‘This pandemic feels like a realignment’

Industry pioneer Sue Harmsworth, MBE highlights the value of integrative and light wellness programming post-pandemic in GWS Master Class


By Sarah Camilleri

26 February 2021

The Global Wellness Summit (GWS) has begun a series of free, weekly 60-minute Zoom business sessions dedicated to specific wellness sector topics, which take place every Tuesday at 3pm GMT (4pm CEST, 10am US Eastern Time).

In this week’s popular session, internationally renowned spa pioneer Sue Harmsworth, MBE was interviewed by GWS chief creative officer Nancy Davis on the subject of ‘A future shaped by current events: Integrative wellness at last’.

European Spa shares some invaluable highlights from the session dedicated to the future of wellness.

Will 2021 be a new dawn for the spa and wellness industry? (Image: Lanserhof Tegernsee, Germany)

What have we learned from the pandemic?

“Throughout history we have had to deal with many diseases outbreaks and pandemics. One day we will be able to look back and recognise that the universe was telling us something. This pandemic feels like a realignment. It’s been a time to reassess to contemplate what is important.

“I always prefer to look forward. We will come out of this much more resilient. Wellness is a huge opportunity. The pandemic has accelerated the growth of our industry but we are at a pivotal point where disruption is needed.”

The dangers of ‘wellness’

“It’s actually worse than when we started the spa industry and ‘spa’ was used to describe everything. The word ‘wellness’ is now used to describe everything and this is dangerous. As an industry we need to define exactly what we mean by wellness. We can deliver ‘light wellness’ or ‘integrative wellness’ but we need to be clear about what we do, especially in hospitality.

An integrative medical consultation at SHA Wellness, Spain

“It’s a very different model to take a 45-year-old or older person on holistic programming to reboot, re-energise and re-focus in a resort setting than it is to go to a dedicated integrative wellness destination.”

Light wellness v serious wellness

“It concerns me that ‘spa’, it seems, has just gone out of the window as everyone latches onto the newness of the ‘wellness’ trend, but in general, the hospitality industry does not understand that you can’t play at wellness and people’s heath. Spas have their place and they can work to deliver light wellness in a hospitality setting, integrative wellness destinations, however, are something entirely different.

“People go to a resort for fun, escape and relaxation, not for medical intervention. Breath work, yoga, healthy eating, holistic spa treatments, fitness programming and modalities to improve sleep and light anxiety all come under light wellness programming, which spas can effectively deliver.

“However, in order to treat people with diabetes, cancer and cognitive issues we need the skills of doctors as well as proper diagnostics and functional medicine integration.”

Can spas deal with anxiety and stress?

“More recently, spa professionals have been dealing with a lot more anxiety and mental stress from clients – crying in treatment rooms and talking about life issues is common. As we move into out of the current pandemic situation this effect is going to be even more extreme. The question is: Where does mindfulness practice stop and  cognitive or medical intervention start in a typical spa setting? In hospitality, we are in danger of asking therapists to judge when medical intervention will be needed.”

Its time to upskill and value our therapists

“If we have one-in-two people projected to have cancer in their lifetime, then we need to upskill our therapists to be able to recognise this and other lifestyle issues. If we don’t empower the spa therapist to have this knowledge then we could have a serious problem in recognising serious contra-indications such as signs of cancer, diabetes and mental health issues.

The Standards Authority for Touch in Cancer Care aims to empower therapists and guests alike (Image: Made for Life Organics)

“We set up the Standards Authority for Touch in Cancer Care (SATCC) for this reason – to offer cancer training programmes so that spas can welcome guests living with cancer. I believe that therapists should be empowered to recognise symptoms and also to deliver excellent holistic programmes. Every spa should train their teams for the future.”

Integration is the way forward

“The appetite for wellness is huge and there are many visionary hospitality leaders out there that get this. Today the medical profession is also far down the pathway to recognising the advantages of holistic modalities and preventative health.

Holistic destination spa Chiva Som in Thailand

“At the moment there are two extremes with leading health destinations such as Lanserhof in Germany and Austria, and SHA in Spain, and their more holistic and spiritual counterparts based in Asia, such as Kamalaya and Chiva Som.

“I believe a new generation of integrative wellness resorts are going to be the way forward. This is the disruption needed in wellness. As an industry, if we can build the skill set to support national health systems we will come up with a solution for a healthier future.”

Be inspired...

The Global Wellness Summit is an international organisation that brings together leaders and visionaries to positively impact and shape the future of the global wellness industry. Click below to find out more

Cancer Touch training for spas

The Standards Authority for Touch in Cancer Care provides a register of SATCC approved training providers for spas, salons and therapists to further their cancer education. To find out how the SATCC could help your spa prepare to welcome those who most need your services, click below

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