Champions of change: the future of spa & wellness according to the industry’s top leaders

the future of spa and wellness

What will the future of spa and wellness looks like after a major global shift? Spa Executive gathered insight from six industry leaders on the subject.

As the spa and wellness industry moves into a future world that has been rocked by COVID-19, there will be many changes and adjustments to make, and people are going to need a lot of guidance.  We have gathered insights from true thought leaders in the space and understand their take on the current environment and the future of wellness. These individuals are steering our community in new ways and are true champions of change in this day and age. These Champions of Change include:

JESSICA SHEA, thought leader, experienced spa and wellness professional

PATRICK HUEY, Corporate Spa Director, Montage Hotels & Resorts

KENNETH RYAN, Vice President, Global Operations, Spa, Fitness and Online Retail, Marriott International, and Voluntary Contributor while on Furlough from Marriott International

DEIRDRE STRUNK, Vice President of Spa, Fitness and Beauty, Canyon Ranch

DANIEL POULIN, Director Spa & Fitness, North & Central America, Accor

SHANE BIRD, Director of Spa and EVS Operations at Oneida Nation Enterprises, Turning Stone Resort and Casino

Their comments are on a variety of topics, including the phases of reopening and challenges businesses will face. We also asked them to complete this sentence and add their thoughts: “The future of spa & wellness is __________.”  

Here is what they had to say:

JESSICA SHEA, thought leader, experienced spa and wellness professional

We, as an industry, should have a unified voice and collectively set the pace and a minimum standard for what is going to make people feel safe. The messaging should be that spas and wellness businesses are safe, important, and essential, and that there is a standard of what you can expect when you go to them. Then, we can all get creative about how we do things in our own spas within those parameters.

Technology will play a big role. Online booking will be important, and if we look at all of the touch points in a spa, there are many opportunities to become more tech-forward, like online check-ins and paying through your phone. Initially, I think people are going to be more tied to their personal devices and are not going to want to touch things that a lot of other people have touched. Allowing guests to complete transactional items on their own devices can help remove some of that anxiety and free up space to focus on relaxation.

The more we nourish our own wellness and our creative spirit at this time, the more we will be able to contribute to the business of wellness down the road.

“The future of spa and wellness is bright. More than ever before, people will be focused on their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being in a post-COVID world. While it will take time to work through the current tentative environment, once people feel safe to move about, spas, fitness centers and places of wellness will again serve as a safe haven for preventative health care and lifestyle improvements such as immunity boosting and stress relief.”


PATRICK HUEY, Corporate Spa Director, Montage Hotels & Resorts

We are planning a full reorientation of our associates and are being very intentional about not making people feel like they have to come to work if they are afraid. We will allow staff the time to make their own peace with coming in, particularly because we’re asking them to go into a room with someone with the door closed and to be in situations where they’re not going to be six feet apart. We have to be very cognizant of that as we’re asking people to come back to work.

Investing the time and energy into letting team members acclimatize to what will be the new normal in their work environment is critical. Building trust with our team members is going to be key. If they don’t trust us, it’s going to be really hard to recover this business.

To address distancing, at Montage, we’re building out our online booking and contactless check-in and checkout. We’re also working on contactless fitness experiences for the guest rooms so we can do pieces online or bring equipment to their room. These things will change our business for the better. Hospitality in general tends to be very afraid of moving forward in big ways and I think this is making us do that.

We’re sharing information on our website and in confirmation emails about what to expect when you come to a Montage spa, letting guests know beforehand that we will be taking their temperature, that they will wear a mask, and that there is no steam or sauna at this time. We hope this will mitigate some of the resistance that we may see from guests.

I feel hopeful, though I do think it may be a longer process than we currently anticipate.

The future of spa & wellness is based on our ability to inspire confidence in our associates and our guests. In order to move this industry forward through the times we are living through, we will need to be able to inspire confidence, which I view as another word for trust, in our associates first – our service providers, our receptionists, our attendants and our vendor partners. If we are able to do that, we can rely on them to be champions of our business with our guests.”


KENNETH RYAN, Vice President, Global Operations, Spa, Fitness and Online Retail at Marriott International and Voluntary Contributor while on Furlough from Marriott International

We have to be very methodical in our opening processes, which may be difficult because there will initially be a very strong demand. We can’t just jump in and just say yes to everybody, because that is where things go wrong, like when beaches open up, everybody rushes to the beach, and they have to shut them back down again. It’s up to us to take control to avoid that happening.

Communication will be critical. We want to remove apprehension and fear, and set expectations of both our teams and our guests — that they have to be healthy in order to come to our spas and will be required to wear a mask, for example.

In terms of distancing, this pandemic is going to push us to move much faster towards technology, and things like digital menus, pre-arrival questionnaires, and digital payments, and online booking. There is also an opportunity to take the retail store online and change the customer experience by creating a digital space.

I am optimistic, but I think it’s important to realize that, as an industry, we’ve got one chance to get this right. This is a new world and we’re going to have to make it for the long haul.

We need to think of this not as a reopening but a new opening.

The future of Spa and Wellness has never been more significant and necessary. As the world adjusts and emerges from this global health crisis, our industry is primed to aid people’s renewed focus on the importance of personal wellbeing. We have a unique opportunity to provide respite to all seeking stress reduction, renewal, and the healing hands of our spa therapists. Spas can offer a bespoke and controlled environment, unlike others, instilling confidence and providing comfort with the services and settings we offer.


DEIRDRE STRUNK, Vice President of Spa, Fitness and Beauty, Canyon Ranch

During quarantine, Canyon Ranch has been reaching out and letting our past guests know that we are there for them, but not trying to sell anything. People are inundated with sales pitches right now, and I want to be sensitive about focusing on the dollar and, instead, focus on how we come back and how we manage with our teams.  Revenue is important. We have to keep our doors open, but it’s the last thing that’s on our minds right now. For now, we will focus on the guests and staff, because our staff is what makes the guests happy, and if we focus on taking care of people the revenue will come. 

I don’t think that we’re going to see a lack of people wanting wellness. This virus will make people think about what we can do differently to stay safer and about how to get our health back in line. That will bring them to our wellsprings.

I think online booking will become even bigger than it is already, so people don’t have to have that face to face interaction, especially in the beginning.  If we can stay connected as an industry, we will do great things. Working together is key.

“The future of spa & wellness is integrative. The value of our services has an impact on all parts of your life, and vice versa, so we will increasingly need to understand where what we do fits into people’s bigger picture and how we might help them overall.”


DANIEL POULIN, Director Spa & Fitness, North & Central America, Accor

During the first phase of reopening, when we do not yet have a vaccine, things are going to be very different because social distancing will still be important. Later, as we hopefully develop immunity to this disease, there will be a new normal that will be very different from the old normal.

Emphasis will be placed on cleanliness and sanitization, because we don’t want a second wave of this crisis. The first priority is for all of us to nail down our cleaning processes and set guidelines as an industry. If we don’t hit that nail on the head to start with, and we start seeing a rise in infection rates stemming from spas as an industry, we’re all going to suffer from that. This has to be a collective effort.

Cleaning will become a performance in front of the guests, to show that we are cleaning and sanitizing, and we demonstrate that we are doing everything we can to keep guests and staff safe.

Technology is going to become more important. The spa industry has never been very high tech, and now we’re probably realizing that if we had been a little bit more high tech, we might have been able generate some revenues or keep team members more engaged. When we come out of this, we will probably be a bit more high tech and more prepared for similar situations in the future.

The future of spa & wellness is shifting.  During the last few weeks of confinement, the world was faced with a tremendous amount of stress and the realization of our own mortality along with a renewed focus of the importance of our health and wellbeing.  Many have taken up exercise on a more regular basis and moved towards healthy eating from emotional eating. Never has the world paid so much attention to their happiness and wellbeing.  As we reopen our facilities, many will turn to our expert teams and luxurious facilities to fine tune and elevate the efforts made over the last few weeks in order to find balance between our mental and physical strength and a world plagued with a serious disease for months to come.”


SHANE BIRD, Director of Spa and EVS Operations at Oneida Nation Enterprises, Turning Stone Resort and Casino

The underlying theme for now is “distancing, masks, and disinfection.” That is the trinity guiding my reopening.

I’ve always been a proponent of keeping electronics out of the spa, specifically cell phones. I’m now faced with the opportunity to re-evaluate my dogma. What is the best and safest way to introduce electronics and technology into the spa and into the guest experience?

There will be bigger shifts towards things like remote check out and check in and electronic retail. There will also be changes to things that have traditionally been norms in our environments, such as reading material, newspapers, and paper menus. These things won’t be in our lobbies and relaxation rooms anymore. We may see tablets used for things like check in, digital retail, and reading material, as these can be checked out, turned back in, and sanitized.

Opening up is not a destination. We may never be “done.” We have to realize that we’re in it for the long haul and the situation today could change within hours, because of something in a news release or something happening clear across the world. Things will continue to evolve and change for the foreseeable future.

It will not be easy but we have to stick to our guns, and ensure that everyone from the CEO down agrees that the rules will be adhered to. So, if there’s a guest that decides that they do not want to agree to their part of the relationship and wear a mask, for example, they will be asked to leave and security will show them out.

The future of spa and wellness is a heightened level of community and innovation.  Within the industry there is a strong sense of community and collaboration and our guests need to be brought into that.  They need to see the necessity of what we do in their lives and actively participate in what we have to offer.”

To summarize: 

The future of spa and wellness is bright, integrative, and shifting. It is also more significant and necessary than ever, based on our ability to inspire confidence in our associates and our guests, and will see a heightened level of community and innovation. In other words, the future of spa and wellness is in our hands. We look forward to seeing all of this come together.

Comments are pulled from two webinars hosted by Book4Time. Watch the webinars here, in the Book4Time resource library.