Washington Spa Alliance: Highlights of our Annual Symposium

No matter the weather outside, I know it is the start of Spring as we just held our third Washington Spa Alliance (WSPA) Symposium this past Tuesday (we like to do this event the Tuesday closest to the Spring equinox). And this past Tuesday’s conference was even better than the last two. While it is impossible to describe word for word everything that I learned, here are my highlights.

Dr. Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, Special Advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General, Founder, Peeke Performance, and WSPA Honorary Board Member, opened the Symposium, reminding us of some essential truths that I tend to forget:

  1. Give yourself a license to chill.
  2. You are aging as you sit here, so don’t think so much about “anti-aging,” but rather about “pro-viability.” Transform something negative into something positive.
  3. Think about healthspan rather than lifespan. Who cares how may years you live if you are living neither alert nor vertical!
  4. Your DNA is not your destiny.
  5. Change your tribe; free yourself from any tribal members who do not support your healthy lifestyle.
  6. Liberate yourself from the unhealthy, unwell lifestyle you have become addicted to.

She is a true testament to what she preaches… one look at her and you don’t doubt the efficacy of her methods.

Of particular interest to our core WSPA constituency was a panel discussing “DC as the new spa capital?” While the question mark remains, even moderator Kitty Bean Yancey, travel writer for USA Today, seemed to think that there was hope for our region by the end of the panel. On the panel with me were three key corporate and organizational members of the greater DC spa scene.

First, Aflredo Carvajal, recenty appointed COO of WTS International. If you haven’t heard of WTS, it is probably on purpose, as Kitty joked, they are an organization more secret than some of our secret governmental organizations! Based in Rockville, MD, WTS manages hundreds of properties ranging from spas to fitness centers to tennis clubs. Your last facial might have been at a WTS-managed spa, and you would not have even known it…

Second, Prem Devadas, President of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, represented the newest and most significant spa and wellness project happening in the region, namely Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg. His goal is to make this resort the #1 spa destination in the greater DC region (notice he did not say destination spa). This 168 room resort, laid out on 340 acres, is close to Dulles airport and to the DC metropolitan area, and will be LEED certified. The property will have a strong equestrian theme, a strong wine theme, a strong culinary theme (think farm to table in 10 minutes) and of course a strong nature theme. We only need to wait until August to go visit…

Third, Roberto Arjona, President of Green Spa Network (GSN) and CEO of Rancho La Puerta. He decided to headquarter GSN in Washington DC as this “is a town of spa decision makers.” He also wanted someone with a strong environmental background (the GSN director is formerly of the Environmental Protection Agency), and wanted the connectivity that Washington DC affords. To him, DC is the center of various organizational networks, which he called “short strings” that we can knit together.

Susie Ellis, CEO of Global Spa & Wellness Summit, President of Spa Finder Wellness, and WSPA Honorary Board Member (notice how our speakers have on average about three titles…!) then discussed her 2013 spa and wellness trends forecast. This is always one of the highlights of my year, she is always innovative and on target.

  1. Healthy hotels, making travel more wellness-oriented, and a healthy lifestyle easier for any road warrior.
  2. Mindfulness. There is more to massage than just the body, and people need help “turning off.”
  3. Earthing. We need to be more connected to the earth, from spending more time barefoot on the grass to bringing more nature inside. That is the only way to address the current “nature deficit disorder.”
  4. Spa-genomics. Some studies show that telomeres are the only malleable part of our DNA, and can be lengthened (a sign that we are healthier) by less stress, more exercise, more sleep, a healthier diet, and meditation.
  5. Authentic Ayurveda and the revival of other ancient practices and wellness traditions.
  6. Color as self-expression, whether through hair, nail art, or eye shadow.
  7. Inclusive wellness and a redefinition of what “disabled” means; after all, “we are all aging into disabilities,” as Bonnie St. John likes to remind us.
  8. Label-conscious fitness, giving the fitness world a very “fashion-forward” vibe.
  9. For men only: “From barbers to Brotox,” men are increasingly visiting medical spas and availing themselves of the more clinical procedures available for rejuvenation.
  10. Where the jobs are: With the $2 trillion-plus wellness market continuing to grow, spas are forever short-staffed and looking for qualified people to fill jobs, from therapists to management.

Louie Schwartzberg, award-winning cinematographer, director, and producer, gave us all of the inspiration we needed to go back and be grateful and make a difference in the world. He did this less through words and more through images and sound. Here is a link to his gratitude video, which I think I will download as my video alarm-clock, to start every day with a moment of peace, gratitude, and beauty.

Finally, some of my favorite one-liners from the entire day:

“Eat more vegetables, go for a walk, and please go to the spa often.” Michael Tompkins, CEO, Miraval

“We are all learners time-sharing life.” Eric Sommerville, Executive Director, Druid Hill Family Center Y

”Get more sleep, make more melatonin, do more dreaming.” Dr. Jonathan Paul De Vierville, Professor Emeritus of the Humanities, History, Interdisciplinary & Global Studies at The Alamo Colleges; Owner, Alamo Plaza Spa

“Beauty is nature’s tool for survival because you protect what you fall in love with.” Louie Schwartzberg, award-winning cinematographer, director, and producer

“We are not apart from nature, we are a part of nature.” Louie Schwartzberg, award-winning cinematographer, director, and producer

“Vegas is not a wellness destination!” Ella Stimpson, Chairperson, International Spa Association and Executive Director, Spa & Salon Operations, Wynn Las Vegas

“Wellness is our knight in shining armor.” Susie Ellis, CEO of Global Spa & Wellness Summit, President of Spa Finder Wellness