TREND: A New Era of Transformative Wellness Travel

You’re the Hero of a Wellness Saga

More wellness/spa destinations will (and should) inject more theater and fantasy into wellness experiences to create epic-level sagas that can fire up emotion. The Red Mountain Resort (featured above, photo credit: Johannes Torpe Studios) under development north of Reykjavik, Iceland, is just one cool example. The proposed resort, with its dramatic architecture rising out of the wild, craggy volcanic landscape, signals immediately that you’ve entered an otherworldly place.

The centerpiece is an enormous spa, which takes the Icelandic medieval saga of Bárður Snæfellsás as its muse. The half-man/half-troll Bárður renounced the world of humans in favor of solitude and peace inside a glacier, and the multi-sensory spa journey casts guests as the protagonist in his heroic voyage. They travel through five emotional states: contemplation, exposure, confrontation, clarity and enlightenment, each one expressed through a dramatic shift in Icelandic nature, replete with wind tunnels, fire baths, rain curtains, ice pools and pitch-black slides. In the original saga, every time Bárður experiences an emotional change, fog appears—just as it will when one enters a new “emotional zone” in the spa.

The world of gaming or Games of Thrones is palpable here, but it’s poetically minimalist. This is not an orthodox nod to cultural “authenticity” but is, as architect Johannes Torpe put it: “A world that stimulates your senses in ways everyday life doesn’t have the capacity to do…in a slightly exaggerated way.” Fear, surprise and challenge are in play, not the usual “comfort zones” of spa. And the goal of this saga-based wellness quest is transformation through an imaginative journey.

Forecasting The Future

Wellness is by nature a journey, a multi-chapter story, and a personal and emotional quest. But for too long, even at the most fantastic wellness destinations, too many of the classes, treatments and experiences have been served up piecemeal: You enjoy that meditation class and wonder, what now? Go back to the room or the pool? You’ve not been immersed in a true wellness “story” …so you get disengaged.

The future: a true circuit or “necklace” of linked experiences rather than the disconnected “beads” of traditional programming and amenities.

There is absolutely no way to engineer a universally “transformative” wellness travel experience: Transformation is both elusive and personal. But if wellness over the last decades has too often involved a narrow focus on me, me, me and my betterment and beauty—we predict that concepts that use mechanisms of fantasy and theater or “wellness avatars” will rise, because they switch on people’s imagination and cast them in a bigger-than-me saga. It’s hardly “authentic,” but just consider the recent craze for “training like a mermaid.”

There are so many potential wellness stories and sagas, so many wellness traditions across the world (beyond the pan-Asian standard fare) that could be meaningfully explored. Yes, the concept of transformative travel gets overused. But with wellness travel, transformation is the very promise and brand, so these new creative experiments that can better wrap the traveler up in a powerful story are much needed.

This is an excerpt from the TRENDIUM, a bi-weekly communication exploring the wellness trends identified in the 2018 Global Wellness Trends Report.
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