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Friday, February 9, 2018

What's New in the World of Global Wellness Trends

Starring in your own distinctive adventure, female empowerment and trips for mushroom tripping are all in vogue for travelers, according to a new report from the Global Wellness Summit (GWS).

The newly released 2018 study identifies eight trends that will have a meaningful impact on the $3.7 trillion wellness industry. Many of these trends pertain to the luxury travel arena as well, since novel wellness trends often manifest first in high-end vacation spaces.

Travel marketers talk a lot about storytelling and experiences these days, but one of the GWS trends takes the journey steps further.
As Beth McGroarty, director of research for GWS, notes, by its nature, “travel is an ongoing quest versus piecemeal, disconnected experiences.”
Yet, itineraries provided at wellness destinations often do not connect the dots. McGroarty, the lead author of the report says, “We predict more wellness destinations will use the power of circuits and epic storylines” to create linked experiences, where the traveler is the pilgrim in an immersive story. The report calls this trend Circuits, Sagas and Epic Storylines.
It cites several examples of multi-chapter journeys, ranging from theatrical travel sagas to real-life games of Survivor.
For example, London-based Based on a True Story creates adventures for its well-heeled clients involving epic stories featuring multitudes of sets, actors and locations. According to founder and CEO Niel Fox, these journeys cast travelers as the heroes of their own stories. He cites “A Greek Odyssey… an adventure that unfolded with hundreds of actors, as a family encountered gods and goddesses…as well as having to overcome mythological monsters…. as they uncovered a trail of gold.”
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Six Senses Bhutan
A more wellness-oriented saga is unfolding as Six Senses embarks upon a new venture in Bhutan. A story-based wellness circuit opening in autumn will have guests traveling among five lodges, where they will discover programming based on the pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index. Six Senses is developing similar experiences elsewhere.
“A focus on multi-property wellness circuits will be a much bigger priority for us going forward,” says Vice President of Spas and Wellness Anna Bjurstam.
Black Tomato’s Get Lost program exemplifies this trend, plus another—that of Extreme Wellness. The $30,000 Survivor-style trips often require travelers to begin training months in advance so they are ready for the mental and physical challenges that await when the company drops them off in the middle of nowhere.
Less pricey and more civilized, but also extreme, many resorts are adding Body Boot Camps to their programming menus.
But the trend of Extreme Wellness is not just about exhaustion. It also encompasses “hacking our way to better brains, bodies and overall well-being.”
The report says, “Expect wellness destinations to create customized, individual programs through combining personal biomarker screenings for assessing body composition, stress, and prevention, with a fitness tests for optimizing performance.“ A handful of high-end wellness resorts are already on the mark with this trend, including Six Senses and Canyon Ranch.
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Several of the report’s other trends are relevant to high-end travel as well. One of the components of Getting our “Clean Air Act” Together is tourists avoiding going to polluted cities (or seeking to leave their own).
An obvious example comes from China. According to Ctrip.com, a leader in providing travel services to the Chinese market, smog avoidance and lung cleansing is becoming a major theme for luxury travelers there. Marketers are therefore touting destinations like the Seychelles, Maldives and Iceland as fresh air getaways.
Iceland's pristine air is a big draw for Chinese tourists

A New Feminist Wellness builds on the recent wave of for-women, by-women businesses. Given that Merriam-Webster picked feminism as its 2017 Word of the Year, travel aimed squarely at women’s empowerment is timely and highly promotable. High-end, women-owned operators like Wild Women ExpeditionsAdventure Women and Whoa Travel are leading the charge.

Likely the most offbeat of the trends examined is Mushrooms Emerge from Underground.  According to the report, “Magic mushroom retreats, in nations where legal, will continue to pop up…where the ‘trip’ gets combined with increasingly luxe wellness experiences.”
MycoMeditations is a pioneer in the movement. The company offers weeklong retreats in Jamaica for fungi trippers. It may seem a bit out there, but then again, in 2015, GWI was among the first mainstream trendspotters to predict the budding of cannabis tourism for wellness purposes.

This story originally appeared in Skift New Luxury, for which I am the correspondent.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Luxury Destinations Making a Big Impact in 2018

NEW FOR 2018

What’s the best way of predicting the up-and-coming luxury destinations of 2018?
At Skift, we like to look at where new products are coming online, as well as chatting with travel agents and tour operators working exclusively with the affluent.
Based on these criteria, there are four markets we are keeping an eye on this year.


While Tokyo and Kyoto have long been favorite destinations for luxury travelers, the hinterlands of Japan are now getting their turn in the sun. Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel agents, named Japan as one of its top five international destinations for 2018, largely because of new tourism developments outside of the country’s major cities.
“Travelers are now exploring beyond Tokyo, finding value in Japan’s time-honored traditions and rural areas that offer traditional slices of Japanese life,” says Keiko Matsuura, a spokesperson for the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).
To spread high-end tourism around the country, two luxury cruise trains were introduced in Japan in 2017. The Mizukaze Express, launched in June, runs through western Japan, past the scenic Sea of Japan, Mount Daisen and the Seto Inland Sea islands. The Train Suite Shikishima, which hit the tracks in May, goes through the northern regions of the country. According to Matsuura, “These luxury trains were launched this year in response to the demand of the American traveler wanting to explore beyond Tokyo.”
Beyond the rails, Matsuura says Japan is targeting high-end travelers through their stomachs, “Food serves as a gateway to the country’s culture and is a common language we can use to promote Japan.” JNTO is raising recognition of lesser-known places through collaborations with top chefs like Eric Ripert and Dale Talde.
In another effort to beef up Japan’s luxury street cred, five areas sporting high-quality tourism infrastructure formed the Japan Luxury Travel Alliance in 2016. The members are Kyoto, Sapporo, Ishikawa Prefecture, Wakayama and Nara.
The idea is to join together to strategically attract international luxury travelers to outlying areas beyond Tokyo.


Virtuoso has also named Portugal to its list of international hotspots. The southern European country has emerged from Spain’s shadow in the past couple of years, having shown up on several 2017 hot lists.
But 2018 will see Portugal’s arrival as a luxury destination beyond Lisbon, due to its burgeoning food scene, the international recognition of Douro DOC wines, and a spurt of luxury hotels opening in the countryside and on the coast. In fact, several well-known international luxury brands are using Portugal as a launchpad into the European market.
Image result for six senses douro valley
Six Senses opened its first European property in the Douro Valley in 2015, and in the spring of 2017, Anantara debuted its first branded resort on the continent in the Algarve. The coastal resort town of Cascais, often called Portugal’s Riviera, is also booming as it attracts high-end travelers in search of a second or third or fourth home.
According to upscale experiential travel veteran Richard Bangs, Oman seems to be the new smart destination among those who have experienced the world.
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A trek through Oman
“Part of its appeal,” says the founder of Mountain Travel Sobek, “is that it is an island of peace in an unsettled sea, as it borders Yemen, Saudi Arabia and is just a skip across the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf, depending upon whose map you reference) from Iran. I think we all quest for understanding… and this is one place where we can safely venture to get a bead on the swirling currents and the cultures, and experience the beauty and traditions of a world apart.”
Oman has seen a year-over-year 22.1 percent in visitors in 2017, according to statistics from the country’s National Centre for Statistics and Information. The 2018 reintroduction of a classic Ritz-Carlton property, along with the Omani debut of the W and Kempinski brands, will likely lead to more increases.
The Kempinski Muscat is slated to open in the first quarter of 2018. Although in the city, it will very much have the feel of a resort, with more than a mile of white sandy beaches, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, and multiple food and beverage outlets. The W Muscat will open in the fourth quarter of 2018 and will focus on design, fashion and music, bringing a new vibe to the hotel landscape in Oman.
Meantime, Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel is undergoing an extensive restoration process, which is expected to be finished by April 2018.
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A pool at Al Bustan Palace, Oman
Owned by The Ministry of Tourism, Al Bustan Palace is one of Muscat’s most prominent landmarks and a symbol of the nation’s emergence as a destination for global travelers since it was built in 1985. The renovation builds on the luxury resort’s positioning as the premier destination for affluent travelers, including royalty and heads of state in Muscat. The property also houses a Six Senses Spa. Six Senses also runs a resort and spa on  Oman’s northern Musandam Peninsula, which is celebrating ten years in business in 2018.


Is this the year Tunisia makes a comeback? According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, tourism growth in 2017 (through October) has been particularly high in North Africa, led by rebounding numbers in Egypt and Tunisia.
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An oasis in Tunisia
Those numbers may get a boost in 2018 thanks to a trio of new luxury hotels. Four Seasons Hotel Tunis opened in December. The location in the affluent Gammarth neighborhood provides privacy and exclusivity, yet is close to the central business district. Most of the 203 rooms and suites have views of the sea. Ritz Carlton will be opening in the same general area at some point (yet to be announced) in 2018. Also on the grand opening calendar is a new Anantara.
According to Dillip Rajakarier, the chief executive of parent company Minor Hotels, “Capitalizing on Tunisia’s renaissance as a hot travel destination, Anantara Tozeur Resort will open in mid-2018, offering a rich gateway to the southwest area of Tozeur.” The region is a hub for Saharan adventures, renowned for its ancient history and otherworldly landscape.

This article originally appeared in the Skift New Luxury Newsletter, for which I am the correpondent.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hotels Use Technology and Design to Evolve the Healthy Room

This article originally appeared in the Skift New Luxury Newsletter, for which I am the chief correspondent.
Can a hotel room make you healthier? The jury is still out, but judging from some recent experiments, there may be more than a nugget of truth to the idea.
A Wellness Room at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
Delos, which pioneered the term “wellness real estate”, introduced the concept of an uber-healthy hotel room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada back in 2012. It is now bringing its Wellness Rooms to the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. At the same time, Swissôtel is expanding its own version of a healthy room.
In all cases, the idea is to incorporate health-boosting technologies and ambient design elements to improve wellness. We are talking about things like special lighting to counter jet lag, aromatherapy, dawn simulator alarm clocks, special air purification systems and wisdom from Deepak Chopra. Okay, only Delos has Chopra on board. His knowledge, along with that of the Cleveland Clinic, has been incorporated into the programs offered at MGM and Four Seasons.
The Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills launched its partnership with Delos at the end of November 2017. Located on the hotel’s spa level, five wellness-themed guest rooms and two suites combine the latest technology from Delos, along with a stylish room aesthetic and the eco-chic features you would expect in L.A.
According to Michael Newcombe, general manager and chair of the company’s Global Spa and Wellness Task Force, the concept has potential to become ubiquitous.  Having a “room product dedicated to supporting a wellness-based lifestyle while on the road… is a choice that hoteliers will have to get used to.”  The concept will be tested through July 1, 2018, at which time guest feedback will be assessed. If guests give the thumbs up, the plan is to add more such rooms at the Beverly Hills property and beyond.
The Vitality Suite at Swissôtel Zurich 
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, a new wellness room concept is taking shape at Swissôtel. The Swissôtel Zurich is still tinkering with its Vitality Suite, which it introduced at the end of 2016. It’s an evolution of the company’s ongoing Vitality program aimed at “inspiring travelers to maintain an active and energized body and mind while on the road.” Until last year, that program had been focused on food and fitness offerings. But according to Lilian Roten, vice president of brand management for Swissôtel and Pullman,  “We realized that we had to bring this vitality focus into the guestroom… to package it up and build a room that would be the embodiment of vitality.”
And so, Swissôtel has reconfigured one of its conventional suites into a hardcore wellness sanctuary. Design elements include hardwood floors, soft color palettes, ergonomically-functional furniture, black-out blinds and bathrooms with spa features like aromatherapy and chromatherapy tubs.
There’s also a great deal of attention paid to allowing guests to personalize their experience. For example, company literature says, “In a first for the hotel industry, circadian light is accommodated on demand. Circadian light features allow light color to change, influencing the secretion of melatonin in the brain, helping travelers overcome jet-lag or lack of sunlight,” along with enhancing the quality of sleep.
The Wellbeing Wall in the Swissôtel Zurich's Vitality Suite 
Meantime, the built-in Wellbeing Wall offers guests a variety of training options, as it contains dumbbells, horizontal bars and cable-pull systems.  A multilingual cyber-trainer via a touch-screen monitor displays exercises geared towards strengthening, stretching, meditation and breathing.
There are plans to develop Vitality Rooms in North America and Asia. The Swissôtel Chicago is slated to be the first hotel outside of Switzerland to introduce the concept, most likely next year. In Asia, the company’s Singapore property will be the first to get an update.
“What we are looking into is evaluating what regional adaptations would be necessary to make rooms relevant for various markets,” said Roten.
At the same time, she notes, certain features will always be mandatory. Among them are floors uncovered by carpet; work areas with adjustable desks with options for standing or sitting; bathroom spa experiences; and a Wellbeing Wall. Inclusion of an air purification system will only be required in cities with air quality indexes above 50 (that’s you, Beijing).
While the Vitality Room per se will be exclusive to Swissotel, Roten says that other AccorHotels brands are likely to incorporate aspects of the concept over time.
Meantime, back in the United States, Delos Stay Well rooms have been introduced to half a dozen Marriott properties on the East Coast during the past year. Should Marriott and AccorHotels fully buy in, healthy rooms may prove to have legs beyond luxury brands.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Deluxe Travel Experiences at Bargain Prices

This story, written by moi, was initially published by Kiplinger's Content Studio.
When it comes to planning for the year ahead, travel to well-known, iconic destinations often tops the agenda. Sometimes, however, lesser-known places can deliver more affordable and more authentic (the current travel marketing buzzword) experiences. In fact, according to LearnVest, 73 percent of Americans say they’d prefer a longer vacation in an inexpensive location than a shorter vacation in an expensive place.
If your travel budget is limited, consider sidestepping some of the more popular destinations. By embracing a few “second” cities, you’ll stretch your travel budget without sacrificing enjoyment.

Arts and Culture

Broadway bound? Instead of the Great White Way, consider the Great White North. Toronto claims North America’s second-largest theater scene. Most of the top Broadway shows make their way here, and ticket prices are often lower for touring performances in other cities than in New York. Americans also automatically get a 25 percent discount, thanks to the favorable exchange rate in this Canadian city. That means hotel rooms, restaurants, and transportation will cost less, too.

Like New York, Toronto hosts world-class cultural offerings. The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, for example, is home to the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company. The Toronto International Film Festival draws stars and movie buffs from around the world. Other attractions include The Royal Ontario Museum, The Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Aga Khan Museum.

Toronto’s distinct neighborhoods are just as interesting as New York’s for shopping, dining, and exploring. For a Brooklyn vibe, head to The Junction. For those in search of Boho Chic as experienced in Greenwich Village, opt for West Queen West. And if Fifth or Madison Avenues are your style, visit Bloor-Yorkville instead.

Wine and Waves

Dreaming of California wine country? Head to San Luis Obispo County.

Downtown  San Luis Obispo
Located along Highway 101 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, SLO (as SLOcals call it) is home to more than 200 wineries. While sampling wine often costs $20 and up in pricier viticulture areas, in SLO the average charge for a tasting flight is less than $10. And about two dozen wineries offer free tastings, a perk unheard of in other top California wine regions.

In addition to a welcoming wine culture, SLO has a range of beach towns offering reasonably-priced, independent hotels from two to four stars (the average daily rate is for less than Napa). San Luis Obispo itself, a town of about 40,000, hosts a weekly farmer’s market, and many small boutiques and restaurants serve up the California dream for less.

Mother Nature and Mountains

Denver may be known as the Mile-High City, but at 2,730 feet, the title of Half-Mile-High City belongs to Boise, Idaho.

Besides being an easier altitude adjustment, Boise shares a similar Mountain West vibe and serves as a gateway to many outdoor adventure experiences and ski resorts. A major difference: while hotel prices have risen along with Denver’s urban development, four-star accommodations are still available at moderate rates in Boise.

Within the “City of Trees” lies the 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt – a tree-lined scenic pathway with access to wildlife habitats and popular parks. The state-of-the-art Boise Whitewater Park caters to rafters and kayakers of all levels. And Bogus Basin, 45 minutes from downtown, is Boise’s local skiing playground. Within a three-hour drive is Sun Valley, the Aspen of Idaho, which provides the same level of first-rate skiing, shopping, and dining options as its Colorado cousin.

History and Walkability

Craving an American history experience on a budget? Try Providence, Rhode Island.

Given its 17th-century roots, the city is rich in history. Revolutionary-era churches and museums overlook the city's historic waterfront. Benefit Street is a “museum mile” of original Colonial homes. There’s no Freedom Trail, but there are many self-guided walking tours.

Providence boasts hotel prices that are far lower than Boston’s. And the city can be explored on foot, so there’s no need for a rental car. Contributing to the city’s much-lauded food scene is Johnson & Wales, an internationally-recognized culinary academy.