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How the Spa Industry Can Lead Wellbeing: The Voice of CEO Susie Ellis


Spa leader Susie Ellis lives and breathes wellbeing.

Spa industry leader Susie Ellis lives and breathes wellbeing.

It’s a joy for me—on the eve of the annual Global Spa & Wellness Summit in Marrakech, Morocco—to share insights from my recent interview with Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder Wellness, and Chairman/CEO of the Summit.

As Susie answered my question about where her journey of leading wellness began, I realized I was talking to a true catalyst in the industry—a person who had, from some of her earliest memories, been passionate about what it means to live well and had turned that deep passion into a marvelous legacy of guiding the spa industry to advance the wellness movement globally.

So it’s not surprising that Susie has a strong “leading wellbeing” ethic in her own life: “For me it means being a role model, embracing wellbeing myself—living that kind of lifestyle,” she says. “When I think about wellbeing or wellness I think about the combination of health and happiness.It’s not just about health—physical, mental, spiritual—but also about being vibrant and joyful.”

She learned the fundamentals of good health from the start. Her mother, a Physical Education teacher, reinforced healthy habits at home—good nutrition and physical activity—that fuel Susie’s vitality still today. And in her college years at Illinois State University, Susie was part of the still-famous Gamma Phi Circus as a gymnast, a role that combined physical health and aesthetics. She put this combination to work when she kicked off her career at the prestigious The Golden Door spa. “It was a very motivating time because I could see people come in exhausted on Sunday and leave a week later looking like totally different people. And I thought, Something is working here. And the amazing thing was it worked for everybody.” It wasn’t just exercise, nutrition, massages, and facials, she said, “it was also an aspect of community, of interaction among guests—there was a spiritual and nature aspect. It really was transformational.”

Since that early job decades ago, Susie has been thinking about the future of wellness, and working in every aspect of the wellbeing-improvement business. It was a pleasure to talk to her about how she sees the spa industry uniquely serving these emerging wellness trends:

As the spa business has grown to include the terms wellness and wellbeing, it’s also expanded the services offered and why people go. “Spas are no longer just about pampering and indulgences,” Susie says. “The No. 1 reason that people go to spas is to relieve stress, a problem that is skyrocketing worldwide. That’s why we say today that it’s not so much about wanting to go to a spa, but about needing to go.”

Because spas focus on body, mind, and spirit, they are well-positioned to equip people with the resilience, mindfulness, and coping mechanisms for reducing stress themselves, she says. As more research shows the benefits of spa and wellness services, there will be more markers for stress and ways to measure it—and more respect for services that can reduce it, she believes.

Everyone agrees that prevention is a good direction to go for mitigating healthcare costs, Susie points out. That’s a great opportunity for the spa industry, which has been about prevention from its inception. “We’re not like hospitals—we’re not into curing or correcting—we’re about preventing people from getting sick. At last year’s Global Wellness Summit we were even talking about a future where countries might make wellness mandatory. There will be a time when countries cannot afford to have people not well.”

As more studies reveal that if you invest in helping people be healthy then you will save money, more governments and corporations will take notice, she says. And more people will partake in spa and wellness services to stay fit, avoid obesity, reduce stress, and lower their odds of preventable diseases and conditions.

Susie, who lives in New York City, seeks out nature as a way of decompressing. “It’s hard to get here in New York,” she says, “but just walking through the park, or just sitting and looking at a tree” can do the trick. Taking a moment to tune into to your self—whether it’s watching a sunset or being in the ocean—continues to be a trend for those seeking rejuvenation, she says. “It’s peaceful and it’s pretty inexpensive.”

Seeking this kind of rejuvenation is one of the hottest trends in the emerging wellness tourism economy, putting “proactive health, mindfulness, and prevention at the center of consumer decision-making” in every corner of the world. The spa industry has the history, capability, and more importantly, credibility not just to capitalize on this trend, but to accelerate it.

Personally for Susie, rejuvenation means not rushing through life’s moments, especially during times of stress. In the few days before the Global Spa & Wellness Summit began, for instance, she made the choice to eat a nice meal at a peaceful restaurant with a colleague rather than speeding through lunch.  “Yes, it took a little more time. It was a little more expensive,” she says. But she got a sense of calm from the experience and returned to work refreshed. “Taking a bit more time added joy to my life. I think that’s important; there’s no sense in putting off joy until later.”

To learn more about Susie and the Global Spa & Wellness Summit follow them on Twitter at @susieellis, @GSWSummit, and #GSWS2014. I’ll be tweeting from the Summit, where I’ll be facilitating a conversation around “Leading the Future of Corporate Wellness: What is Our Industry’s Role?” Follow me @reneemoorefield.

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renee-cutoutRenee Moorefield
A deep and early belief that the values of health and sustainability would remake the way we live, lead, and work in the 21st century led Renee to launch Wisdom Works with her husband David Moorefield in 1999. Ever since, she’s helped forward-thinking clients—including Apollo Group, Booz Allen Hamilton, Merck & Company, Centura Health, Western Union, and The Coca-Cola Company—embed wellbeing strategies to create inspired workplaces, develop caring relationships with citizens, and produce results that matter.