Subscribing to the hospitality and wellness agenda

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Victoria Lockhart explains how sustainable green building practices can enhance wellbeing and the human experience within the hospitality world.

At International WELL Building Institute we are focused every day on our mission to transform our buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive. We believe the ultimate goal of our buildings and communities is to create a positive human experience. And we are not alone in our thinking that the wellness agenda can help unlock both human potential and financial performance.

Wellness has been touted as the next trillion-dollar industry and is increasingly the focus of architecture, design, construction and operations decisions. The conversation taking place to incorporate health and wellness into the sustainability movement is now happening across the spectrum of places where we live, work, learn and relax.

The physical workplace has undergone significant changes in recent years, with companies recognising how human-centered design can positively contribute to their employees’ health, happiness, satisfaction and productivity, and therefore to a business’s bottom lines. Financial groups are also moving to include health and wellness into their portfolio evaluation criteria. At the same time, public awareness is growing around the ways that buildings can affect our health, motivating consumers to take responsibility for their wellbeing, even while traveling for work or pleasure.

When it comes to advancing human health and happiness through our buildings, we are seeing tremendous progress from across the design world, which has huge relevance to the hospitality sector. This extends beyond the gym and spa and into the entire guest experience, from the building core to the guest rooms, restaurants, leisure offerings, and wider communal amenities.

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The WELL Building Standard takes a holistic, evidence-based approach that integrates design features with improvements to operations and cues to promote behavioural change. WELL addresses the seven core concepts of building performance that have been scientifically proven to affect human health and wellness: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

A good night’s rest is often a high priority for travellers, and light is a critical factor for healthy sleep. Light is the primary driver that aligns our body’s biological clock – our circadian rhythm – with the sun’s 24-hour day. Circadian lighting provides optimum light exposure for different times of day, such as energising light in the morning and an evening ambience that prepares the body for rest – and therefore can help improve one’s energy, mood, productivity and overall sleep quality.

People often use travel to relax and recharge, and we know that physical and mental health are intertwined. The emerging field of biophilia – the idea that humans have an affinity towards the natural world – helps us to understand why access to nature and other natural elements are linked to a range of positive outcomes, such as mitigating cognitive fatigue, lowering stress and improving mood. When it comes to promoting mental health, incorporating beauty and mindful design through artwork can create a calming environment and positively impact mood. Incorporating biophilic design through environmental elements, light, patterns and colours of nature, as well as connection to the outdoors, are key to supporting positive mental health and happiness.

An overall people-centric approach to architecture can be used to inspire and delight, while promoting health and wellbeing. Soaring ceilings, natural light, views that elicit a sense of awe and connections to nature can have a psychologically calming effect, as part of biophilic design. The techniques that draw us to visit architectural wonders when we travel can also be integrated into the hotels and facilities that serve as our on-the-road retreat.

The hospitality sector can also draw from WELL by promoting healthy behaviours among guests, such as physical activity, nutrition and hydration. Staircase design, as well as natural lighting and aesthetically pleasing views of nature or landscapes within stairways or walking routes, has been shown as an effective strategy to increase physical activity and make movement and fun part of daily routines. Restaurants and in-room food offerings play a major role in making healthy eating the easy and attractive choice when away from home.

What we are learning from our WELL projects is that it is not a one-size-fits-all option in terms of design solutions. Healthy workplaces, hotels, homes and communities come in all different shapes and sizes. What is most important is that the industry at large is creatively responding to the needs of the people who use these spaces, and collectively helping to push the boundaries of what is possible in regards to advancing human health through better buildings.