Synergy in Singapore: The 2019 Global Wellness Summit

Almost 600 professionals from the fields of hospitality, medicine, philanthropy, architecture, fashion and real estate, among others, gathered in Singapore on October 15-17 for the 13th annual Global Wellness Summit (GWS). The diversity of the attendees, over half of which were first-timers, and the subject matter illustrated just how broad the wellness industry has become.

global-wellness-summit[David Udell and Susie Ellis]

Celebrating the Asian location, each delegate entering the ballroom on the opening morning was gifted with a Chinese red scarf courtesy of BuDhaGirl, and the conference opened with a dramatic procession of ceremonial Chinese dragons. Global Wellness Institute (GWI) CEO Susie Ellis delivered a powerful welcome message to the delegation, speaking to the history of the GWS and the new global mandate of wellness. Ellis exhorted attendees to become informed about the science of what we do; to “do better emphasizing sustainability; and to add ‘and planet’ to everything we do.”

The agenda offered a combination of plenary presentations, breakout panels and brief but inspiring five-minute “wellness moments,” plus plenty of networking time while indulging in healthy snacks and beverages. For those of us anchored in the spa and beauty industry, the Summit has become much less about spa in particular, but rather provides access to a broader swath of thought leaders in wellness and related topics. Three days of content delivered something for everyone, including an opportunity to think bigger, or differently, or both. As spa businesses continue to evolve, it’s crucial that owners and operators are able to pivot as required based on changing consumer desires.


  • wellness-Opening-Ceremony-Audience


Each year, the GWI funds research into a particular component of the wellness industry, and this year’s study delved into fitness. However, the researchers noted that the term “fitness” needed a reset, illustrated by the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) definition doesn’t include the word “exercise.” So, they decided to rename it “physical activity.” The study therefore comprises all aspects of this, such as club sports, active recreation, mindful movement and traditional fitness, and defines the enabling sectors such as gym equipment, wearable devices, and shoes and attire. Altogether, the physical activity sector is valued at approximately $828 billion; you can download the statistic-filled and fascinating full report for free here.

Compelling panel discussions included “Well Hotels and What They Mean,” which was moderated by Six Senses CEO Neil Jacobs and included representatives from large global brands as well as smaller independent and regional operators. The panelists all remarked that wellness was an intended component of much of their marketing, but even more surprising was the extent to which wellness is being woven into the workplace. Mia Kyricos of Hyatt remarked that recently, 850 global general managers met for three days to focus on, among other things, their own well-being. All of the panelists have wellness programs for their staff, supporting the belief that a cared-for staff will take better care of their guests.

“Predictions and Punditry: Trends in Health & Wellness” was moderated by GWI’s VP of research & forecasting Beth McGroarty, and delivered a snapshot of wellness trends from multiple perspectives. Panelists included Catherine Feliciano-Chan, managing director of CatchOn; Melisse Gelula, cofounder of Well & Good; economist Thierry Malleret; Sarah Miller of the Wall Street Journal; and Rina Raphael, writer for Fast Company.

McGroarty shared that there were 30 million Instagram posts with the word “wellness” last year; among the trends highlighted in this fascinating discussion were:

  • Nutritional psychiatry: diets for depression and anxiety
  • Rise in discussions of “whispered about” issues, including puberty, menopause and incontinence
  • Increase in one-on-one, affordable counseling; people are realizing that they need other people
  • Families cooking and eating together
  • Artisanal butchers
  • Fertility health
  • Psychedelics wellness
  • Femtech: affordable apps available to women in impoverished countries
  • Getting stressed out by your own wellness practices!
  • Wellness travel trends, such as wellness cruising and buying carbon offsets in reaction to the #flyshame movement

As has become customary, the GWI also presented four individuals with awards recognizing their contributions to the wellness industry::

  • Debra Simon Award for Leader in Furthering Mental Wellness: Gerry Bodeker, chair of the GWI Mental Wellness Initiative, public health academic and clinical psychologist
  • Leader in Innovation: Ronna Chao, chair of Novetex Textiles
  • Leader in Sustainability: Bill Bensley, owner of Bensley Architecture, Interior Design and Landscape
  • Leader in Social Impact: John Wood, founder of Room to Read
  • Leading Woman in Wellness: Mia Kyricos, senior vice president of wellbeing for Hyatt

GWS 2020 will be held in Tel Aviv, Israel, and registration is now open.

—Lisa Starr


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