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24 Sep, 2012

Wellness Gurus: Spas Only “Temporary Refuge” Against “Global Feng Shui”

Bangkok – Health and wellness professionals attending the World Spa and Well-being Convention 2012 between Sept 19-21 agreed that efforts to help over-worked, over-stressed individuals relax and recharge can provide only temporary refuge in a turbulent, chaotic world. Although herbal and spa treatments go a little deeper, tackling the root-cause of stress may require an entirely different approach. As a number of speakers put it, the entire system has become so stressful that systemic changes are the only way out.

One perceptive comment came from an invited speaker who did not turn up but sent her notes for inclusion in the conference summaries. Patricia Cori, President of Save Earth’s Oceans, Inc., Rome, who describes herself as a “renowned author and motivational speaker,” said, “As we observe the immense changes underway in 21st century global society, one thing remains clear: there is a sort of feng shui going on around the world at  political, financial and cultural levels. The old is crumbling, making way for the new in every aspect of our lives. New approaches to how we will survive and flourish in the new economies and new visions for the future are of the utmost significance now, if we are to make the shift in our consciousness that will celebrate innovation while still drawing upon the positive aspects of our traditional ways and knowledge.”

That was echoed by New Zealand-based Christian van Rossum, a “Visionary Artist for a New Era of Sustainability”. He said, “As this is the convention of wellbeing, I would like to invite you to think broader, larger, on a much larger scale, and consider the wellbeing of the planet and all life on it. We can sense the world needs a new vision. We know the planet and the human race is in deep trouble. The extremes in the climate are a constant reminder, and how the world is governed, how humanity interacts with each other, the exploitation of the environment, the depletion of our habitat, etc., everything is longing for reform.”

Mr. van Rossum called for September 21, the annual UN International Day of Peace (which passed last week almost unnoticed by the travel & tourism industry) to be marked as a global “day for life” – and declared a holiday “to make us all better and provide thoughts how to use our regained energy for the greater good” for the sake of the next generation and move “towards a new era of sustainability.”

Deeper Reflection

For these views to be sounded at an health and wellness convention warrants some reflection. It was the first World Spa and Well-Being Convention held in Thailand, which markets itself as country where visitors can gain curative, preventive and spiritual experiences at the hands of world class doctors and medical facilities, masseuses and therapists, Buddhist monks and Chinese Tai Chi practitioners. Whatever the demand, an entire business has sprung up to provide supply. At an accompanying trade show, a whole range of companies displayed their wares – aromatherapy fragrances, herbal teas, anti-aging products, food supplements, linen and equipment suppliers, and much more.

A booming business, however, has made health and wellness promotion a contradiction in terms. Like any other business, managing it means dealing with competitive pressures, marketing, administration, finance and human resources. All are stressful. Those selling solutions now face the same problems as their guests and clients. One speaker admitted as much. Datin Nor Hafizah Ismail, a Malaysian performance coach and Neuro-Linguistic Programming & Time-Line Therapist, said daily life is occupied with “money, money, money, and work, work, work” all of which cause stress. One solution: Three hour spa treatments.

All speakers’ presentations were dotted with words that have become regular fare at such conventions: balance, wisdom, enlightenment, calmness, happiness, breathing, meditation and peace. All had inspiring, motivational stories to tell, either about how they have re-engineered their own lives or witnessed someone else doing so. All want to find a market for their “solutions”. All see behavioral change as being vital to re-establish the heavily-disrupted balance between the global and individual yin and yang.

Higher Rate of Speed

Raoul Andrews, Vice President, Spa Association Africa, cited one well-known cause. He said, “The internet, the communication revolution both help to make our lives easier to deal with. But they are slowly killing us. Modern life style is forcing us to function at such a higher rate of speed that it has put our basic functions in overdrive and on the verge of explosion! As a result to find a quick fix we are creating a new word for health and we are calling it wellness! It is different in its quest for better health, not based on curing an ailment but, simply put, alleviate the stress that probably would degenerate in a pathology.”

Mr. Andrews said the World Health Organization has predicted that the future of medicine by 2025 would be what is referred to as alternate medicine today. “Already two-thirds of the planet today has that approach to health and wellbeing, with Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda leading the way. This is not to the liking of the pharmaceutical industries and the traditional medical community who would like to hold on to the monopoly of the planet earth citizens’ health.

“The future of health and wellness will not be in the hands of drug dispensers. Computers will replace most general practitioners. Information databases and sophisticated programs will be accessible to all to deliver diagnostics and the suggested treatments to take care of the problems; there will be mini-clinics that will implement those services. This approach to healthcare will decrease the cost of dispensing these modalities and make it affordable to all whether it is the countries themselves that will finance it up front from tax revenues or individuals through private insurance.”

However, Mr. Andrews said, “as the individual attention and personal touch decreases, there will be more demand for human interaction and touch. This is where wellness programs will kick in to bring forth a necessary need for human interaction. Spas or wellness centers will answer to those needs. Doctors might get involved in the process but only those with a holistic approach to health. They will not be the leaders in the process, just other technicians to deliver the proposed solutions.”

Feed the Machine

In his talk on Inspired Passion, Visionary Artist van Rossum said, “The world is passing through an era in which all problems have become one. We see the population pressure and the increasing resource and space requirements for a fast growing humanity, unfortunately though, without greater responsibility and greater awareness. It seems we are just multiplying to feed the machine, have a few good free moments but unable to move ahead consistently and find the paradise that is yet abundant around us.

The communication evolution however has brought us much closer together and we can see that the boundaries of individual states are no longer valid, as population movements now found additional electronic ways, to create communities and broader involvements, but still a closer cooperation between nations, apart from primitive trade agreements, and the idea to move humanity ahead as a whole, evades us greatly.”

Mr. van Rossum said that multinational organisations, such as the UN, the EU, African Union and others “are still tools of an old, all powerful and visionless establishment, and exclusively focused on negotiating trade interests based on the pressure and in a framework imposed by the wealth from the still all powerful victors of a war that ended in 1945 (the western market system).

“So how can we expect to move ahead towards a new era when the comprehension of a united world is missing? When our essential attention is focused on exploitation of resources, what’s under and above the land, the animals, plants, each other? And all what makes us and connects us in a holistic completeness; connects us to each other and to our natural world, is not understood, addressed only as a pity secondary consideration.”

Then he added, “Now why do you at this convention need to hear that? What is so important and wise in your profession that has endured through generations and is essential and true to humanity?”

Oil the Machine

Picking up on that theme, Mr. Nicholas Packard, an American lecturer on Wisdom and Spirituality, Tai Chi Qigong Practitioner and Teacher, said, “What does wellness mean and what is the approach to achieving it? Both depend on a perspective, which is influenced by one’s culture.

“In the West, wellness may be interpreted as the absence of disease, and the approach to achieving it may be in ‘how well you oil the machine’. But in the East it may be interpreted differently. For example, wellness may be interpreted as something relative to each individual and the approach may be in how one is able to find balance in life and how one is able to harmonize his/her inner world with his/her external world. It is seen in holistic terms, meaning one is required to look at and balance all aspects of one’s life – the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. If and only if all aspects of one’s life are balanced and harmonized in relation to each other aspects then, according to this tradition, can one be expected to find real health and wellness in one’s life.”

Ultimately, however, the health and wellness industry has to first focus on its own financial health and commercial wellness. A good motivational speaker and/or therapist does not necessarily a good businessman make. Enter: Research reports to help the industry understand itself. As Stu Garrow, Co-founder, Intelligent Spas Pte Ltd, Singapore, pointed out, “Understanding your spa’s dedicated potential is a key tool in the process of maximising revenue from the community of constantly evolving spa consumers.”  He said spas have to understand changes in consumer behaviour, what attracts first-timers, repeaters, frequency of visit, popular treatments, the range of possible expectations of a spa visit, and understanding the little things which spa goers’ value.”

Noting that research holds the key to understanding what influences consumer behaviour, Mr. Garrow announced the first dedicated Spa Consumer Survey for Thailand. However, he told this editor, getting the industry to realise the value of, and pay for, such information is also not easy. Another systemic paradox: An industry that survives on selling “wellness” will not pay to enhance its own financial “wellness.”

Growth Makes It Worse

Indeed, the more it grows, the more its doing-business stress grows. Dr. John Brazier, Vice President, Federation of Holistic Therapists, UK, asked whether spas themselves deliver on their promises. He asked, “What message does our marketing send in terms of the “promise”? Do we over-promise and under-deliver? Are we missing a large target market because we are sending the wrong messages?”

He noted that the most important people in the delivery of that promise were the therapists. But they, too, faced the same problems as everyone else: Burnout; getting credit for their work, continual professional development and a career pathway. For those running spas, the questions are obvious: “What expectations do we have of our therapists in terms of delivering the promise? Do they understand our target market? Are they equipped with the training and knowledge to be able to carry out an effective consultation? Are we keeping our teams motivated and passionate about what they do?”

In a nutshell, the health and wellness sector is well and truly caught in the middle. It claims to offer a solution but is becoming a victim of the same problems faced by its own clients. Growth and success will only worsen the pressures. Breaking this cycle will mean joining the pursuit of what Mr. van Rossum calls the pursuit of a greater good – the need to “think broader, larger, on a much larger scale, and consider the wellbeing of the planet and all life on it.”