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Miraval Arizona executive chef Warren Weekes creates a spirits-free mocktail for the Hyatt Together on-demand wellness program.

Courtesy of Business Wire/Handout

Room-service breakfasts and plush bathrobes are essential to any staycation, but the Accor hospitality group’s new wellness program takes in-room relaxation one step further at the Fairmont Royal York.

Within seconds of flipping on the TV, scrolling to “ALL Be Well” and launching a five-minute breathing exercise – one of 16 routines ranging from four to 20 minutes in length – the pandemic-fuelled pressures of work and family life begin to melt away. Seeking to add some flexibility to my inner tranquillity, I transition into a nine-minute “Decompress the Stress” stretch routine, in which a poolside male instructor gently puts my tight muscles through their paces. Now, I feel like I’ve earned that room-service breakfast.

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Available on-demand at scores of Fairmont, Sofitel and Swissotel properties across North and Central America, the ALL Be Well in-room programming consists of yoga, stretching, breath work, mindfulness and sleep-practice videos by California-based Three Sages, a self-proclaimed “integrated restorative wellness platform.” “While COVID-19 did not instigate the program launch, it accelerated its pilot status as part of our response to the uncertainty of travel faced by our guests,” says Andrea Torrance, senior vice-president of guest experience at Accor North and Central America.

Robyn Riojas teaches a strength and mobility routine as part of the Hyatt Together on-demand wellness program.

Courtesy of Business Wire/Handout

Travel uncertainty is just one of many factors causing levels of stress and anxiety to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a poll of Ontarians conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights on behalf of the Canadian Mental Health Association, 79 per cent of respondents said they are worried about what the future will look like after the crisis is over. Nine out of 10 respondents were concerned about the economy, with 69 per cent worried about personal finances. Actually catching the virus, meanwhile, was a concern for 69 per cent. Last but not least, 67 per cent and 53 per cent were worried about the mental health of others and themselves, respectively.

These concerns – along with travel restrictions – are keeping Canadians close to home and away from hotels. According to a July survey by Vancouver-based Research Co., less than a third of Canadians said they were willing to take a flight anywhere before a vaccine is available. A September poll by the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, meanwhile, found that tourism businesses in the province are reporting year-over-year revenue declines averaging 69 per cent. It’s not surprising hotels are aiming to alleviate what stress they can for travellers.

Air Canada is one of 11 airlines offering Headspace relaxation content on its in-flight entertainment systems.

Courtesy of Air Canada/Handout

Accor is far from the only multinational chain offering guests new in-room wellness tools amid the pandemic. Hyatt, at hundreds of North American hotels and resorts, rolled out a service on April 1 that allows guests to access guided relaxation and other content from Headspace meditation app through the chain’s loyalty program app or in-room TVs. A month later, the Chicago-based chain began piloting Hyatt Together, a series of well-being-oriented how-to videos created by its own staff. Hyatt Together was rolled out globally on Oct. 22, with videos including “Harness the Power of Hydrotherapy,” in which Grand Hyatt Singapore spa director Karu Nanithi explains how to recreate a hydrotherapy spa experience at home or during travels.

In September, Hyatt also announced that its Exhale spa brand is partnering with Amazon Halo – an app and wristband-based platform for tracking daily habits – to deliver multiweek fitness programs at home, on the road or in hotels.

Hilton, meanwhile, fast-tracked the mid-March groundbreaking of its first Tempo-branded hotel, where in-room TVs deliver on-demand relaxation content that pledges to “enhance performance while avoiding burnout.” The planned 2021 opening of the inaugural Tempo location in Louisville, Ky., will mark one of the fastest construction turnarounds in Hilton history, the company says, with 60 more of the hotels already in the works.

Hilton's Tempo-branded hotels will deliver on-demand relaxation content that pledges to 'enhance performance while avoiding burnout.'

Courtesy of Hilton Hotels & Resorts/Handout

For hoteliers, these programs have two main purposes, says Frédéric Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. “On one hand, it’s about rebuilding relationships with guests. The key is to increase positive word of mouth about the experience, and the wellness war going on right now is really tapping into the self-improvement trend of the pandemic. On the other hand, it’s about giving guests something to do when hotel restaurants, bars, gyms and so on are closed. If you’re travelling for work these days, you’re not going to be entertaining your clients in a restaurant. You’re going back to your room, and with the crisis taking such a toll on everyone that’s an opportunity to engage in wellness activities.”

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It’s also an opportunity for wellness content providers to engage with new audiences. Through the end of 2020, World of Hyatt members are eligible for a 30-day trial subscription to Headspace.

While such travel-oriented relaxation tools would have been appreciated prepandemic, their recent proliferation is better late than never, says Greg Commins, founder and chief executive of Accor partner Three Sages. “Travellers have long been underserved across the hospitality industry when it comes to rest and recovery. Now more than ever, we need restorative wellness to support our always-on lifestyles and aid in stress relief.”

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