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Massage Today
August, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 08

A Massage Therapy Presence at the Global Spa and Wellness Summit

By CG Funk, LMT and Lynda Solien-Wolfe, LMT

Under the theme, "Innovation through Imagination," the 7th annual Global Spa and Wellness Summit (GSWS) was held at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado, from June 4 through June 6. GSWS is an international organization bringing together leaders and visionaries to positively impact and shape the future of the global spa and wellness industries. The Summit was founded by a group of industry spa leaders and led by Susie and Pete Ellis from Spa Finder.

The GSWS attracts more than 300 leading spa and wellness professionals representing 40 countries to this invitation-only event. Invitations to the Summit are mailed to a list of top-level executives who are decision makers in spa, wellness and related industries. Representatives from diverse sectors including hospitality, investment, finance, real estate, medicine, consulting, manufacturing, product, technology, and other related industries are invited to attend.

Each year, the GSWS also invites students from international hospitality schools with spa programs to join as student delegates. Some of these students participate in the Student Challenge competition, while others help with conference logistics, note-taking, etc. Some of the objectives of the Summit are:

  • Establish a forum for dialogue among global industry leaders.
  • Facilitate healthy growth for the industry and its individual businesses.
  • Initiate and support quality research.
  • Cultivate leaders for tomorrow.

Amy Margerum, Executive Vice President of Operations for the US Aspen Institute, welcomed the attendees and shared information about the Aspen Institute. Founded in 1950, The Aspen Institute's mission is to foster values-based leadership and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical world issues.

The Global Spa and Wellness Summit is known for offering its attendees exclusive world views through inspiring and thought provoking speakers, panel discussions and break-out sessions led by highly regarded industry leaders. Philippe Bourguignon, Vice Chairman of Revolution and CEO of Miraval Resort, addressed the at capacity room with an engaging presentation titled, "Why We Need Innovation Through Imagination NOW." John Kao, who calls himself an Innovation Activist, entertained the attendees with a lively lecture on "The Art of Getting Innovation Done" using piano practice and jazz music as an example of achieving innovation. John is the author of Innovation Nation.

This year's GSWS also had a focus on cutting edge technology and how spas can use these latest technological advances to deepen client relationships and provide spa users with more inclusive ways to gain and maintain wellness. Ted Souder, Google's Head of Industry and Retail discussed, "Cutting Edge Technology and What's Around the Corner." This was not only enlightening for many of us non-technies, but also provided practical information on Foursquare, Facebook and Pinterest. Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General, U.S. & Vice Chairman of Canyon Ranch, gave the keynote address, "Pursuit of Global Health and Wellness: The Value Proposition of the Future," and included an overview of health issues in the United States, how obesity is an issue of national security, and how the spa industry can be a major player in addressing many prevalent health issues today. John Hickenlooper, the Governor of Colorado, made a guest appearance to talk about the growing health crisis in the United States. Governor Hickenlooper stressed the incredible urgency of this crisis, and how the focus should be on controlling costs and prevention initiatives.

There was a panel discussion on "Innovative Spa Marketing Campaign: Mexico." The panel, moderated by Alfredo Carvajal from Universal Companies, discussed views about marketing spas in a way that shows consumers they can discover themselves through a spa retreat experience. Panelists also taught the attendees about Mexican spas and their cultural offerings including indigenous styles of massage; Manteada, Kukulkan massage and Sacred Obsidian massage.

Susie Ellis, President of Spa Finder, interviewed actress and wellness advocate Mariel Hemingway. Mariel spoke openly about the mental health issues in her family and how the spa experience addresses not only the physical, but also mental and emotional wellness. "Having an understanding of holistic living is a powerful tool. I think the spa industry is doing a magnificent job of creating a sense of body, mind and spirit but you could be doing more as there's still a perception of pampering rather than lifestyle. Once a month, I get facials. I love massage and the power of touch. The fact people don't get touched in this society is really sad. This longing for comfort and touch goes back to being babies. It's very important. Massage is such a powerful tool," shared Mariel during the interview.

The third day of the summit had a stronger focus on industry issues and trends, including research and data. The major piece of research unveiled at the summit was the report, Spa Management Workforce & Education: Addressing Marketing Gaps, commissioned by the GSWS and conducted by SRI International. Presenting the findings, SRI's senior economist, Katherine Johnston, told delegates there are 130,000 to 180,000 spa managers and directors in the global spa industry and only 4,000 students in management degree courses. Spa businesses and operators need to collaborate more closely with training providers to ensure that courses deliver what's needed.

"Shaking Things up a Bit", with Jessica Alquist, who spoke about the dynamics of Willpower and "Happiness" by Jeremy McCarthy, were two of our favorite presentations. And, Deborah Szekely, founder of Rancho La Puerto and Golden Door, shared her new vision, Wellness Spring, promoting wellness and spa initiatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The networking opportunities were just incredible and staged flawlessly to produce the most out of every breakfast, lunch and dinner. With both of us representing the massage market, we were engaged in conversation many times asking for opinions and feedback on current projects delegates are working on.

The event concluded with the announcement that the next GSWS will be hosted in India. We were honored to attend as representatives of both our companies and the massage profession and to participate in this collaboration that has become part of our industry family. All of the GSWS presentations, briefing papers and research presentation from the 2012 Summit can be found at We encourage massage therapists, massage educators and students to visit the GSWS website and and put these tools and information to use in the classroom and in practice.

CG Funk is the Vice President of Industry Relations and Product Development for Massage Envy Franchising. Her responsibilities include developing national therapist/esthetician recruiting/retention strategies, developing and testing new service and model offerings and implementing national public relations programs and campaigns. CG has been actively involved in the massage therapy industry since 1992 as a therapist, instructor, curricula and program developer, writer and presenter, corporate trainer and school administrator. She's also a licensed massage therapist in Arizona and California and an advanced cranial sacral therapist.

Lynda Solien-Wolfe is Vice President, Massage and Spa at Performance Health. She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and has been in private practice in Merritt Island, Florida for more than 20 years. Lynda graduated from Space Coast Health Institute in West Melbourne, FL.


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