bike trails on resorts has increased. The technical loops including rock gardens, banked turns called berms and boardwalks offer an activity that requires planned infrastructure, safety and instruction.
Co-branding and sponsoring outdoor activities within resorts and hotels have become more commonplace, enabling advertisers and corporate partners to offer guests the best technology, well-maintained equipment and in-house expertise in forming the experience. Equipment suppliers position their premium products into a showroom setting with an enthusiastic audience.
An increasingly popular social sporting activity is stand-up paddle boarding, which attracted a number of participants during the pandemic and is now becoming one of the world's fastest growing water sport. It is great exercise, good for balance, and brings paddlers close to nature from a top of their board silently gliding over the surface. Thanks to recent developments in board technology, a rigid inflatable board can now be the size of a rucksack, necessary equipment is more portable to remote locations and can be easily stored. Paddling can be packaged as part of a bigger adventure. For example, a family can cycle up the banks of the river and then drift back downstream and take a picnic before walking back to their hotel in an afternoon spent travelling in nature.
Running is pounding familiar pavements for a number of hotel guests, or a local park if they are lucky, but having running trails near their hotel is a great opportunity to challenge themselves and experience moving through a new landscape. The terrain may be more testing than their usual routes but walking, running, and taking a rest is acceptable, time spent running on trails goes faster than on the roads, with runners often pre-occupied with their foot placement or halting to admire the scenery.
With the known health benefits of forest bathing, we can further enhance the relaxation levels by looking at open therapy spaces, offering just the right level of privacy being indoors or outdoors in the right climate, where the sunlight takes a massage to another level. With all the other physical activities on offer, a relaxing massage aids recovery between exertions.
Utilizing local natural resources and geographical features enables the property to develop an authentic selling point, expanding the wellness offering to include more activities outside of the spa creates a modern, stronger, and balanced product. Demand for more traditional spa pampering and relaxation increases with the inclusion of physical activity and the need for recovery and recuperation.
RLA Global's recently published 2023 Wellness Real Estate Report highlighted the growth of outdoor pursuits as a wellness trend, backed up by data from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). The 2022 ATTA industry snapshot report indicated that 33.3% of the top ten trending adventure activities have a clear link to exercise and wellness in nature, including e-bikes, hiking, and wellness-focused activities.