As YPO member and CEO of SHA Wellness Clinic, Alfredo Bataller, prepared to reopen his medical wellness and preventative health center in Spain, the mood among newly arrived guests and staff was optimistic. The 22 July reopening after four months of closures due to COVID-19 had been carefully planned, with new technologies and safety measures set in place to ensure the center continues to excel in delivering its unique holistic health approach. But for Bataller, who has been hosting global chief executives and other guests for more than a decade, the reopening also marks a new beginning — an opportunity to offer new transformational experiences that cater to a changing wellness tourism industry.
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as the “active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health,” and wellness tourism as travel associated with the pursuit of enhancing one’s personal wellbeing. While these concepts have ancient roots, wellness was become more popular since 2010 with the rise of a global wellness movement that includes fitness and diet programs, transforming every industry from food to travel.
Today, pioneering wellness destinations promote an active pursuit towards optimal state of health and wellbeing, and link wellness to holistic health — beyond serving disconnected classes and treatments that address only the physical dimension. The end objective is creating a transformational experience allowing guests to make choices that lead toward long-term, optimal health and well-being, as SHA Wellness Clinic set out to achieve 12 years ago.
An early passion for holistic health
Bataller grew up in Argentina, where, 18 years ago, he witnessed the power of integrative medicine, including a change in lifestyle and diet, in improving his father’s health. “After seeing the amazing results on my father’s health in a matter of weeks, the whole family became passionate about healthy living, and we changed our lifestyle and diet at home. When you find something positive, you want to share it with others, and we wanted to share a valuable methodology.”
With no experience in the hospitality or health industry, but plenty of passion and a clear vision, the family spent the next four years transforming what used to be a holiday home in Altea Bay, Spain, to a global center of wellness, officially launching SHA in 2008.
“We were introducing a new concept,” says Bataller. “At the beginning, people were asking are you a spa or hospital? Wellness, 15 years ago, was also not as clearly understood as now. The goal from beginning was to offer, under one roof, a range of scientific medical innovations and natural therapies for guests to achieve their full potential, empowering them to live longer and better, and to reach an optimal balance in their lives.”
Bataller explains that wellness has become a loose term, often confused with beauty spas or physical fitness. “There are over 100,000 spas around the world, and words like spa, resort and wellness have become part of the branding of many hotels,” he adds. “In reality, there are no more than 10 wellness destinations in the world offering real transformation to someone’s health and well-being. The rest consist of pampering, relaxation experiences. They may offer nice exotic properties, but they fail to offer a relevant turning point in terms of health and well-being.”
He adds that while the travel industry has been talking about ‘experience’ for the past 10 to 15 years, “the new word for me is transformation. In this case, transformational well-being, emerging from the experience with a different perspective.”
Among wellness destinations offering real transformative wellness experiences, he cites the ones in Asia are more focused on holistic treatments, like Ayurvedic therapy, but without a strong medical component. The ones in the U.S. tend to focus more on the physical approach, with lots of exercise and fitness programs, while the ones in Europe are usually more focused on the medical or clinical side, including offering anti-aging and genetics-related treatments.
This pandemic has shed light on the importance of the holistic understanding of health and the different dimensions of wellness, including focus on mental wellness. ”
— Alfredo Bataller, CEO SHA Wellness Clinic share
“At SHA, we believe that the future trend is a combination of these different approaches,” says Bataller. “Our experience shows that by combining all these therapies so they complement each other in a more holistic, multi-dimensional approach that includes cognitive and mental wellness, better results can be achieved. I believe natural therapies should be part of conventional medicine and incorporated in public health systems. We will get there. I see wellness as hospitals of the future, as people recognize that conventional medicine is not the only solution.”
As such, Bataller says more medical institutions will become wellness institutions.
A wake-up call for personal well-being
For busy CEOs looking for wellness tips during times of uncertainty, Bataller offers the following advice based on his experience transforming lives of thousands of CEOs from around the world:
- Take time for yourself to reconnect and reset. “At SHA, 60% of our clientele are single travelers. As travel restrictions ease, try to find, at least once a year, alone time for more mindful and transformational travel experiences. The majority of our guests, more especially CEOs, come alone and many work from here spending a few weeks while improving their health goal. We understand the need to take your car or boat to periodic maintenance, but some of us are still not used to seeing how crucial it is to do this for ourselves, recharging our batteries for better performance.”
- Make your free time relevant. “A spa or health clinic 30 years ago attracted predominantly overweight CEOs looking to lose weight. Today at SHA, the most representative CEOs are active people who don’t like any kind of excess, who take care of themselves and seek high performance. And if they have free time, they want to make it relevant. They don’t want to just lay out on a beautiful beach.”
- Focus on nutrition as a key pillar to health. “While many factors contribute to personal wellness, sustainable results cannot be achieved without good nutrition. We are what we eat. Listen to your body and live a life that does not require diets, or dramatic changes. This is about improving the relationship with yourself. From a young age we were trained on indulgence with something unhealthy, like ice cream, chocolate and later, alcohol.”
- Leverage technology to help sustain your health journey at home. “During lockdown, several health and wellness centers, including SHA, offered virtual apps with online programs, consultation and information. While these don’t replace the physical experience, they can support you in the journey and promote long-term wellness. And with new wearable devices and advances in digital health care technologies, you can take a more active control of monitoring your health.”
- Become the CEO of your own health. “Wellness is a path to health and well-being, where you have the knowledge and tools to take ownership and continue to evolve. It is about self-empowerment.”
While the COVID-19 crisis has devastated the travel industry, including wellness travel, Bataller believes the wellness sector is resilient and will bounce back, as people will have more incentive to spend on transformational experiences.
“This experience has allowed people to pause and reflect on their priorities,” he says. “It has been a humility lesson for everyone, shedding light on the importance of the holistic understanding of health and the different dimensions of wellness, including a bigger focus on mental wellness.”