Redefining 'Environ-mental Impact' in Cruise: The Fusion of Wellness, Design, & Hospitality
By Andrew Hazelton
Tuesday, 2nd April 2019

A 2.5-Million-Year-Old Business Concept: 'Wellness' sounds trendy, but the concept has always been inherent to the hospitality industry its beginning is arguably rooted in historic spa locations where mineral-rich waters were used for medicinal baths.

Belief in the restorative powers of such waters actually dates to prehistoric times. This curious fact underscores another fact — interest in the concept of wellness is not a modern fad. And, it’s a bankable product and service offering, as exemplified by recent statistics:

  • The global wellness industry grew 12.8% from 2015 to 2017, from a USD $3.7 trillion to a USD $4.2 trillion market. To put that in economic context, from 2015 to 2017, the wellness economy grew 6.4% annually, nearly twice as fast as global economic growth (3.6%).
  • Wellness expenditures ($4.2 trillion) are now more than half as large as total global health expenditures (USD $7.3 trillion). The wellness industry represents 5.3% of global economic output.
  • Among the 10 wellness markets analysed, revenue growth leaders, from 2015 to 2017 (per annum), were the spa industry at 9.8%, followed by wellness tourism at 6.5% and wellness real estate at 6.4%.

Cruise companies have been dipping their toe in the wellness waters for quite some time, with Seaborne being one of the latest, announcing two new Wellness Cruises for 2019 and 2020, one from Athens to Dubai and the other from Auckland to Sydney. The question for the cruise industry is not whether to pursue wellness theory and practice to entice the “new-to-cruise” set, or even to help tantalize and retain loyal-cruisers. The critical question is how brands should best do this.

As such, this article communicates important findings from leading-edge research and the current thinking about best practices to support the cruise industry and their employees and guests to “seas the day.”

Is Everyone a Wellness Traveller?

The Wellness Tourism Association defines “wellness travel” as the following: “Travel that allows the traveller to maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one’s sense of well-being.” Yet, a finer distinction might be warranted based on a guest’s intent or motivation. Particularly, today’s consumers might best be categorized as either active or passive wellness travellers.

Active wellness travellers deliberately seek opportunities for physical exercise and adventure, whereas passive wellness travellers tend to gravitate toward the more psychological qualities of wellness settings, such as the fun, rejuvenation or serenity that comes from being immersed in an environment defined by clean air, luxurious spaces, fresh foods and beautiful sights or sounds.

The bottom line is “yes” – everyone, knowingly or unwittingly, is fundamentally a “wellness” consumer in their attitudes or behaviours. That is, all employees and guests care about feeling good and relieving stress – or the so-called “dis-ease” of mind or body. This is especially true in today’s environment of 24/7 work demands. Not convinced? Consider three sobering health statistics from the Global Organization for Stress (2018):

  • 75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month, and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the past year. –American Psychological Association
  • Stress levels in the workplace are rising, with six in 10 workers in major global economies experiencing increased workplace stress, with China (86%) having the highest rise in workplace stress. –The Regus Group
  • Approximately 13.7 million working days are lost each year in the UK as a result of work-related illness, at a cost of USD $28.3 billion per year. –National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

Leaders up and down the org chart in the cruise industry must think and act on the assumption that their guests and employees are wellness consumers. Accordingly, this premise can be used profitably to attract and retain these audiences. It’s not only the humanistic thing to do, it’s also a savvy business move.

The Wellness Triangle to “Seas the Day”

New articles and conference presentations about the many facets of wellness are appearing every day on the service hospitality scene. This signals that many organizations are recognizing or rediscovering that the “human touch” – and everything that enhances it – can be a prime differentiator within a competitor set that increasingly adopts and applies technology and autonomation in very public ways.

A synopsis of best practices and research in this domain can be modelled by what AETHOS calls “The Wellness Triangle.” In it, the fusion of “wellness, design and hospitality” addresses active and passive wellness consumers through enhancements in People, Product and Process. It looks straightforward but understand that the relationships between each category might not always be linear and that the three categories can sometimes overlap.

1. People Factor – Promote SOPs, pre- and post-hire, that relieve guest and employee “dis-ease.”

  • Screen for the “hospitality gene”: Sourcing and recruitment should deliberately assess for that “service x-factor” – a combination of attitudes and traits that ensure an individual will feel “at home” and perform at a high level in demanding hospitality environments. Read more here.
  • Select candidates who already buy-in: Recruiting people with strong existing beliefs and attitudes that are compatible with a brand’s core values is equally as important, or more so, as having the technical skills that define role fit. Strive to profile applicants who demonstrably embody wellness values.
  • Proactively offer support: Cruise companies need to practice what they preach, offering the right benefits that align with their brand, such as holistic benefit programs to employees that are already in place.
  • Foster an ownership mentality: Employees who partake in the art and design process, for example, feel a stronger ownership to a ship or property and create closer relationships with guests.
  • Authentic experiences matter: As a brand you need to define yourself, even if subtlety. Take, for example, Viking Ocean Cruises’ Nordic-inspired spa. It is perhaps the most unique spa offering; it features whirlpools, a sauna and a snow grotto, in which a snow machine releases flurries into the air to stimulate the circulatory system.

2. Product Factor – Use Evidence-Based Design (EBD) and Evidence-Based Art (EBA) to capitalize on people’s unique capacities to see, hear, touch, smell, navigate their spaces and settings, and stretch their imaginations.

  • Sensory design matters: Brands must define a strategy for their design aesthetics to maximize the effects on guests’ and employees’ emotions and psyches. Done well, it enhances well-being – but done haphazardly or poorly, it can undermine it.
  • Humans are primarily visual creatures: All sensory elements are important, but colour is primary to human physiology. Therefore, colour should be used in a calculated way, and that often means using outside experts to help match colours to certain physical or psychological environments.
  • Remember to think holistically: Light and colour are fundamental, but the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. So, brands must carefully mix or balance colour with the right sounds, textures, movements and aromas.
  • Biophilic design: Remember that people tend to like authenticity in experience, so whenever feasible, design aesthetics should capitalize on people’s innate attraction to connections with nature or naturalistic features – water, natural light, foliage, etc.

3. Process Factor – Be intentional and disciplined in the use of technology and automation.

  • Relieve employee “dis-ease” in service delivery: Two approaches should always be top-of-mind. First, automate service points that don’t need the human touch, or that would detract from it. Second, streamline systems and processes to drive cost-effectiveness to allow greater investment in guest-facing and employee-facing perks that promote wellness.
  • Relieve guest “dis-ease” in service receipt: Sensory design and materials impress the guests’ minds and bodies by offering them multiple ways to communicate, perceive the environment, and find their way through the myriad of spaces and settings that cruises offer.

The bottom line is, Wellness isn’t going anywhere and hasn’t for millions of years. To embrace the methodology and do it right, cruise companies need to have the right people, products and processes in place to set themselves apart and to attract both the active and passive wellness cruise travellers.

AETHOS predicts that we will continue to see major brands innovate and create ways to cater components of their ships to those in the wellness crowd, while others, such as Blue World Voyages, will dedicate their entire ship to wellness. For the cruise industry, it’s not only the humanistic thing to do, it’s also a savvy business move.


AETHOS Consulting Group is a global advisory firm serving the hospitality industry. The firm enhances value for its partner organizations via access, know-how and fresh thinking. Core competencies include executive search, compensation consulting, business strategy and psychometric assessments. The firm is designed as a single partnership operating from ten locations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. www.aethoscg.com.

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