Wellness Summit report Day 1

The 5th annual Wellness Summit was held last week in Fort Canning Park, Singapore, with a theme of “Riding the Wave: Delivering Relevance, Ensuring Sustainability.”  The Wellness Summit is designed to explore ways in which the wellness industry can remain profitable, competitive and relevant in a challenging business environment, and discover synergies between the spa, salon, fitness, medicine, health & lifestyle, and tourism arms of the growing wellness industry.  An impressive lineup of presenters and educators participated in keynote addresses, panel discussions and breakout presentations over a 3 day period with approximately 160 delegates, and as always the highlight was the gala dinner where the 2010 Crystal Awards Asia-Pacific were presented.

On Day One, our first presenter was the pioneer who brought aromatherapy concepts to the American mass market, Horst Rechelbacher, found of
Aveda.  As you probably know, Aveda was sold a number of years ago to Estee Lauder, Inc., and now Rechelbacher spends his time as an active environmentalist, organic farmer, and creator of Intelligent Nutrients, a line of health and beauty products that use 100% food-based and certified organic ingredients.  Rechelbacher spoke about the dangerous world we now live in; with CO2 levels well past recommended levels (350.org) and babies are being born with pesticides and consumer waste ingredients in their umbilical cords.  Modern women use about 25 different toxic products per day (safecosmetics.org); he also recommended watching the Yann Arthus-Bertrands film “Home” to learn more.  But, the good news is the organic industry is growing quickly; 10 years ago this market was valued at $1b and is projected to reach $63b by 2012.

Rechelbacher was a passionate speaker, and made clear what his opinions were on the U.S. political agenda; although he did allow that USDA certification is the “best,” as it is oriented to food, not cosmetics.  He mentioned cosmos-standard.org as a website to learn what seals you can trust, and believes that plant and human stem cells are where we need to focus future research.

Adria Lake, custom formulator and Owner & Founder of A.W. Lake Spa Design & Concept, gave a thought-provoking presentation entitled “Are Spas Still Relevant?”  Lake asked us to consider that the wellness industry is now estimated to be $2trillion annually, with spas and health-oriented businesses contributing 3%, or $60b, to that figure.  In the last century, we’ve added 30 years to our life expectancy.  And yet, 60% of 57 million annual deaths are from preventable problems.  If we are all about prevention, what have we prevented?  Our message to clients is to come to the spa to relax and repair, but if we can’t make a real difference in people’s lives, how can we be relevant, and provide a significant and enduring long-term effect for our clients?

Lake suggests that we take a new approach; “Our bodies are the best available health system on the planet, and wellness is encoded in our DNA.  Being healthy and whole is our natural state of being; it’s something to maintain, not attain.  Spas are positioned to help clients bring wellness back to the body, and learn to access their own endemic health system.  We need to understand how the body works to sustain us, rather than blaming it for failing us.  Our new message to clients could be, ‘Why not fall in love with the body you’ve been sleeping with all of your life?’”  Lake makes the point that our marketing message has been about “escape,” when rather we should be teaching clients how to be present and accountable orchestrators of our own health, rather than victims of our lifestyle.  To remain relevant, Lake recommends that spas promote self-responsibility and awareness, and contribute to creating strong, healthy individuals who know how much to rest, eat and exercise to maintain their healthy selves.

After these visionary ideas, we returned to the here and now with a presentation by Trent Munday, Regional VP for Mandara Spas; “Building a Low-Cost Spa Model – Now Everyone Can Spa!”  With the assistance of Ray Ang and his team at Body Spa Boutique, 3 treatment room scenes were set up at one end of the room representing luxury spas, budget spas, and mobile spas.  Attendees were given raffle tickets and asked to vote on which scene they felt represented the most profitable type of spa.  Munday then proceeded to break down the cost structure for each type of spa in five key areas; fit-out expense, cost of goods, rent & utilities, laundry, and payroll, and factored in both expected revenue, and cost of customer acquisition.  As you might expect, luxury had the highest expense and lowest percentage of return, although the dollar amounts were higher, and if services were not ever discounted luxury could also be profitable.  But the mobile spa model, without any overhead, was the winner.

Munday wanted to show us that there is room for different models in the market, and the cost/value proposition for clients today is a factor in their spa choices.  Munday believes there is a place for each type of spa, and developers and operators should consider their desired results and availability of target audience when creating spas; it’s not always the most beautiful spa that is the most profitable.

Next, we enjoyed an excellent “Ask the Experts” panel featuring Dr. Karina Stewart of Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary, noted consultant and spa guru Samantha Foster, and Charles Au, Business Development Director of Verita Wellness Center in Singapore.  The topic was entitled “Evidence-based Lingo in the Spa & Wellness World.”  Dr. Stewart got things started by saying that the media promotes a lot of facts and figures about the spa and wellness industries, but consumers don’t know where these numbers come from.  Are they independently evaluated studies?  How are they funded?  Au remarked that “Before the recent explosion in equipment options, we did not have good technology for health assessment.  Developments in energy medicine have helped to validate our work, and allow more options, but does having a machine give proof?”

Dr. Stewart reminds us that high quality technology is just a tool, how it is used will determine it’s relevance.  At Kamalaya, they use a few basic machines to get a snapshot of the client’s state of health when they begin their spa experience, but in the end, the guest themselves will determine whether they received the results they were hoping for, and feelings like joy and sadness will never be quantifiable.  Dr. Stewart mentioned a Japanese system based on moxibustion which measures a client’s end points in the hands and feet, and gives a very accurate picture of the client, but it will never replace the practitioner.  She also remarked that having equipment can raise the cost of delivering the service, but low-cost gimmicks send the wrong message.  She advised opting for high-quality science when appropriate.  Au added that you have to select the correct technology and get the right training.  He adds, “Health assessment technology is not going away, and clients are more compliant when the numbers corroborate how they feel.”  Adria Lake contributed that “We can’t send the wrong message to the client, wellness is not instant; guests can’t come in once and never come back.”  Dr. Stewart corroborates that for that reason, at Kamalaya they do not retest the client during their stay, because it will take 4-6 weeks for measurable to change to appear.  She added that current medical testing does not always spot problems before they appear, and therefore cannot be the only method of assessment; sometimes other modalities such as TCM are more accurate.

But in some markets, machinery and statistical reports are very popular, such as in Los Angeles, where Au says that thermograms are currently popular.  The machines help clients to get a visual representation, and then practitioners can use their skills to bring the client to a higher state of health.  Dr. Stewart adds that it’s important to keep the fundamentals in place; ultimately the consumer wants increased wellness, and if they are practicing the basics, including organic, healthy nutrition, regular fitness, and stress management, then that’s what’s important.

Foster comments that “There is no doubt that consumers are looking for evidence, but for every report you see there is conflicting research that it doesn’t matter, which is confusing them.  For every machine with technology behind it, there are plenty that are gimmicky.”    Emcee Stephens adds that spas have to be careful because in many countries, “No one is policing us, and machinery in the wrong hands is a bad thing.  We must be careful to use the word ‘assessment’, not ‘diagnosis.’”.

Susan Harmsworth of Espa mentioned that the new wellness center she is opening in London in 2011 has increased her payroll by about $600k annually, since she is hiring experts and support staff in fields such as naturopathy and functional medicine.  She doesn’t want to use independent practitioners, and hopes to educate the medical profession to take what we do seriously.  But she finds that doctors who work in spas aren’t necessarily the best doctors.

The morning sessions closed with “Ideas Worth Exploring,” a format intended as a 10-minute power talk with an insightful and innovative thought or suggestion.  This morning’s contributors were Joerg Demuth, Founder and President of Anika Organic Luxury and The Organic Spa, and Jon Canas, CEO of Laboratoire Gibro and President of Phyto Distribution.  Beginning from the product point of view, Canas showed a fantastic 8 minute video by Annie Leonard, called the Story of Stuff Project.  The video does a very effective job of showing where we stand today, in the U.S., from a safety point of view.  According to Leonard, the average U.S. woman uses 12 cosmetic or beauty products per day, each with 12 ingredients.  But only 20% of these ingredients have been inspected for their damage potential.  In the cosmetic industry, compliance is voluntary.  This video also references safecosmetics.org, and makes the point that the focus should be not on removing harmful products from consumer shelves, but on getting the toxins out of consumer products in the first place.

Demuth followed by challenging us to consider cosmetic packaging.  Currently, many products made in Asia are using PVC, which is very dangerous.  There are other options now; he offered a bottle made from poly-latic acid, which is compostable in 9-12 weeks.  Demuth also mentioned spa slippers, which are mostly made from synthetic rubber, which goes into a landfill and stays on earth a very long.  Another option would be a less structured slipper, made from cellulose fiber ad which degrades in six weeks.  He remarked, “We have to rethink what we are selling;  we are like Disney for grownups, but we are selling toxic products to our clients.  Just a standard cotton sheet contains 28 chemicals; sustainability must be always considered”  Canas added that both authenticity and efficacy have to be considered.  “Answers are not easy to find, and when you find them they are not always in practice, just theory.  It’s efficacious for a man to wear a girdle, but not authentic.  A better understanding of the body will help us make better decisions.”  Very powerful sentiments

We enjoyed a healthy spa lunch and networking al fresco, and then attended afternoon Skill Development Sessions delivered by Jon Canas, Suzanne Ng, Charlotte & Vicki Weber and myself.  It was a thought-provoking and powerful first day.