Jumeirah’s new Vice President of Wellbeing, Niamh O’Connell, answers our questions about her new role, the wellness industry, and embracing technology.
Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts is renowned for prestigious and captivating properties. From luxurious Arabian palaces at Madinat Jumeirah, to the contemporary Maldivian island paradise at Olhahali Island, the all-villa luxury resort in Bali, and Italy’s art-inspired Capri Palace, Jumeirah’s commitment to exceptional service and guest experiences is well known around the world.
Niamh O’Connell is Jumeirah Group’s new Vice President of Wellbeing. The Group recently created the brand new role to solidify a renewed focus on wellness. Prior to stepping into this position in June 2023, Ms. O’Connell spent three decades working in the luxury wellness and hospitality industries within Europe, the United States, and the Asia Pacific region. During the last two decades she was based in southeast Asia, first with Hyatt International Hotels & Resorts and then with Rosewood Hotel Group – where she was responsible for the strategic development of wellness and brand experience.
Ms. O’Connell says she is “thrilled” to be joining Jumeirah Group at such a pivotal time for the brand, and “very much looking forward to the opportunity to further elevate its wellbeing offering, starting with the establishment of wellbeing as a key pillar for the Group.”
We asked Niamh O’Connell about her new role, the global wellness industry, and what makes the best guest experience.
Can you please talk about your recent appointment as Jumeirah’s first VP of Wellbeing and what your role entails?
The role of Vice President of Wellbeing is new for the brand, but an essential step in Jumeirah Group’s journey as they continue to invest in advancing the wellbeing offering through new concepts, therapies, and partnerships, which are all designed to enrich the wellness experience of guests.
In my role, I am working with our talented hotel and operations teams to build on the brand’s award-winning Talise Spa concept to craft an all-encompassing wellbeing strategy that incorporates touchpoints throughout the guest journey, rather than just limiting these to the spa. My focus will be curating these exceptional guest experiences and unique touchpoints, by implementing elements which include spa services, fitness offerings, longevity treatments, and holistic wellness rituals as well as overseeing branding, design, and programming. Overall, we want to achieve a holistic approach, as I believe this is essential when it comes to truly enhancing our guests’ physical and emotional wellbeing.
I am confident that by continuing to elevate our wellbeing strategy, we will cultivate innovation, excellence and a lasting impact throughout the wellness space. Jumeirah is a well-established brand in the wellbeing space, and I’m looking forward to further building on that foundation and introducing exciting new offerings that will really elevate and enhance the guest journey.
What are your plans in this role?
My plans within this role include incorporating wellbeing at the core of the brand, as it is an essential element of Jumeirah’s evolution, as well as integrating wellbeing across our entire guest journey, focusing on the key principles of lifelong learning, longevity, and inclusivity.
At the heart of Jumeirah’s wellbeing philosophy is longevity, which is also a key element of our strategy moving forward. As we are continuing to see a rise in people looking for ways to live better and for longer, I want Jumeirah to assist guests with learning new habits, evolving existing behaviors, and embracing technologies.
At Jumeirah, we believe the foundation of our longevity is sleep, movement, community, and nutrition, and our longevity programming will be based around six key pillars which will be weighted depending on personalized goals and individual requirements. We want to provide our guests with the necessary tools to sustain the wellbeing practices learnt during their time at Jumeirah, as this will ensure a seamless transition into their daily routine. We will be introducing partnerships with leading medical brands as part of our evolved programming, as well as elevated technologies which will allow guests to track and record their own performance, while also enabling them to continue collaborating with our on-site teams after they leave.
My goal is to introduce a truly holistic wellbeing experience that spans the entire guest journey. This can be achieved through personalized wellbeing engagement, with an individualized approach adapted to each of our guests profiles to further advance the wellbeing proposition and experience. Building on this individualized experience, is a sustainable approach to wellbeing, which ensures that we are empowering guests to enhance their physical and emotional wellbeing through sustainable practices.
Why do you think wellness has become such an important part of hospitality?
Access to wellness has become paramount in consumers’ daily lifestyles and as a result guests are driving the demand within the luxury hospitality industry. Our guests have access to the most advanced state-of-the-art tools and technologies, fitness equipment, services providers, and nutrition from their own home, and they no longer want to compromise their lifestyles when they travel, whether for business or leisure. In the luxury hospitality industry we now have the opportunity to evolve our offering, create experiences for guests to engage with during their stay, and to continue to engage with long after they have left.
Each guest’s state of wellbeing is supported by a wider ecosystem, and hospitality forms an integral component of this network. When guests stay at Jumeirah, they want to reach a sense of heightened relaxation, so it’s essential that we are taking into consideration their wellbeing throughout various touchpoints to deliver an exceptional guest experience.
Incorporating wellness into the hospitality industry allows us to make guests feel valued, which is of the utmost importance to any brand looking to build customer loyalty. Having a strong wellness offering that considers guest needs is becoming increasingly important in the hospitality industry, and it’s an exciting time to be in this space.
You said in a press release: “Over the past three years, a remarkable shift in the landscape of wellbeing has been witnessed, and now the industry stands on the brink of an exhilarating transformation.” What is this transformation and what does it mean for the industry?
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw a major shift in the global wellness industry over the past three years. During the pandemic, people were expected to stay in their homes – with the constant threat of a global crisis – which confronted us all with our own mortality. This shift in mindset led people to begin thinking more about longevity, which in turn, has been reflected in the wellness industry.
The industry has responded to this change in focus, with the innovation of state-of-the-art new technologies, which will also be a key focus for Jumeirah moving forward, as it’s a fast-growing subsection of the industry that we really want to be leaders in.
The transformation that the industry stands on the brink of has several elements to support it. The foremost is the growing acceptance that wellness practices have now been seamlessly integrated into everyday life as a means to enhance our physical and mental wellbeing. This increased self-awareness motivates us to identify what aspect of our wellbeing practices need to be amplified. For example, if we have increased stress levels, sleep and movement can be practices that reduce the stress hormone production.
The second key foundation to this transformation is the embrace of new and emerging technologies in the wellbeing space. As we continue to promote wellbeing as a lifestyle, we need to ensure that it is sustainable for guests, which can be achieved by ensuring guests understand their baseline with technology, to see tangible results and also have the support to keep them on track.
What makes the best guest wellness experience in a hotel or resort?
To create an exceptional guest experience, it’s important to understand the demographic of your guests and tailor your offering to their personalized needs and requirements. Before implementing any touchpoints, I will always take a customer-centric approach in the ideation process, to determine how each one elevates the guest’s sense of wellbeing. Ultimately, if a guest does not resonate with a touchpoint on an emotional level, it is a missed opportunity to connect with them.
It is also essential to consider the local context of each spa and wellness facility, as incorporating touchpoints which reflect the location and clientele is essential to delivering an outstanding guest experience on a global level. Jumeirah’s spas all have a Middle Eastern influence which also underpins the signature brand experience across the portfolio.
The key to further reinforcing any incredible wellness experience is having a team which is capable of delivering a thoughtful and personalized experience for every guest. A strong team is the foundation of any successful wellness business, so it’s essential to ensure that you are offering opportunities for them to learn throughout their careers in order to foster success.
With a global portfolio such as Jumeirah, it is essential to utilize CRM systems to guarantee a consistent guest journey, and to ensure a seamless transfer of information between properties. These systems can then be leveraged to streamline the experience at each property, where a dedicated team member is assigned to oversee the entire guest experience, to ensure their preferences are accounted for, from pre-arrival to post departure. A journey map is also an incredibly helpful tool to assist with identifying when key digital touchpoints can be introduced throughout the customer experience.
Wellbeing through design is also essential to our strategy as I believe it plays a key role in the luxury guest journey to help elevate the customer’s sense of wellbeing. Design is a core focus for Jumeirah which also extends within the wellness spaces in the portfolio. Jumeirah’s flagship Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is a pioneering example of this key pillar, with the hotel’s Talise Spa exuding Arabian opulence to create a strong sense of place while also contributing to an overall sense of wellbeing through its carefully thought-out design. Future designs for Jumeirah’s spas will be intuitive, while taking into consideration how the space can make guests feel grounded even in the most urban settings – which will also be reflected beyond the spa throughout properties.
Do you find yourself using technology more in the wellness experience in recent years?
Absolutely, technology is increasingly having an impact on the wellness experience, and it’s something that we are looking to take better advantage of as we move forward into this new era of Jumeirah as a wellbeing-first brand. Learning how and when to integrate technology effectively has been integral to my success, and implementing this knowledge will help to elevate Jumeirah’s wellness offering to the next level. By integrating technology, we can learn more about our physical and mental performance, as well as recognizing peaks and triggers in our overall wellbeing, ultimately allowing us to learn how to respond accordingly to benefit each individual person.
Many of us now have technology in our homes and on our person that is tracking our performance and offering wellness tips to enhance our performance. This is becoming the norm to receive an ‘audit’ on your level of wellbeing, and it is highly valuable for us to understand and decide what our behaviors will be to elevate our sense of wellbeing,
What are you most excited about for the spa, wellness, and hospitality industry in 2024?
Looking ahead to 2024, there are several aspects that excite me within the hospitality, spa, and wellness industry, especially as wellbeing is no longer considered a one-dimensional element within these spaces, due to a growing understanding of the need for integration throughout the entire guest journey, that goes beyond just the spa. I am an advocate of performance wellness, so for me, introducing technology into the wellness space to track, mark and demonstrate performance/results is very exciting. In tandem to this, stronger integration of media services to complement traditional spa services will also be a big focus, dissecting how both can co-exist. Separately, I am looking forward to engaging in further conversations around andropause, cognitive health, and Cycle Centre Programming for women.
Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at book4time.com.