Hotels are racing to help you unwind. At least, that’s what you’d be led to believe if you’ve been following the flurry of wellness news that is suddenly dominating the high-end travel industry. And that doesn’t just mean that they’re looking to make an extra buck in the spa. (Though wellness tourism is poised to become a $678.5 billion business by 2017, according to the most recent Global Wellness Tourism Economy report.)
All around the world, properties are rolling out programs that help you stick to your fitness routine, preserve your sleep schedule, or tap into local wellness traditions—some quirkier than others. Here, the trends to try (or avoid) on your next trip.
The Big Chill
You’ve heard of cryotherapy: You step into a chamber half-naked and get smacked with air that’s as cold as -240 degrees Fahrenheit for up to three minutes. Athletes and celebs have embraced it as a way to bounce back from tough workouts or combat the effects of aging. So it’s no wonder that hotel spas are finding less clinical, and less extreme, ways to get in on the action.
The new Canyon Ranch Kaplankaya, on Turkey’s west coast, and the Carillon in Miami Beach both have igloos in their spas. At the latter, you can choose from three scented mists—menthol, mint, and eucalyptus—that are meant to cool you down, like an olfactory trip from South Beach to the South Pole. At the Dolder Grand, in Zurich, the 43,000-square-foot spa includes a so-called Snow Paradise Room, which invites guests to swap body lotion for an icy mixture that feels more like—you guessed it—fresh snow. The reward for your polar plunge? Improved circulation, says a rep for the Dolder Grand.
You can’t make this stuff up: These days it’s possible to treat hangovers and exhaustion—or just get a concentrated dose of antioxidants—by getting hooked up to an IV in the spa. The therapies, created by a company called Reviv, have popped up at the Undeground Spa at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (hangover central) as well as the business-oriented Maslow Hotel in Johannesburg. Naturally, they’re administered by medical professionals rather than aestheticians.
Verdict: Beyond Bizarre
Breathe Out the Jet Lag
Jet lag is an equal opportunity handicap, whether you’re an occasional long-haul traveler or have gained entry into the million-mile club. But some hotels are trying to make their guests the exceptions. The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, in Arizona, has zero-gravity nap pods that can reduce jet lag-related fatigue in a half-hour session. At the Viceroy Snowmass, there’s complimentary Oxygen Inhalation Therapy—it sounds like a huge gimmick, but the company’s chief executive officer swears by the power of pure oxygen to cure jet lag and altitude sickness. Another Colorado resort, the Broadmoor, also buys in to the theory: Its spa has a dedicated Oxygen Room where you can inhale 88 percent pure oxygen.
Meanwhile, Delos, a wellness-oriented design company, has started installing Stay Well rooms at hotels around the country—including Marriott properties in Atlanta, Orlando, and Charlotte. They include a lighting scheme that changes tonalities throughout the day in order to help regulate your circadian rhythm.
Verdict: Brilliant yet Bizarre
In 2014, I took a walking tour of Quito, Ecuador with Metropolitan Touring. My guide insisted I visit a traditional witch doctor for a limpia ("cleansing")—just for the experience. I was beyond skeptical as she whacked thorny branches and herbs against my forearm. But then her diagnosis was spot on.
In the years since, spiritual healing has trickled into spa services. At the newly-opened JW Marriott in Los Cabos and at the Viceroy Riviera Maya, you can join a shaman for traditional ceremonies in a temazcal, a type of indigenous sweat lodge that, among other things, is meant to cleanse the respiratory and digestive systems. At Vana Malsi, in India’s Himalayan foothills, Tibetan healing therapies espoused by the Dalai Lama—like Tibetan acupressure massages and water baths—are a key part of the experience. And Aman is even introducing entire retreats dedicated to a fully immersive Ayurvedic practice; they can span from three days to two weeks.
Whether it all works as promised or not, it provides a fascinating, authentic look into local culture. But often times, you’ll walk away with much more than that.
Verdict: Surprisingly Brilliant
The Japanese practice of shinrin yoku—which gets loosely translated to “forest bathing”—suggests that meditative, leisurely walking, rather than hiking, in the woods can have medicinal effects. Scientific studies seem to agree: A wide array of researchers have indicated that forest "bathing" lowers blood pressure, cortisol, and sympathetic nerve activity. You can partake in the activity at such hotels as Trout Point Lodge, in Nova Scotia; the new Six Senses Douro Valley, in Portugal; or the dramatic-looking Treehotel, in Sweden, where you’re given reindeer skins to stay warm while you "soak" in your forest surroundings.
I recently became convinced at Blackberry Farm, the legendary culinary retreat in Tennessee—it’s where I took a “Deep Healing Woods” yoga class on a platform in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains, surrounded by tall, slender trees. Keeping balance in the wind, watching the swaying trees—it was a contemplative, almost therapeutic experience I’ll never forget.
Verdict: Bizarre yet Brilliant
A Moment of Zen
Westin was the first hotel brand to roll out a meditation program at urban properties when it partnered with popular startup Headspace in 2014. But now meditation is becoming a universal offering, as travelers feel the need to thoroughly unplug.
At the Connaught, in London, the Aman-branded spa offers lunchtime meditation sessions that are free and open to the public (it’s great for the local business crowd). The Park Hyatt New York has put one-on-one meditation workshops with experts from MNDFL, a buzzy boutique meditation studio, on its spa menu—they go for $250 for 60 minutes when paired with a treatment.
But when you head to a proper wellness resort, things get kicked up to a whole other level. Last year, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa installed a state-of-the-art Somadome personal meditation pod—the first of its kind. It employs a “choreographed sensory experience” of colored lights and energy healing tiles that “introduce guests to intense new levels of relaxation and meditation.”
Verdict: Brilliant, usually
Work Out Where You Sleep
Don’t want to hit the boring hotel gym? Don’t have time for a run? No problem. Hotels are making it possible to squeeze in a workout without leaving your room. That very premise is at the core of Intercontinental’s new Even Hotels brand, which so far has locations in New York, Maryland, and Connecticut; each room is stocked with kettlebells, TRX equipment, and yoga mats. At the New York Hilton Midtown, you can now order a trainer on demand from a partner app called PRIV. And Kimpton hotels try to add on a layer of (admittedly unnecessary) white glove service. They’ll roll out your custom-designed Gaiam brand yoga mat and send up extra towels if you want to practice your trikonasana. Think of it as room service for the active set.
Verdict: Mostly Brilliant
Not Just Another Pretty Facial
What works for one person’s skin doesn’t necessarily work for another’s. That’s why some spas are letting you customize far more than the scent of your essential oils. The My Blend facial by Claris can be booked at Le Royal Monceau, in Paris, and the Ritz Carlton Toronto—it starts with a diagnostic scan of your face and uses the results to custom-blend products that will suit your specific needs. A similar treatment by Dermalogica recently came online at the the Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, as well—it requires you to place your entire head in an analysis machine that then maps your face in 14 distinct zones. You can get the tech-free version at the Sisley Spa, at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, where aestheticians create something that’s akin to personal skincare prescription, no machines needed.
And as you might expect, your individual formula is almost always made available for purchase when you get a custom facial—so you can get back to your dewy and rejuvenated state whenever you want.
Just Add Salt
You’ve heard of salt scrubs and bath salts, but halotherapy? This nascent phenomenon, which espouses the curative properties of your most-used seasoning, is on display at the just-opened Four Seasons Oahu, where the spa has two detoxifying Himalayan salt chambers so that you can breathe in dry salt air. (The property claims this has a positive effect on your immune, nervous, and lymphatic systems.) It’s also available at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz.. The latter goes the extra mile: It has a mineral pool that’s spiked with salt from the Dead Sea.