Trend: Urban Wellness Resorts Will See Big Growth After Pandemic Pause
Yes, the pandemic fueled a flight from cities to deeper-in-nature destinations for both residents and travelers. Urban wellness resorts saw a pause, but the future is more–and more sophisticated–destinations, because cities are getting a deep “wellness re-think” and a serene wellness sanctuary is an ever more attractive model for a city-stay.
Back in 2019, we predicted that wellness resorts would expand beyond their exotic, far-flung destinations and hit more cities, as the world rapidly urbanized and wellness became a much more powerful overall and traveler value. Then the pandemic hit and we saw the flight from cities and a traveler obsession with deep-in-nature destinations. The urban wellness resort, a trend with powerful pre-pandemic momentum, felt on hold.
Now new chapters are being written: travelers are making a “great return” to cities and research shows that the exodus from cities was already pretty much reversed by late 2021. We predict renewed momentum for the urban wellness resort concept, not just because cities are roaring back, but because the pandemic–which harshly exposed just how “unwell” cities are–has sparked a major rethinking of what a city could and should be. Our 2022 trend, “Urban Bathhouses and Wellness Playgrounds,” explores the many ways cities are being redesigned around more accessible wellness. It laid out how urban landscapes are moving away from cars, pollution and endless consumerism and retail to develop more green and communal spaces; how new manmade beaches, free pop-up wellness and fitness classes, and even water sports are now hitting unexpected cities such as New York, Paris, London, Sydney, Madrid and Tokyo; and how an urban bathhouse renaissance is underway.
The trend is about how more affordable, democratic access to wellness is hitting global cities. But the urban wellness trend is also evolving fast at the high-end level. Bigger, more sophisticated urban wellness resorts and communal “wellness hubs” are being underwritten by a business model that combines the resort with residences and a local membership club. As a result, we’re seeing more ambitious, amazing projects than the urban hotel with a nice spa of yore. This is creating a traveler mindset that would have felt foreign just a few years ago: staying in a wellness sanctuary in a “bright-lights, big city” environment increasingly feels like the right model for an urban trip (and yes, only if you can afford it).
Big wellness hospitality brands are launching urban oases:
Wellness travel brands such as Aman, Six Senses and One&Only are restarting their engines on urban wellness resorts, opening new properties and releasing news about future plans.
Aman, known for its exclusive resorts in gorgeous tropical locales or in historically significant buildings, is making major urban wellness moves, with new properties slated to open globally, from Miami Beach to Tokyo. The pandemic-delayed and stunning Aman New York, a hotel and residences with three floors dedicated to holistic wellbeing and a 25,000-square-foot spa, will start taking reservations July 25. Other headline-grabbing projects include Aman Nai Lert coming to Bangkok in 2023, a wellness resort that will be set amid skyscrapers, and the recently announced Aman Beverly Hills, an urban wellness destination set on acres of botanical gardens that is also a stone’s throw from busy Rodeo Drive (more below).
Six Senses also looks poised to make some serious urban wellness moves, with new properties slated for Rome later this year, London and Kyoto in 2023, and also Lisbon, Bangkok, Istanbul and Shanghai. CEO Neil Jacobs recently discussed their new concept, Six Senses Place, wellness membership clubs that will be integrated into their urban hotel-residential properties–and that bring travelers, residents and locals together to experience comprehensive wellness, fitness and social offerings. (Note: Six Senses, it seems, will not be headed to New York as planned in 2023, as a new report claims that Accor is taking over the project, with a Faena Hotel planned.)
One&Only, another wellness hospitality brand associated with exotic locales, announced a new urban resort focus back in 2018, and while there have been pandemic delays, its One&Only One Za’abeel (a wellness resort plus residences) will open in Dubai in 2023.
It’s quite notable that one of the grand dames among destination spas, Canyon Ranch, has announced it is making an urban wellness move: its first urban wellness club will be rolled out in Fort Worth, Texas in 2023. In our lonely world, urban social wellness clubs are on the march. For example, LA’s “social wellness club” Remedy Place will now open in New York’s Flatiron District.
Others on the move:
Equinox Hotels, “for those who rest and play as hard as they work,” opened their first property at New York’s Hudson Yards back in 2019, and it’s far more than a fitness hotel with a pretty dizzying array of wellness programming–from biohacking treatments to personal sleep coaching. Equinox Hotels now states that it will build 33 properties (mostly in key cities) in the next decade, with 15 already in the pipeline. For instance, a new Equinox hotel, club and residences just got approved in Chicago and one has also been announced for Detroit, where it will be strategically located close to all the city’s sports stadiums, as they expect that the majority of pro athletes will stay there.
Kerzner International, the company behind One&Only and Atlantis Resorts, etc. recently announced a new wellness hospitality brand SIRO Hotels planned for global cities, which will incorporate fitness, nutrition, outdoor activities and “recovery labs.” Its first urban wellness property is opening in Montenegro in 2023.
We need to re-stress how new urban bathhouses and water-based day vacation resorts will change cities. German-based Therme Group, whose mission is to bring ancient bathing traditions to global cities, is launching their vast playgrounds of water, heat and nature in more urban destinations. With water-wellbeing resorts open in three German cities and Bucharest, they plan to expand across cities in the UK, Europe, North America and Asia–with Glasgow; Bad Vilbel; Frankfurt; Toronto; and Manchester, UK in development. The Manchester property coming in 2023 reveals just how far beyond a “water park” this urban wellness resort is: Set on 28 acres, it features 25+ pools, an all-season urban beach, 30+ saunas/steam rooms (and Sauna Aufguss performances), 1,500 trees (and “living” water slides), fitness and yoga classes, a big urban (vertical) farm and arts programming. They attract thousands of people a day, partner with hotels for those traveling in, and represent a very different, super-affordable version of an “urban wellness resort.”
Creating and occupying urban green space and forests:
More urban wellness properties are either creating (or are situated in) urban green spaces and forests, and they can be a real force in the rewilding of cities that’s underway. The medical-wellness destination RAKxa, which opened in late 2021, bucked the trend of the beachy Thai wellness resort by opening right in the “green lung” of Bangkok. Forestias, a mega-project also opening right outside Bangkok this year, is a whole new vision of city living that places community and nature at the core. It’s a 158-acre wellness ecosystem that spans four types of multigenerational wellness release estate options (including Six Senses Residences), a luxury wellness hotel, its own medical center, offices, retail and restaurants, and a sports complex–all revolving around 12 acres of forest and forest canopy walkways for city dwellers to enjoy.
Cities and countries rebrand around wellness:
Sometimes the urban wellness tourism projects feel unexpected. Saudi Arabia, with its long history of human rights violations, is now pushing to liberalize Saudi society and the $1 trillion push to build a global tourism economy (that aims to attract 100 million visitors by 2030) is a big part of it. One component is a new city within the huge city of Riyadh, a development headed up by New York hotelier, Jerry Inzerillo. The first phase opens this year around the restored ruins of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of At-Turaif, the country’s first capital. When completed in 2026, it will include tens of thousands of new apartments, an opera house, a university, countless palm trees, a vast shopping area and dozens of hotels, especially those with a strong wellness focus, such as Ritz-Carlton, Rosewood, Four Seasons and Six Senses.
In a very different vein, the country of Singapore is now focusing on becoming an urban wellness destination. If tourism boards promoting their wellness propositions haven’t much focused on their urban assets, Singapore’s Tourism Board’s new goal is to make wellness experiences located right in the heart of the city a key aspect of their tourism offerings in the next few years (more below).
The reimagining of cities around nature, around vibrant public and communal spaces, and around wellness, is one of the most exciting trends to emerge from the pandemic. Cities are no longer mainly about offices and work–and residents and travelers are embracing different unique values found in a metropolis. They seek lifestyle, culture, the people mix and connection and, increasingly, wellness. More “urban wellness” is the future and it will happen at both the most democratic and luxury levels.
This Trendium is based on Urban Bathhouses & Wellness Playgrounds, trend from the 2022 Global Wellness Trends Report.
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