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“I do feel that the new role for the spas will be, first of all, to discharge all the emotional baggage that people are carrying, to open up our minds and free our bodies from mental and emotional toxins,” said Marina Efraimoglou, founder of Euphoria Retreat, a destination spa located in the heart of the Peloponnese peninsula in the small Greek town of Mystras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Efraimoglou’s approach to wellness, and by extension Euphoria’s, has always been rooted in ancient Greek and Chinese philosophies and practices—a unique blend that has quickly made Euphoria one of Europe’s most sought-after wellness destinations.
But just like many businesses in her native Greece and around the world, she was forced to shut down Euphoria in March due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now, almost four months later, Euphoria is re-opening but Efraimoglou has had to make changes in the retreat’s spa and wellness offerings. And she is not the only one.
While the disease is still raging, countries around the world have started to slowly emerge from a months-long state of lockdown and it has become very clear that the idea of going back to life as we know it pre-COVID-19 is not realistic. People are waking up to “the new normal” and the wellness industry is following suit.
A change in travelers’ priorities is inevitable and spa destinations have had to modify their practices and treatments not just because they have to comply with local safety and health measures but also because they need to address better the mental and physical needs of their guests post-lockdown. Most properties are focusing on moving their activities and treatments outdoors where the risk of contracting the disease is much lower. Others are developing immunity-boosting nutrition programs while also adopting a more holistic approach to their wellness offerings. And since social distancing is now the norm, certain retreats are also adding no-contact treatments to avoid any direct interaction between their guests and therapists. There are also voices within the industry calling for a more sustainable approach to wellness and a shift of values that puts stress on health instead of appearance-focused treatments.
While visitors heading to Efraimoglou’s Euphoria retreat this summer will not have access to one of the resort’s most notable facilities—namely the indoor Sphere swimming pool, she has decided to focus her efforts on helping people reconnect with nature by relocating some of the classes that would normally be held indoors to different locations around the sprawling property that also includes a private woodland.
“We are having shaded outdoor treatment rooms. We already had a TRX [Total Resistance Exercises] station in our private forest and we are putting more equipment there so we are going to have a small gym in the forest,” she explained. Yoga enthusiasts will be able to practice their aerial yoga skills among the olive trees on-site as well as on the two outdoor yoga decks. Efraimoglou has also had a small amphitheater built where she intends to hold talks and a few music events (with social distancing measures in place, of course). She is also hoping to encourage guests to spend as much time outside as possible by setting up two-person seating areas across the property.
“I feel that we as a human race, need to find a new way to coexist between us as humans, but also, and even more importantly, between us and nature,” she said. “And we need to start opening our minds and start planning for the future. And I really feel that some of the spas and holistic places have an important role in helping people create this energy and atmosphere to start planning [for the future].”
Together with adapting the already existing treatments to the new reality of COVID-19, Efraimoglou is also introducing three new programs to help guests cope with stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. The Balance and Restart three-day program blends meditative practices and breathing exercises to “harmonize your mind and emotions,” the Balance and Recover program targets your mind and body through a series of therapies and a personalized nutrition plan, and the Immunity Reset program focuses on boosting your immune system through medical testing that analyzes the current state of your immunity system and a personalized antioxidant Mediterranean-inspired nutrition plan and detoxifying treatments.
Similar to Euphoria, other retreats are either expanding on or introducing immunity-boosting nutritional offerings. The beach-front Six Senses Con Dao in Vietnam is enhancing its Alchemy Bar to include a large variety of juices with “virus busting and immunity-boosting ingredients.” The Shou Sugi Ban House, the wabi sabi-inspired wellness retreat that opened last year in the Hamptons, NY, has introduced a Vitality Retreat that among other things teaches guests how to prioritize micronutrients in their diet to enhance their immune system as well as how to ferment foods that add healthy probiotics to maximize gut health. And the Royal Mansour in Marrakech, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, is betting on a personalized 360 approach to its guests’ health by launching new multi-day wellness programs designed to boost the immune system through daily spa treatments with ingredients from the resort’s gardens, water therapies, and nutritional consultations.
“I really feel that this lockdown period has changed some of the priorities for certain people, and I think health and nutrition are definitely aspects which are very much spa-related and have gained much, much higher importance for many people,” said Tim Weiland, the general manager of Alpina Gstaad, another American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property and an award-winning luxury resort nestled in the heart of the Swiss Alps that boasts two Michelin-starred restaurants. Alpina is slated to open its doors for the summer season on July 3rd and even though it has an impressive spa that spans more than 21,5000 square feet, Weiland says he and his team will also be encouraging people to spend more time outdoors.
“In past years, for example, we would have four bicycles for our guests, this year, we’re going to have 20 bicycles,” Weiland said.
Alpina’s summer visitors will also have the opportunity to try out the resorts’ new wellness offerings that include a three-night Forest Healing Journey led by Antonis Sarris, the head therapist of the resort’s Six Senses Spa. He incorporates Shamanic, Tantric, and Tibetan healing practices such as meditation as well as medicinal herbs and stones found in the woods that “enliven the senses and calm the soul.”
The goal of the programs, Sarris explained, is not just to provide people with a temporary experience for the duration of their stay but to teach them different meditation and yoga techniques that they can incorporate in their everyday lives that will help them relax after they return home.
“[We hope to] give people an alternative and […] to help them discover abilities that they didn't know they had,” Sarris added.
Many retreats are adopting a similar holistic approach to wellness offering visitors physical therapies such as acupuncture, cupping, and energy healing. At the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, you can unwind in a Chinese herbal steam room before enjoying a signature Oriental Qi (energy) massage, designed with the help of traditional Chinese medicine specialists and aromatherapists.
The added benefit to treatments such as energy healing and sound baths is that there doesn’t have to be any direct contact between the participants and the therapist so social distancing guidelines can be easily kept.
And while the pandemic has forced the wellness industry to remodel some of its offerings at least temporarily, some are calling for a more permanent change that is more in line with consumers’ needs.
“The whole SPA industry needs to be turned on its head and discard its toxic treatments made with synthetic chemicals,” said Alexandra Soveral, aromatherapist and founder of the natural skincare brand Soveral.
“The journey should start with a market analysis with the objective to better understand what the recent consumer needs are. The results will most probably point to something quite different from before COVID-19. Whereas before, the industry was focused on attaining the appearance of youth, it now needs to be focused on how to make us more resistant to viral infections and overall become healthier, which, in turn, will make us more youthful-looking—a nice paradox,” she added.
The London-based Soveral’s first international stand-alone spa, The Lakehouse Spa by Soveral, in the United States is slated to open in just a few weeks on the banks of Canandaigua Lake in New York. There, guests will be able to take advantage of her signature facials (they were previously available at the Spa of The Four Seasons Hotel in New York City) as well as body treatments that have been modified to comply with the state’s COVID-19 safety measures.
While it is clear that the pandemic has completely transformed our lives, it remains to be seen whether that change will persist. The important thing to remember is to stay open to the many unknowns that are before us.
“It’s important to give oneself time and space for any feelings that may come up and to not judge ourselves if we’re feeling anxious or afraid or even angry. It's really normal after times of incredible stress to continue to have emotional reactions to it for some period of time after,” says Kateri Berasi, a New York City-based licensed clinical psychologist. “So just because life is returning to more normal doesn't mean that we will feel like we used to.
There's no way we really can.”