It's a snowy afternoon in Andermatt, Switzerland, and I'm mentally and physically exhausted from a day on the slopes – including a stressful chairlift ride escorting three small Swiss children, who excitedly swung their legs and chatted to each other in German while I calculated exactly what to do if they slouched too far down and started to slide off the seat.
In short, I'm in need of some down time. So when I return to my hotel, the Chedi Andermatt, I head for the 35-metre indoor pool that is flanked with fireplaces, cushy seating and staff ready to take food and drink orders.
A few slow laps and a fireside tiramisu later, I don a robe and wander down the hall to the spa's hydrotherapy area: two saunas, two steam rooms, three soaking pools and a cold plunge pool. After a few circuits, I curl up on a couch so contentedly I might as well be purring. Not only is the stress of today gone, but so are the aches and fatigue of the previous 10 days of hopping around the country. I have no idea what time it is, nor do I really care.
Granted, amenities like this come with a price. (Chedi rooms, which include spa access, start at 650 Swiss francs a night, about $815.) But it's one more and more travellers are willing to pay.
According to a 2013 study for the Global Spa & Wellness Summit, wellness tourism accounts for 14 per cent of world tourism spending – a total of $439-billion (U.S.) – and is anticipated to grow by 9 per cent annually over the next few years, 50 per cent faster than other categories.
This isn't just about an hour on the massage table. The top benefits sought by spa travellers, one-third of whom are men, include relaxation, stress relief and simply getting a break from day-to-day life. With wellness travellers (defined as those who either travel specifically for wellness reasons or who seek to include such activities in their itineraries) spending an average of 130 per cent more than other tourists, it's not surprising hotels are catering to vacationers who want stress relief and relaxation alongside iPad docks and knowledgeable concierges. They're boosting all health and wellness programming: not just spa services, but also healthy food, fitness and sleep offerings, often under branded programs such as Trump Wellness, Fairmont Fit and Westin Essence.
The trend is starting to creep into hotel design at the conceptual level. Even Hotels, a chain being created by InterContinental Hotels Group, is being billed as the first hotel brand designed specifically for wellness-oriented guests, a group it estimates at 40 per cent of mainstream travellers. With two locations slated to open this spring (Maryland and Connecticut) and a goal of 100 signed properties within the next five years, the company is betting that its targeted amenities – group fitness classes, outdoor green spaces, eucalyptus-scented linens and healthy meal options that cater to special diets – will strike a chord in a crowded marketplace.
"The spa is no longer just an option,'" says Siham El Ouarzazi, who represents luxe hotel La Mamounia in Marrakesh, Morocco. "It has become an integral part of the hotel's overall offer."
Named the best urban hotel in the world in 2013 by Condé Nast Traveler, La Mamounia didn't skimp when it came to spa design: The 2,500-square-metre space, oriented toward beauty "of both the mind and the body," includes two pools, a Jacuzzi, a sauna, a steam room, a relaxation room, a salon and a "fitness pavilion" whose doors open into the gardens. "The choice of place has the same level of importance to guests as the actual treatments," says El Ouarzazi. "The spa experience has become a very basic way to make guests' stay more comfortable."
"Travellers are looking for that ultimate balance between relaxation and healing," adds Harish Gurjar, manager of Chi, the Spa, and Health Club at the Shangri-La hotel in Vancouver. "It is not enough to simply leave the spa feeling as if their aches and pains have been taken care of, while their mind is still stressed and worrisome."
As is to be expected from a hotel named after a paradise on Earth, the Shangri-La takes wellness seriously, and Chi was designed to be a holistic experience, treating the mind and soul as well as the body. Among the more welcome elements of the space are the private treatment suites – five individual and one for couples – which allow guests to change, shower and steam in peace, without the gentle jostling for lockers, benches and sinks that happens in communal change rooms.
"Every day I read the news and see something new," says Susie Ellis, president of Spafinder, a wellness and spa-service-gifting company. While premium spa and wellness amenities might have started at higher-end properties, she predicts offerings will trickle down to more accessible hotels. Days Inn, for example, introduced Dayfit programming last fall, offering improved fitness facilities and healthier breakfast options to guests.
"The trend is not going to go away," Ellis says. "People are always on, working, and stressed and burned out. Travel really needs to be rejuvenating."
Feel better on the road with some of these wellness-oriented hotel offerings:
At Fairmont hotels, free membership in the President's Club gives you access to Fairmont Fit, which offers loaner workout clothing and shoes and a yoga mat and stretch band. fairmont.com
The Trump Wellness program encompasses Nourish, in-room dining selections catering to requests such as vegan, gluten-free and organic; Quick Bites, healthier snacks available in-room or to-go and ready in 15 minutes; and Travel Fit, which includes high-end fitness equipment in the gym, light equipment available in rooms upon request, on-loan workout apparel and preloaded iPod Shuffles. trumphotelcollection.com
The Westin Essence program offerings include in-room spa amenities, local running maps and run concierges, and nutrient-rich SuperFoodsRx menu items. westinessence.com
Days Inn Dayfit amenities – specially marked healthier breakfast items and custom-designed fitness centres – are being rolled out across most properties in the United States and Canada. daysinn.com