Industry insights

New Attitude

Civano Living’s Kevin Kelly explains why there’s a shift in the attitudes and values of spa and wellness consumers towards relationship building and sustainability and what this means for the industry

A shift is occurring in the wellness consumer segment in the US – a market which has doubled in the last 10 years and is part of a global US$500bn sector which, according to Paul Zane Pilzer’s book The Wellness Revolution is set to become the next US$1 trillion dollar industry. There has been a significant change in attitudes as individual wellness has become more prevalent and planetary health, such as climate change and sustainability is more top of mind. So, what’s the reason for this change? How big is the market and just what are the shared attitudes and values of today’s wellness consumer?

A catalyst for change
In 2002, as president at Canyon Ranch, I commissioned the psychographic research firm American LIVES to examine the attributes of the affluent wellness traveller with a focus on baby boomers in the US – amounting to 78 million US citizens aged 46-65. At that time, the research concluded approximately 40 per cent of those baby boomers were interested in health and wellness programmes, such as preventive medicine, healthy dining, fitness programmes, spiritual quests and massages. A report we released in late 2011 The Boomer Values Realignment Study (see p144), found this wellness interest had grown to over 80 per cent. And, in both studies, almost a decade apart, the majority of respondents agreed that they measured their sense of wellbeing by how “hopeful, joyful and energised” they felt. In essence, personal wellbeing is determined by an emotional outcome or aspiration. The study also found common values connecting the consumer’s interest in personal and planetary wellbeing.

According to Brooke Warrick, president of American LIVES: “Deeply rooted attitudes and values do not change easily or often.” They change if there’s an emotional event that traumatises or inspires the individual or culture. In the US three events occurred in recent years that together act as a catalyst to alter attitudes, values and behaviour. The first, is the life-stage baby boomers find themselves in at their age: a more reflective period with new priorities. The second, is the vulnerability and shock people felt due to the economic downturn. The third, is concerns over whether the US’ infrastructure, economic, educational, and political systems are up to par and capable of competing and leading in a global economy. In our 2011 Boomer Values Realignment Study, 70 per cent of the respondents were concerned the US was slipping in its global position. These three factors changed attitudes and shifted values which, in turn, are starting to impact consumer choices.

While these were US studies, I'd argue that the new attributes we identified in today’s wellness consumers are even more embedded in European customers where many countries have a history of healing spa waters and an acceptance of alternative medicine and sustainable practices.

My better self
Americans appear to be shifting priorities away from consumption, merely buying products or services for status, and are becoming more inner-directed and focused on wellbeing and relationship (re)building. As Marc Freedman describes in the book, Encore, baby boomers are “beginning a new chapter” and looking for a new sense of purpose. Meanwhile, Andrew Cohan, a hospitality market researcher for HVS International says people go on vacation for one of three reasons – romance, adventure or escape. While on vacation, they are exploring some aspect of their spiritual, intellectual or physical self, if not all three. The leisure traveller seeks what Cohan coined the ‘my better self’ experience.

In our study, that explored different lifestyle categories involving community design, wellness, leisure time and vacations, the overriding desire was to deepen one’s personal relationships. Eighty-five per cent of respondents said they wanted to live or visit where there are “gathering places to socialise with family and friends.” Seventy-six per cent said they wanted to go on holiday in order to reconnect with family and friends, with three quarters of this group seeking to “develop a deeper understanding of people close to me”. While 93 per cent wanted to put more time into their health and wellbeing, the wellness experience that outpaced eating healthy food or getting a massage was “laughing and socialising with family and friends.”

This suggests people want wellness services and healthier food in a setting with formal and informal gathering places and programmes that encourage interaction but are not instructional workshops. After all, if one seeks to deepen their relationships while on vacation this requires activities to create shared experiences as well as informal self-directed moments. And companies may want to consider modifying their message and programmes. While many spa and hotel marketing images focus on ‘the woman by the pool’, this longing for relationship suggests placing a greater emphasis on group, mother/daughter or reconnecting get-away packages. And, more space designed for lingering in addition to active spa, fitness or dining facilities.

Natural bedfellows
Another significant value we picked up on is that people are making a connection between their personal wellbeing and environmental health. Wellbeing and sustainability are very compatible categories: natural bedfellows. Seventy-three per cent of the respondents in the 2011 Boomer Values Realignment Study believed there was a “need to live in better harmony with the earth.” Ninety-two per cent preferred less toxic construction and cleaning materials to avoid exposure to carcinogens. Sixty-six per cent were concerned about the air, water and food their families consume and the impact on their health. In fact, when looking at a scale that measures consumer interest ranging from negative, neutral, leaning or positive, the positive responses for wellness or sustainability overlapped by almost 50 per cent. If we add the neutral and leaning scales to this – people open to some level of wellness or sustainable ideas – the market overlap is closer to 75 per cent. To this end, if you are promoting health and wellness, you should also be thinking sustainably within your company and your product development efforts. While consumers may have different motivations for wellbeing and sustainability, the two can coexist in a business, resort or product placement as the customer has partial or overlapping shared values associated with them.

Yet while the morphing of these two consumer categories is at a tipping point, the convergence has been evolving for the last 50 years. Today’s spa industry was part of the early nucleus for this change – first through the original European spas and American hot springs and later in the healing centres and health farms of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Furthermore, the genesis of today’s ‘triple bottom line’ – sustainable thinking focused on the social, economic and environmental needs of a business or a society – evolved from a younger baby boomer generation seeing the natural connection or interplay between mind, body and spirit and applying it to communities and nature.

The spa and wellness industry has been in the middle of this change. But with such a plethora of healing choices how do consumers differentiate between them and what does the future of wellness look like?

Future wellness
Going forward, it’s hard to imagine a spa or wellness lifestyle company being a leader in the marketplace without also being committed to sustainability. In many instances, spa, wellness and sustainability can be seen as one mega-consumer category, with many outlets from resorts, day spas and preventive medical practices to green products, health food stores and fitness centres.

This mega-category is all the more powerful because it’s rooted in people’s value systems. Having shared values with your customer or having consumer’s identify with your product at a values level will engender greater brand loyalty and strengthen your market position. However, if you use this value proposition to distinguish your business, it will be important for your company to believe in and act on these values consistently or you risk eliciting a feeling of betrayal if they are breached through your customer experience.

The market for wellness activities, healthier food and a more sustainable lifestyle has been expanding for years, as has the consumer’s demand for a more complex, authentic wellness experience. After all, an authentic wellness experience is much more than just a pampering massage. It’s a service that’s delivered by healing therapists who have training in musculoskeletal design and knowledge of a number of modalities from energy functions and nutrition through to core training and orthopedic massage. This is combined with a nurturing culture and staff who help to create a ‘safe place’ for people to let their emotional guard down and experience healing at a deeper level.

Serving customers who see the connection between many modalities requires a larger treatment menu, a bigger budget, greener designs and more knowledgeable operators. Today, health resorts need sensual spas, expert practitioners and coaches, great food, and a plethora of movement, fitness and exotic classes. Healthier restaurants now offer organic, gluten-free, biodynamic, clean, fresh and locally sourced food. Fitness centres cannot just simply provide weight training, aerobics and stretching sessions but need to offer core and muscle confusion training, high energy movement and weight-loss classes. We found the market leaders in these segments also convey authentic wellness intentions to their customers through the members of staff.

For hotels and resorts, the notion of luxury has been redefined because aesthetics and functionality need to also reflect these emerging social values. Eighty-seven per cent of the respondents in our survey said they would look favourably on a hotel that has a green, sustainable design and two-thirds said they’d pay 5 per cent more per night to stay there. In addition to the top-spec bathroom, people want beautiful, high-end natural materials, like stone and wood, in a calming, refined environment with an energy-efficient, sustainable design. They want light, water and flowing indoor/outdoor spaces with immediate access to the latest technology and social media.

In one sense the world is becoming more complex and through its social media, global economy, environmental stress and pace of change. But, if our values and practices are aligned with the emerging consumer psychographics, we can elevate our business, capture a larger per cent of market-share, enjoy better customer loyalty and have more satisfied employees.

Report Methodoloy

Data for the Boomer Values Realignment Study was gathered in September 2011 and based on a random sample of baby boomers in the US aged between 45-65 with a minimum household income of US$75,000 (€76,600, £65,650). In total, 1,204 people answered an online survey which covered 350 items including lifestyle, attitudes and values questions; retirement, health and wellness, housing and leisure preferences; and, historical choices and travel patterns. The demographic breakdown of respondents is shown in table. The three companies behind the report were real estate and hospitality consultancy Civano Living, marketing agency Ypartnernship and psychographic research company American LIVES.


Kevin Kelly is the CEO of Civano Development, LLC, a sustainable real-estate company, which he founded in 1996; and CEO of Civano Living, a resort advisory firm established in 2009, that focuses on sustainable resort design and wellness programming. Kelly was the developer of Arizona’s 1,200-acre Community of Civano, one of the first sustainable communities in the US and has consulted on numerous other projects. From 2001-2008 he served as the president for Canyon Ranch, the health and wellness company.

Email: [email protected]

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