A Global Spa Summit and a Global Wellness Institute: Breakthroughs for REAL Wellness


New York City-based spa industry leaders have over seven years built up and refined two international organizations that today are effectively promoting and guiding the resort spa industry. In carrying out this role, these leaders have shown owners and managers of spas and ancillary enterprises how a mastery and adoption of positive wellness values and programming can be both a civic duty and an attractive business opportunity.

The two organizations are the Global Spa and Wellness Institute (GSWI) and the Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

The GSWI sponsors an annual Summit, help each of the past seven years in a different part of the world. It is an invitation-only gathering.

Global Wellness Institute

A parent organization – the GWI, operates year-round. It serves as a holding/umbrella-like organization. In addition to organizing the Summit, it initiates and funds research and conducts wellness tourism. It is an international think-tank. It brings together leaders and visionaries. Its basic goal is to positively impact the future of the spa and wellness industry.

In carrying out its mission, GWI seeks to facilitate industry conversations and collaborations, to create and make widely available research information and industry insights, and to trigger innovation in products and services, all while being mindful of sustainable growth and best business practices.

The GWI has adopted a proactive (versus preventative or medicalized) view of wellness, a global perspective and commitments to integrity (e.g., unbiased research), shared problem solving and the highest standards of reason, science and integrity for evidence-based positions, whenever humanely possible.

All REAL wellness enthusiasts should welcome this powerful ally that seeks to drive the wellness movement forward around the world on a positive and multidisciplinary basis, particularly one with resources and connections at the highest decision-making levels in both public and private sectors.

The Global Spa and Wellness Summit

Dr. John Travis gave a few presentations at the 8th Annual Global Spa and Wellness Summit (GSWS) in Marrakech, Morocco in September, 2014. He and I learned a lot about the spa industry, much of which we did not fully recognize or appreciate. We met delightful people as committed to positive well-being and all that goes with it (e.g., ecological consciousness, social policies, economic viability) as those we encountered over the decades of attendance at the fabled University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point National Wellness Conference. And we developed a new appreciation for the potentials of the spa industry. Not lastly (new benefits will surely be glimpsed in time), we gained more than a few delightful relationships and commenced collaborations likely to prove enjoyable and productive in the years ahead.

There were three full days of presentations and all manner of substantive meetings and fun activities. Forty-five nations were represented among the 400 or so delegates. The scope of presentations was impressive, including attention to architectural design adaptations on the nature of the spa experience, the increasing focus on sustainability, likely consequences of seismic generational and gender shifts, the anticipated impact of technology on human interaction and so much more. The industry economic weight? No less than 3.4 trillion in U.S. dollars.

It is an understatement to suggest that the Summit was a remarkable event. I came away with the sense that it could prove to be a watershed event for the industry, and perhaps for the wellness movement, as well. It seems to me that spa leaders recognize they can shape the wellness movement in the direction of positive well-being, as wellness was first advanced by Dr. Halbert L. Dunn and others half a century ago. By engaging with REAL wellness, the industry will render an immeasurable service to their communities while growing the successes of spas the world over.

The Spa Advantage

With regard to sponsoring REAL wellness education, destination resort spas have at least three advantages over corporate and other institutional (e.g., hospitals and universities) sponsors:

  1. Spa resorts have less reason to fear controversy. This allows wellness managers to offer lectures and workshops on topics wherein program participants may feel offended by perspectives and facts at odds with their comfort zones. Corporate wellness managers, on the other hand, refrain from sponsoring vital programming, such as reason, science appreciation and critical thinking skills, explorations of meaning and purpose, even a focus on humor and fun. Why? Because such discussions are likely to trouble many employees, who would rather not entertain such thinking. Many may feel such issues cross boundaries, easily offend or seem to be critical of established norms. Imagine a corporate lecture on the right to die. Not likely, yet some experts, like the late theologian Gerald A. Larue, held that we are never so aware of the importance of pursuing life until we have accepted the reality of mortality and our oncoming encounter with death.
  2. Spa resorts are not focused on cost containment. Company wellness offerings are almost entirely designed for near-term savings via less medical care utilization. The so-called wellness teachings are in fact medicalized risk reduction and prevention endeavors.
  3. Spa resorts are not staffed primarily by doctors and other medically trained personnel. Professionals promote what they know, and they are not trained in or oriented to the principles of physical and mental initiatives leading to advanced states of well being totally unrelated to illness or health concerns.

The Power of the Spa Industry to Inform/Shape Real Wellness

The spa industry wields a great deal of economic power and many opportunities for imaginative programming. The extent of this influence can be glimpsed in a report prepared by SRI International on the global spa and wellness economy. A slide show at the GSWS website highlights the key facts in this report.

A few of the salient findings can be mentioned:

  • The spa and wellness sector is presently a US $3.4 trillion industry.
  • The spa industry can be described in four economic segments: namely 1) spa industry, 2) wellness tourism, 3) wellness lifestyle, products and services and 4) thermal and mineral springs.
  • One segment, namely that of wellness lifestyle, products and services is by itself now valued at US $2.806 billion. This is a 13 percent growth rate since the previous year.
  • Throughout the globe, there are 105,591 spas in operation. Asia, with 32,000 facilities, has the most. The increases in all regions is attributed to the growth of the middle class.

The Future Lies Ahead

The spa industry has more promise and influence than any other to lead the wellness movement back to its root as a positive concept for enhancing life, for thinking of health in non-medical ways with optimism and joy, to the extent possible. All the main presentations at the 2014 Summit can be of benefit to a global audience thanks to the generosity of GSWS. Spa professionals and clients who could not attend the Summit and the rest of the world, for that matter, can learn a great deal from the resources available at the GSWS website.

This is true for the fortunate 400 who attended, for that matter, as several sessions were conducted at once in varying locations at the Four Seasons – and even delegates could not partake of all the educational offerings. No worries – the GSWS will be posting videos, white papers, transcripts and PowerPoints of all or nearly all sessions and hundreds of professional photos of the presentation and all festivities are also available at the site.

How many conferences offer such largesse not only to their paying customers but to all who need and will surely welcome such educational opportunities?

Additional Facts about the GSWS

GSWS is an international organization based in New York City. I had to pleasure to visit and tour the headquarters office a few years ago, and a few months after that Susie Ellis, the Chairman and CEO, teamed with me on a presentation about spas and wellness at the 2011 National Wellness Conference in Stevens Point, WI.

The GSWS mission states that the organization:

represents senior executives and leaders joined by a common interest in driving economic development and understanding of the spa and wellness industries. Delegates from diverse sectors, including hospitality, tourism, health and wellness, beauty, finance, medical, real estate, manufacturing and technology attend the organization’s annual Summit, held in a different host country each year.

While the annual Summit is limited to those at the senior level of the spa industry and a few others with close ties to the industry from related sectors (and a few fortunate outsiders who win the speaker lottery via invitations to attend as performers), information from all Summits is eventually available to all. This is a very good thing, and I encourage you to take advantage of it.

Be well – and enjoy your next visit to a destination spa-or first, if you have not had one yet. Check out the wellness agenda – you just might find that REAL wellness educational elements are on offer.