Global Wellness Summit 2016 Kicks Off in Kitzbühel

The Tyrolean town plays host to this year’s event.

A year ago, at the conclusion of the 2015 Global Wellness Summit, many folks were asking each other “Where is Tyrol?” upon the announcement of the site for the 2016 gathering. The wondering is over, as over 500 spa and wellness professionals from 45 countries have converged upon the small but beautiful Alpine town of Kitzbühel, about an hour east of Innsbruck, Austria, for this year’s event.


This year marks the 10th anniversary of the event, which began as the Global Spa Summit in New York City in 2007. Over the years the focus has shifted to the broader wellness category, including spa, nutrition, fitness, beauty and all aspects of the industry. This invitation-only event for industry and corporate leaders features a packed schedule of keynote presentations, many from thought-leaders from outside our industry, along with networking events and group activities.

Several pre-Summit trips were offered, so that attendees who are not from the area can enjoy the beautiful nature of the region, with this crisp mountain air, thermal resorts, green meadows and numerous cows! Kitzbühel is a small town, so the Summit delegation is spread over six main hotels and numerous smaller venues. In an effort to lighten up the overloaded schedule, the conference organizers offered six Knowledge Workshops, which took place before the official start of the Summit. On Sunday night, the conference kicked off with a welcome Cocktail Reception, where many men dressed in lederhosen and women in dirndls. Following the party were an additional three “Coffee Conversations” for attendees, featuring discussions on the state of medical wellness, and the current ongoing labor shortage. Keen to talk about such pressing issues, many people participated in these until close to midnight.

On the Summit’s first full day, the delegation was greeted with a beautiful video from cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg. Summit Chairman and CEO Susie Ellis, along with co-chairs Franz Linser and Sue Harmsworth, welcomed the audience, before turning the floor over to last year’s emcee, journalist Giselle Fernandez. The highlight of the morning sessions included a snapshot of updated industry data from Global Wellness Institute researchers Ophelia Yeung and Katherine Johnston, who valued the global spa industry at $3.7 trillion, up from $3.4 trillion in 2014. The estimated number of spas globally is currently over 120,000, providing employment for 2.2 million people. The researchers invited representatives of each of the six main industry sectors up onto the stage to hold big plastic balls, representing the relative sizes of each segment, providing an unusual humorous note to a discussion of data. Another highlight of the first morning was a panel on European Spa and Wellness Traditions, chaired by Anna Bjurstam and including Alla Sokolova, Adrian Egger, Lasse Eriksen and Aldina Duarte Ramos, who discussed the history of wellness and bathing over the last few millennia.

Delegates left the KitzKongress, where all of the sessions were held, for a five-minute walk along the mountain slope to an interactive lunch. Experts were posted at 76 different lunch tables for discussions on a particular topic.


In the afternoon, honors were awarded to regional spa pioneers Balthasar Hauser, owner of the renowned Stanglwirt Resort, and Richard Schmitz of Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa, who is credited with being the first hotelier to add the word “spa” to the venue name. Dr. Harald Stossier, medical director of the world-famous VIVAMAYR Clinic, described how the clinic has evolved over the years, and Dr. Claudia Aguirre discussed “What Neuroscience Teaches us about Beauty,” which got everyone thinking about how beauty really does affect the brain and self-esteem. Later in the afternoon were 10 more breakout sessions on specific topics, such as Wellness Tourism, the Intersection of Beauty and Wellness, and how hotel chains and family-owned hotels can learn from one another.

For dinner, attendees split into groups to eat at different restaurants in town, and then participated in three more late-night coffee conversations.

You really get your money’s worth at this Summit: there are a lot of fascinating topics and food-for-thought conversations. All of the presentations will be shared, as is typical, on the GWS website in the coming weeks. More news to follow tomorrow!—Lisa Starr

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