The overlap between guest wellness and sustainability
The overlap between guest wellness and sustainability
15 JANUARY 2020 8:48 AM

Guest wellness and environmental sustainability can no longer be seen as two separate trends in the hotel industry. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for overlap.

Hoteliers’ focus on wellness in brand positioning, design and programming can no longer be seen as merely a trend. At the same time, developers and brand owners have long looked for ways to build and operate sustainably–mostly to the extent that some sustainability-focused practices are cost savers.

I believe the time has come to recognize that guest wellness and environmental sustainability go hand in hand, and that opportunities abound to capture guest attention and market share by targeting the intersection of these areas.

Examining the overlap
The Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) defines wellness tourism as the “specific division of the global tourism industry that is defined by the common goal of marketing natural assets and activities primarily focused on serving the wellness-minded consumer and those who want to be.” The United Nations has designated 27 September as World Tourism Day, which according to National Geographic “highlights the importance of sustainable tourism—a framework for engaging travelers and the travel industry at large in supporting goals that include protecting the environment, addressing climate change, minimizing plastic consumption and expanding economic development in communities affected by tourism.” Finally, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), which is the world’s foremost nonprofit focused on empowering wellness through education and research, has aptly recognized through its Sustainability Initiative that “it is impossible for an individual to be concerned about personal wellness without (eventually) taking into consideration social and planetary wellness.”

While sustainable travel may not yet be a huge draw, wellness travel certainly is. At a time when guests expect hotels to uplift their mental and physical wellness, a key way of achieving this goal is offering the peace of mind that the property they’re staying at is taking affirmative steps to maximize sustainability. As weather is becoming more extreme, and as sea levels are rising and thigh-high water is appearing in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, operating sustainably is becoming less of a choice for the good corporate citizen. Properly marketed, the steps taken toward conscientious and sustainable operation are likely to pay off in the attraction of the wellness-minded traveler. Hans Pfister, the co-founder and president of the Cayuga Collection, adds “It is hard to imagine wellness in a polluted, hostile, and unfriendly environment. Taking care of the nature around you, and the people of local communities you operate in, is critical to providing a great wellness experience for guests.”

Sustainable design as a wellness generator
A careful review of the materials and methods used to build a hotel is a key opportunity for optimizing sustainability. LEED certification is just a starting point; there are many other green building standards and certification systems that offer guidance to builders and developers to identify best practices for usage of energy, raw materials, water and waste management, and emissions. These standards focus not only on the impact of a hotel on the environment in which it’s located, but also on the creation of spaces within the hotel that minimize toxicity and maximize indoor environmental quality. While this is not the space to list out the technical details of these standards, they’re out there–and they provide helpful roadmaps for developers and builders. Moreover, a handful of for-profit certifications and benchmarks specific to the hotel industry have popped up to guide owners towards bundles of practices and improvements to market to guests.

Beyond certification or seeking to meet a particular selected standard, properties can forge their own path toward sustainable building by establishing a litmus test that can later be messaged to guests. Throughout construction/renovation, all key materials and processes should be selected that maximize the wellbeing of guests, employees, the environment and the community in which the hotel resides. This includes working with a purchasing agent on selection of sustainable wallcoverings, flooring, HVAC systems, furniture, fixtures and equipment and more. But just as important is choosing construction vendors who emphasize green building practices and the wellbeing of their own employees. A strategy that emphasizes community sustainability is particularly important in urban areas and zones affected by overtourism. Great examples of this include the green spaces incorporated in the new Equinox Hotel at Hudson Yards in New York and the Parkroyal Hotel in Singapore.

Incremental steps for existing properties
Just because you’re not building from the ground up or renovating doesn’t mean that your property can’t be optimized for sustainable operations and the wellness benefits that flow from it. It’s time to think beyond green-focused towel and linen reuse programs and refillable bathroom amenities.

A recently emerging trend in the sustainability and wellness space has been the replacement of plastic water bottles in guestrooms with boxed water sourced from post-consumer materials that is easily recycled or composted after guest consumption. While the box is of course an improvement over plastic, what’s just as important to think about is the broader question of making water available to guests throughout their stay to ensure adequate hydration while traveling. Similarly, while many hotels have started to incorporate natural elements such as plants and water features in both indoor and outdoor spaces, most stop short of offering structured ways for guests to interact with those spaces, for example with a biophilia-fueled yoga experience or a micro forest bathing session. Communicating with guests about how sustainability choices impact their personal wellness pays dividends by making the guest understand that efforts have been made to improve their lives and the world around them.

There are plenty of other opportunities for hotels to think creatively about how highlighting improvements in sustainability can have a direct impact on guest wellness. Areas to consider include locally or onsite sourced food, smart guestroom climate controls, energy efficient and mood enhancing guestroom lighting, food-and-beverage waste management and composting programs, or employee uniforms using sustainable materials, just to name a few. Additional ideas can be found in various eco-forward and green-focused lodging publications. The key is not only looking for opportunities to increase sustainability, but to tie those practices to guest wellness; the intersection is where the greatest benefit lies.

Meaningful actions drive meaningful results
Simply put, authenticity matters. Consumers know when they’re being “well-washed.” The tried and true towel and linen reuse card is viewed just as much as being about reducing the hotel’s water costs as it is about preserving the environment. But, where careful consideration is given to explaining to guests why particular sustainability decisions have been made and helping them understand how they’re geared towards improving their own wellbeing, positive responses (such as market differentiation, local accolades, recognition from influencers and press–and ultimately greater revenue per available room) are inevitable.

Adam Glickman is the principal of Parallax Wellness + Hospitality, a trusted partner in bringing memorable hospitality brand concepts to life for hotels and other real estate development projects. With over 20 years in the hospitality industry, he has a passion for creating premium, distinctive, and wellness-forward brand concepts and helping non-hospitality wellness companies navigate the complexities of the hotel industry to form partnerships and grow. For more information about Parallax Wellness + Hospitality, visit

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