New York City Media Event: GWI Data Shows Continued Growth in Wellness Sector

[Image: Ophelia Yeung and Katherine Johnston, courtesy of GWI][Image: Ophelia Yeung and Katherine Johnston, courtesy of GWI]At the Global Wellness Summit in Kitzbühel, Austria, last October, the delegation received a sneak peek of some of the data being compiled by the Global Wellness Institute on the current size and scope of the wellness economy. Last week in New York City, after a year of research and number crunching, the full report was presented to a group of over 100 journalists and GWS board members.

GWI Chairman & CEO Susie Ellis and Steelcase VP James Brewer welcomed the group at the Steelcase HQ at Columbus Circle. This office furniture manufacturer is the ideal setting for a discussion that includes the topic of Workplace Wellness; the premises are sprinkled with examples of the company’s latest designs for today’s workplace, including desks with treadmills and adjustable heights; cozy private module nooks equipped with lighting, power plugs and ottomans; and many comfortable, functional seating and working options.

Researchers Ophelia Yeung and Katherine Johnston shared their updated data on the five industry sectors relating to the spa and wellness industry—Spas, Wellness Tourism, Workplace Wellness, Thermal Spas and Wellness/Lifestyle Real Estate.

Johnston began doing research for GWI back in 2007, working to define and measure the spa industry and track the ongoing expansion and addition of sectors. Johnston reminded the audience of the GWI’s definition of wellness: “The active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” She noted that the two words that really stand out here are “active” and “pursuit.” In other words, there’s an intention to wellness—it’s a state that we seek, not something that happens to us.

RELATED: Global Wellness Institute Releases Global Wellness Economy Monitor

A few highlights from the data:

  • Currently, 121k spas operate around the world, employing 2.1 million people. Europe leads in revenues, and Asia has the largest number of spas and most spa openings.
  • Wellness tourism is growing at twice the rate of general tourism.
  • The thermal spa sector consists of 27k establishments; about 7k offer spa services and represent 60 percent of industry revenues.
  • Despite the high interest in workplace wellness, it is only available to 10 percent of the global workforce, and an even smaller percentage actually takes advantage of what’s on offer.
  • Wellness communities are growing fast and have enormous potential. Globally, consumers spend about 20 percent of their income on housing, so even a small shift in preferences to a wellness orientation will have a huge result.

Yeung shared that “In our 10 years of studying wellness economy, we have observed it to be growing in a way that defies economic cycles and temporary disruptions.” However, from a macro trend perspective, she shared that the mid-priced segment of the market may begin to feel a squeeze. The luxury and high end are increasing, and as interest in wellness grows, access to wellness options becomes sought after by the lower income brackets as well. Factors driving growth include:

  • The increase in chronic disease
  • Healthcare costs for companies rising at an unsustainable rate
  • Populations experiencing more stress
  • Consumers investing in their health and taking an interest in connecting with others and with nature
  • Awareness of happiness and its role in health

According to the researchers, wellness will need to continue to evolve with consumers in order to deliver true value. So much chronic disease is related to human behaviors and lifestyles, resulting in a growing movement aimed at encouraging people to adopt healthier habits. Some examples include taxes on sugary drinks, the removal of junk food from school cafeterias, and employers tying employee healthcare contributions to healthy behaviors. Yeung poses the rhetorical question; “Is wellness a personal responsibility and freedom, or something imposed by society to put restrictions on behaviors? In the future, will people who eat junk food or won’t exercise become pariahs?” How this debate goes forward will have some implication on the wellness economy, she noted. In any case, both researchers agree that the growth trajectory of the wellness industry appears unstoppable.

RELATED: Global Wellness Summit Experts Name Eight Wellness Trends for 2017

Next, the audience welcomed a surprise guest, Mehmet Oz, M.D.—aka Dr. Oz—who discussed the real potential to improve health, beginning with what he called “the single biggest under-appreciated health problem”—sleep. Through his television show, he is conducting a sleep survey on average Americans, and his team of researchers has already accumulated over a million and a half hours of sleep data. Results so far indicate that 70 percent of respondents are getting less than the minimum recommended requirement of seven hours of sleep per night. This has widespread repercussions on health and is linked to an increased mortality rate.

The final presenter, Anjan Chatterjee, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, has been working with professional colleagues to research the connections between wellness and beauty. By studying brainwaves, they’re finding that there is indeed a connection: brains respond positively both to beautiful visuals as well as words connected to beauty. More on this topic can be read in Dr. Chatterjee’s book, The Aesthetic Brain.

The report contains details and data divided into regions and sectors, and helps to create a true understanding of the complex industry in which we work. The GWI is able to make this data available free to all—download it from its website—thanks to the support of sponsors Spafinder Wellness, Biologique Recherche, Universal Companies, Elemis, HydraFacial, Miraval, Performance Health, the body holiday, treatwell and Two Bunch Palms.

–by Lisa Starr

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