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Stephen Marks By Stephen Marks
Uploaded 15 August 2018

Stephen Marks tells BHN about his mission to improve the hospitality industry's wellness offer for men.

More and more hotels are embracing wellness and offering their guests a focus on health and wellbeing in addition to spa and fitness facilities. The Global Wellness Institute highlighted that wellness tourism amounted to $563 billion in 2015. I believe there is a scope to do interesting and more innovative wellness based events for locals and travellers than those currently on offer in the cities around the world.

I am holding my inaugural Men's Urban Day Retreat at the Ace hotel Shoreditch London on the 9 September this year. Like of lot of good ideas the event was born out of an unusual experience I had. By chance I had seen an advert for a yoga and astrology event at the Ace earlier this year in the Evening Standard magazine. When I arrived I was told that it was a women's only event but that I would be granted a concession and could attend as the only man!

It was then that I hit upon the idea that there should be similar events for men - as we see a wealth of women-only events such as moon ceremonies, goddess and women circles with nothing really targeted towards men. There's no doubt that men need to take better care of themselves -  with men making up 76 per cent of suicides, 95 per cent of the prison population and 87 per cent of rough sleepers.  We read about an epidemic of depression among young men and more than 1 in 10 men say they are lonely but are not prepared to admit it. It is also my intention to open up yoga to more men as it is still a very female dominated industry. Although we see sportsmen and young men active in taking classes I would like to see more middle aged and older men embracing yoga and relaxation techniques for all the benefits they have.

I plan to bring together various strands of wellness that would resonate with men - particularly those leading busy lives. As a former partner in a global city law firm, I regularly practiced some of these techniques and know that they work. There is a strong relaxation based theme to the day with guided meditation, a sound bath, massage and yoga. We also have some incisive talks from leading experts on nutrition, sleep, working well, conscious leadership and mindful drinking - yes you did read that correct! I am also working with some brilliant brands in collaboration with the event - from men's clothing, supplements, online platforms, sports products, healthy drinks and non-alcoholic drinks. Most of all I am really lucky to be working with the Ace hotel - they have this breathtaking space on the top of the building and they have been very supportive of this event.

The challenge here is to do something that can work in the setting of the city. When your hotel is next to a lake, the mountains or the sea - nature can do a lot of the work for you. That is why there will be guided meditations and the use of a sound bath. These practices can help induce deep relaxation by shifting the brain from everyday beta state or high alert to alpha state - the state of relaxation where we can become more creative, resourceful and problem-solving. I expect a lot of the men attending may not have experienced these practices before. The guided meditations are something which I offer my own clients - ranging from individuals to companies to school teachers to reduce stress. On a separate note hotels might consider offering these relaxation techniques to their own staff as well as guests!

Wellness tourism is only set to grow and Lonely Planet recently referred to forecasts of 20 per cent growth a year. Some analysts prefer projected annual growth of around 10 per cent for the next three years, putting some of this growth down to online penetration. Yet ironically as Irene Forte from Rocco Forte Hotels says: "Wellness has become a substantial part of millennials' image on social media, and interestingly social media has become a big reason why my generation has turned to wellness. With wellness we are trying to counteract being 'connected' and this constant going."

Five of the big hotel brands (Accor, Hilton, IHG, Forte and Six Senses) recently joined forces to endorse a paper entitled "The Business Of being Well" where they all recognise the importance of wellness within their portfolios. The paper lists seven pillars of wellness - air, light, sleep, diet, fitness, temperature and mental health - which strongly resembles the WELL building sevenfold metric. Yet there are challenges recognised here in assessing how to do this.  As Chris Cahill from Accor says: "We are still at a point where experimentation is being used to discover what wellness means for hotel guests. I think that all luxury hotels will have some form of wellness services within the next five years. We are developing different wellness services for each of our brands."

In the UK we are seeing some independent hotels trying to attract guests with basic wellness packages and, in my opinion, often falling short. Just to offer a comfy mattress, a green juice in the morning and yoga on the roof does not go far enough. I invite you to come along on September 9 (provided you are a man!) to see what can be possible.

For more information on Stephen's Mens Urban Day Retreat email [email protected]

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