The IFTF Blog
Checking-in to Well-being
Fairly recently, Mother Jones ran an intriguing article about research that suggests lead exposure is responsible for crime and ADHD. While the science is still out, the article caused quite a stir as a reminder, maybe the most dramatic one since we discovered the health effects of asbestos, of how our environments can influence our health and well-being. But while removing harmful substances from our homes is pretty straightforward, (in concept, if not execution), optimizing our environments for health could involve balancing a wide variety of elements, (one might be, for instance, strategically using indoor houseplants as a way of creating healthier air, as researcher Kamal Meattle advocates). Our 2013 Health Horizons research focuses on the new roles, responsibilities, and authorities that will emerge to enhance well-being over the next decade, and one aspect of that is asking, “who is going to be an authority on what makes a healthy home?” One interesting place to look for answers: the hotel industry.
Tech Horizons Program Director Rod Falcon forecasted that well-being is going to be an important value filter consumers will use in making all purchasing decisions, we’re now seeing this play out in the hospitality industry, with big hotel chains offering a temporary, well-being enhancing environment as a selling point. For example, check out the “Westin Difference” section of the company’s homepage, it includes a “sensory welcome” (i.e. pleasing sights, sounds and smells in the lobby), a smoke-free environment, a “family” section and a SuperFoodsRx(TM)* menu.
They also have a “For a Better You" ad campaign that claims “the Westin brand experience is designed to help guests leave feeling better than when they arrived.” An advertisement for the campaign (disguised as a news story) states that the ads are targeted at “more of a psychographic” group than a demographic group, “affluent individuals and couples, families, at different stages of their lives but sharing a common attitudinal thread, that personal well-being is important to them.”
Disney Resorts are also trying to cash in on the well-being action, offering their own “health and wellness suites” equipped with rainwater showers and tea tree oil, “daily access to season and organic fresh foods” and “yoga sessions… at the resort’s wellness studio.” (…or you could stay in a pirate room with a pirate bed shaped like a pirate ship.)
According to the Wall Street Journal, many hotels are even offering to restrict access to technology, giving travelers discounts to "check their cell phones, laptops and other mobile internet devices at the front desk. They are also offering rooms with no television.”
(As inconvenient as this might sound to some, there are some definite health benefits to disconnecting, which Brad wrote about on this very blog.)
What this suggests, I think, is that hotels are in a somewhat unique position of being a sort of healthy home lab. They can experiment with ways to make their spaces healthier, see what people respond to, and what others are doing that works or doesn’t. Another possibility is that hotels could function as “showrooms” for healthy environments/products.
For instance, there is a campaign at Westin that rents New Balance running shoes to guests and provides them with maps of suggested running paths near the hotel. For Westin, the primary idea is to make their hotel appealing to physically actives guests. (It should also be noted that New Balance has a social well-being component, in that many of its shoes are made in the U.S. and UK). For New Balance, they are probably getting a good amount of money to supply the hotel with shoes, but they are also getting some nice exposure out of the deal, as well, by letting potential customers actually try the shoes out on a multi-mile run, instead of putting them on and jogging around the inside of a Footlocker. It seems to me that this is a strategy that could be used for a number of products, not just shoes. Mattresses, sheets, chairs, food, room layouts and any number of other factors could be “previewed” in combination, allowing people an opportunity to experiment to find what works for their personal well-being.
At the same time, there’s something unappealing about the concept of sleeping in a department store display room, (even if it’s significantly more private). Regardless, the temporary nature of a hotel stay certainly provides an interesting opportunity for both the hotel and the guest to experiment with well-being enhancing environments.