Interview with Andrew Gibson, The Changing Face of Spa & Wellness
The name Andrew Gibson will be familiar to many who read the Raison d’Etre blog, an industry powerhouse with an incomparable knowledge on the wellness industry. An advisor and strategist for wellness communities, real estate and hospitality, Andrew has been part of the senior management teams that have created iconic spa and wellness brands such as Six Senses, Mandarin Oriental, Raffles, Fairmont, Pullman, Sofitel, M Gallery and Sensei (a wellness retreat located in Lanai, Hawaii and owned by Oracle founder, Larry Ellison).
Over the last 30 plus years Andrew has created global brands, operated in over 70 countries and managed multiple brands for large corporations while retaining the ability to guide start-up companies, or provide advice equally to world leaders or university students. He was one of the founding members and board directors of Global Wellness Summit/Institute, the Chairman of the Wellness Tourism Association and remains a long-time serving judge of the World Spa and Wellness Awards and Chair of the Wellness Hall of Fame. He maintains a global network and a comprehensive knowledge of how to provide wellness services in communities, resorts, real estate and lifestyle choices.
As a truly global citizen he has lived in the USA, Middle East, Asia, and Europe and has been a prominent figure through voluntary work in industry associations on every continent and in advisory positions at universities. Andrew currently lives in Sweden.
You have such an incredible CV, working with some of the most well-known and loved spa brands in the world, as well as being the founder member of the Global Spa Summit (now known as the Global Wellness Institute). What does ‘wellness’ mean to you?
I like to distinguish between the use of the word to describe the Wellness Industry and the general use of the word ‘wellness’.
In terms of the industry, I find the word wellness useful to describe the emergence of a credible and recognisable industry that has evolved with an identity separate (but related) from the fitness, spa, beauty or medical industries. There is still a lot of work to be done to provide common language and information for the public to understand what constitutes the wellness industry. The evolution of Global Spa Summit to Global Wellness Summit and now Global Wellness Institute, demonstrates how the industry has evolved and how it is also diversifying into many different stratas of specialisation.
From a personal perspective, ‘wellness’ is a word to describe the different journeys to a state of well-being. In this perspective, there does not need to be a clear definition of wellness but there are some common themes in the ‘CAN system’ that I have created for wellness development and explain more about below. Journeys can be a fitness regime, meditating, eating well, socialising, reading books, or a regular coffee meeting with a good friend. All of these lead to a state of well-being.
There appears to be such a growth in wellness tourism around the world, how do you utilise your role within the industry to help guide the growth of this industry?
As the founder and original chair of the Wellness Tourism Association, I joined a group of like-minded colleagues that felt it was time to add clarity around the growing world of wellness tourism. The Medical Tourism industry was already well established, and many tourist boards were unclear how to position the growing number of wellness retreats and resort and hotel spas. My goals with the Wellness Tourism Association was to create a platform for travel agents and wellness operators, to agree on generally accepted definitions and establish common standards and classifications. This way, both the public and the industry would have a better understanding of those providing genuine experiences and those that are simply riding the media wave of wellness.
I think there is still a long way to go, but in the last few years we have seen a lot more dedicated wellness tour operators and a lot more media coverage of wellness.
How do you think that spas, both hotel and resort, can adapt to the interest in Wellness? What do you think the key ways are in which spas can change their designs, guest journey and services, to now include wellness into the experience?
I believe that spas are still a relevant part of the services for resorts and for certain types of urban hotels. Wellness embraces more than spas and is a concept, an idea, and a mixture of facilities, services and attitudes. Wellness is something that should not be confined to the spa but should permeate every aspect of the property.
In a new build situation, wellness needs to be developed as a concept and part of the business plan. If wellness is part of the concept, then it will influence the architect, interior design and all parties involved in the creation of the resort or hotel. However, if it is a retrospective fit-out, there are still opportunities to introduce wellness into the operations.
The obvious main focus areas for wellness design are spa, guest rooms, food and beverage service and the inclusion of wellness activities and events. The more subtle inclusion of wellness extends to thinking about lighting, spaces and energy around the building (one could describe this as feng shui) or the ability to create curiosity and movement by creating pathways and flows around the hotel.
It is important to include employee wellness in both design and employee practices, to encourage a happy and healthy workplace. This is particularly relevant in our COVID environment; that places pressure in many countries to advance technology and reduce the burden of labour (either through costs of labour or shortage of skilled employees).
You talked about your ‘CAN system’ for when you build wellness concepts for hotels, resorts, residential communities and retreats. Could you explain what it is?
For the limitations of this blog I can only cover a brief introduction to this concept!
The CAN system is an acronym that I have developed to help explain to clients and interested parties, a complex process of creating a wellness concept ensuring that the pathways help to contribute towards a greater state of well-being. It stems from the wellness wheel which takes many different forms, that all comprise some form of wellness philosophy. The CAN system allows me to apply a flexible thought process that can embrace any philosophy.
CAN stands for Community, Agility and Nourishment. For me these are the basic building blocks for any wellness development. Additionally, for any development there needs to be an ECO system that enables the development to flourish.
The values and definitions of the words below are deliberately intertwined, as there is a reliance and dependence on all three factors to create a successful state of well-being.
C = Community. The dimension of community is vital to longevity, as it helps to provide support systems and places a purpose and value on the individual. Community comes in the form of family, friends and colleagues, but in terms of longevity and wellness, it is important that these bonds are healthy, maintained and reciprocal.
A = Agility. This word is selected to encompass not only physical fitness and dexterity, but includes the mind. Agility encompasses everything to do with fitness – mind, body, and spirit
N = Nourishment. Nourishment embraces nutrition and development. It compliments community and agility because it is the fuel for the body to replenish, recharge and stimulate growth. Remaining curious allows us to learn, to help others, to imagine and to create.
An ecosystem is needed to develop the CAN approach, and this is where we as consultants and creators of wellness concepts learn to develop the ECO system, by creating the best design and conditions to encourage the pursuit of CAN.
E = Environment. The right conditions such as a healthy and safe living and working environment, an ability to communicate, an escape and/or relief from the daily living pattern, or a stress-free financial situation and availability of resources.
C = Climate. Not just the physical climate, but the socio-economic environment and the cultural values that prevail. The quality of air and light are simple examples of the climate and accessibility, whilst the availability of services is an example of the socio/economic factors.
O = Opportunity. The opportunity to be able to engage in the pursuit of CAN and requires the participant to have knowledge that services are available and to have the means and desire to act.
As a consultant, I am an enabler, helping people to put a realistic perspective on their vision or providing advice to a team of experts on how to create the right ecosystems for wellness in real estate, tourism, medi-wellness and hospitality. Our best form of success is to create an opportunity and desire that motivates individuals to make positive habit changes that help their state of well-being and quality of life.
Having helped launch so many successful wellness concepts, how important do you think it is for hotels and resorts to work with a qualified spa consultancy like Raison d’Etre?
Having witnessed the evolution of the spa industry, which itself developed from a hotel fitness industry, I believe we are now in a new era of evolution from spas to wellness.
As with any period of transition, there are trials and errors that lead to success and failure. Raison d’Etre has been through these evolutions and has the experience combined with the expertise to distinguish between a great marketing fad and a genuine benefit to the client.
It is a complete misconception to try and save money on the services of a competent and reputable wellness consultant, in the same way as it would be to dismiss a kitchen consultant or an interior designer.
In my services as a consultant and as an operator, I have generally found that hiring the right team to create the wellness facilities and services will not only generally save development costs but will benefit the profit and loss and consequent feasibility of the project.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing wellness tourism at the moment?
I think we are currently witnessing a shift in travel patterns, combined with a massive interest in the inclusion of some form of wellness activity in any vacation and similarly with business travel. The good news is that wellness tourism is booming. The word ‘wellness’ is heavily featured in the media and the growing awareness of taking responsibility for your own health has accelerated the development of the wellness industry.
This answer to this question could fill a book, so I will focus on just a few areas!
- There is a shift to local and regional wellness tourism. A combination of time factors, conscious and sustainable travel, and desire for quick breaks has increased demand for domestic and regional travel. The leading global operators will adapt their strategies either through technology and online support, or through satellites and regional expansion (or both). Examples are already seen in the market.
- There is a developing wellness tourism industry that is competing for recognition with the medical tourism industry and a potential umbrella of a health tourism in states and countries around the world. This may not be a bad thing, but definitions and standards are required to help tourist boards and states communicate the subtle and emerging industry of medi-wellness.
- We need to remain focussed on the experience. Technology such as apps and data storage democratise wellness and extend the reach to a greater audience, but nothing beats an actual experience. This is why experienced consultants are vital – they understand this dynamic.
Thank you so much for your time and sharing your expertise. To finish, could we ask what wellness personally mean to you?
Having travelled all over the world and enjoyed working with some of the greatest talents in the hospitality and wellness industry, I am pleased that my wife and I purchased a cottage in Sweden in a small village when our girls were young. Little did I know that this would become my ECO system for wellness! In terms some might understand – this is our blue zone without the marketing hype. I am able to continue my work, support the industry and advise on strategies and concepts but there is life balance. With a great community, an opportunity to stay agile and fit, and plenty to nourish me – from the immersion in nature to the technology of staying in touch with our industry.
I am supported by a loving and beautiful wife and two wonderful young women that are developing their careers. AND – I am so far blessed with good health that I must not take for granted. I am an ambassador for Sweden because this country creates the right ECO system for their citizens to be well.
With much appreciation and many thanks to Raison d’Etre, one of the best consultants in our industry.