Interview with Jean-Guy de Gabriac

CEO and founder of World Wellness Weekend

Jean-Guy de Gabriac

CEO and founder of World Wellness Weekend

In a world where tourism and wellness are increasingly intertwined, we sat down with Jean-Guy de Gabriac, wellness advisor, and founder of World Wellness Weekend, to discuss how these sectors are coming together to improve health and quality of life. 

Jean-Guy de Gabriac is the CEO of Tip Touch International, advisory and training company, and founder of World Wellness Weekend (WWW), a movement celebrated in 148 countries, that focuses on promoting healthy lifestyle worldwide. In an interview, de Gabriac shared details about his career in the spa and wellness industry, as well as the motivation behind the creation of WWW.

De Gabriac began his career by founding a massage academy in Paris in 2001. Later, in 2004, he sold his shares to travel throughout Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Hawaii, learning advanced massage techniques and collecting best practices. That same year he founded Tip Touch to drive creativity and expertise in hospitality to improve the guest experience and re-engineer spa menus to increase profits.

World Wellness Weekend was created in 2017 to promote the third goal of the UNITED NATIONS (Good Health & Wellbeing for All) within the hospitality, spa and fitness sectors. The initiative came in response to alarming reports from the World Health Organization on the rise of anxiety, obesity and chronic diseases. The event celebrated always on the third week-end of September (just before the Equinox) encourages hotels, resorts, spas, beauty salons, fitness clubs, and yoga studios to organize fun, creative, and free group activities to showcase their talents, gain media attention and attract new clients interested in a healthy lifestyle. The event gained the support of 6 Ministers (Tourism, Health and Sports) in Canada, Cyprus, France, Ireland; 30 Mayors and 50 spa and tourism associations. 

The objective is to encourage millions of people to switch to healthier lifestyle routines and programs by enjoying more “WE-time” with friends, family, colleagues (Wellness buddies). The more people experience how great it feels to be well, the more they will want to attend fitness classes near them, or mindfulness sessions, or longevity programs, whether near their home (staycations) or by visiting cities or destinations during wellness weekends (we call these people “wellness weekenders”). The drive is to inspire people to implement sustainable lifestyle changes through fun, rather than fear.

WWW is advocating richer and fuller lives through five pillars: better SLEEP to foster creativity, better NUTRITION to strengthen immunity, more MOVEMENT to increase vitality, enhanced MINDFULNESS to deepen serenity, and a strengthened sense of PURPOSE to boost solidarity. De Gabriac also stresses the importance of having a "wellness partner" for mutual accountability on goals and progress, as studies show that people achieve and maintain their goals faster and longer when they team up with a wellness buddy.

To participate in a World Wellness Weekend event, people simply visit (in 18 languages) to locate near them (or in cities they want to visit) safe, fun and free activities organized during the event, as well as irresistible offers, packages, stays or getaways organized throughout the year. Wellness can be found across the street, or across the world. Venues that offer three fun & free group activities receive a "Wellness Champion" badge. Those that go above and beyond by instilling a culture of wellness for guests, employees and local communities receive an honorary badge and certificate as “Wellness Hero”.

What initially motivated you to enter the spa and wellness industry?

While I was working for a website promoting psychology and wellbeing in 2000, I realized that the Spa sector was flourishing in the USA, but was non-existing in France. In 2001, I invested my success fee from the capital raise to invest in a massage academy in Paris. Very rapidly, we designed Signature treatments for cosmetic brands and hotel groups, sharing best practices to enchant journalists and affluent guests.

How do you think the pandemic has changed the perception and importance of wellness in society?

In 2023, McKinsey and MindBody have separately conducted researchs that show that about 80% of respondents consider their health and wellbeing as “essential”. People faced the likeliness of their mortality. Millions got sick, once or several times, and were confronted to the premature death of friends and relatives. The Great Resignation has shown that people are now less engaged with their work or company, and want to reconnect more with loved ones, friends and especially themselves. They invest more in their quality of life, in experiences and in travel.

From your perspective, what are the most important emerging trends in wellness and spa tourism?

Longevity is the buzzword of 2024 with people wanting to live longer with a better quality of life. Guests want to recover and recharge through better sleep, healthier nutrition, flowing movement, and grounded mindfulness. Many hotels, resorts, and retreats offer programs and short-stays focused on biohacking including cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, ozone therapy, IV drips…

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities currently facing the wellness industry?

The biggest challenge is attracting and retaining talented and motivated professionals. Guests want to get away from cities, disconnect in Nature, speed up recovery process with high tech equipment validated by research, but most importantly, they want to connect with professionals who are both human and kind. Very often, repeat clients say that they booked a property for its extrinsic appeal (location, design, comfort), but they always come back for the intrinsic value of the caring and knowledgeable team.

The biggest opportunity for our sector is to attract millennials who are passionate about making a difference, and to help them grow professionally by training them with multiple skills to keep them interested and engaged. Beyond fair compensation, we also need to provide a culture of wellness to help them flourish as individuals and feel connected to their team members. They crave authenticity and a sense of belonging. Of all possible sectors, the Spa, Wellness and Tourism sectors should provide career paths for talents to join, contribute to the evolution and bloom. There can be no successful guest experience, without employee experience. This is a topic that I shall present during the ISPA Conference in Phoenix on April 23, 2024 on a panel about: Engaging the Next Generation of Spa Leaders

What inspired you to create World Wellness Weekend and what are your long-term goals?

In 2015, the UNITED NATIONS unanimously voted the 2030 Agenda with 17 Sustainable Development Goals, for a sustainable planet with more equality, fairness and opportunities for 8 billion people.

In 2017, many people thought that the third SDG “Good Health & Wellbeing for All” was mainly about hygiene and vaccination led by doctors and nurses. It was clear to me that the Tourism and Wellness sector could also support the UN’s objectives and help people achieve richer and fuller lives. 

For instance, rooms division positively impact SLEEP with smart beds and light reduction; F&B and nutritionists provide healthy food and also cooking classes to educate guests with seasonal healthy choices; MOVEMENT options are not only found at the fitness, pool, and recreational activities, but and also in the guestroom; MINDFULNESS is not just about guided relaxation or sound healing, but also about gaining resiliency and mental strength with specific workshops and the guidance of therapists. 

During the pandemic, doctors and nurses were the first responders. Tourism,  Hospitality, and Wellness professionals should be considered as “essential workers”, and as the second line of responders.

World Wellness Weekend was created to mobilize Hotels, Resorts, Retreat centers, Spas, Beauty Institute, Fitness clubs, Yoga studios, Hot springs and Thalassotherapy centers during one week-end to catch the attention of the media and show to the whole world that we exist to help guests to become the best version of themselves. It is not simply our “job”, it is our “calling”.

In 2023, World Wellness Weekend reached an audience of 430 million people with 1,000 mentions (TV, radio, print, web) and 10,000 posts on social media.

In your experience, how do wellness practices vary between different cultures and regions of the world?

For many years, people argued about what a “spa” really was: simply a massage room (like we see on the busy streets in Asia), or a center treating medical conditions with appropriate programs of mineral thermal water and mud (like thermal medicine). In between, you can find day spas, hotel spas, cruise spas, dental spas, dog spas and car spas. The situation is analog with “wellness” which represents the sauna-steam area of hotels in Germany, and also holistic retreats in exotic countries, even a brand of pet food !

We have seen in recent years, operators offering many wellness modalities under one roof, sampling best practices from the four corners of the world. What works best are the benefits of “contrast therapy” (or “extreme therapy”) with sauna aufguss, banyas, hammams, temazcal, and onsen. Not only do they provide excellent physiological benefits, especially on the vagus nerve and the central nervous system (ME-time), but also provide great social opportunities to spend quality moments with friends and family (WE-time). 

How can the wellness industry contribute to sustainability and environmental responsibility?

The point is not if we “can” or “should”, but that we MUST be more responsible in the way we manage energy, waste, water, laundry, single-use plastic, paper. As Judge of the World Spa & Wellness Awards for the past ten years, I am proud to sit on the panel of judges of the “Most Sustainable Spa” Award. Properties like Lefay resorts, Six Senses, The Datai Langkawi have implemented remarkable strategies and KPIs to not only reduce their footprint, but also regenerate their area.

Our other sustainability responsibility concerns the way employees are treated in Hospitality, Tourism, Spa and Wellness. Sadly, I have seen too many people physically exhausted by long shifts and rare holidays, mentally and emotionally drained, some going through burn-out, and quitting for the sake of their own preservation. Selfcare is not selfish and we must set an example on how we treat our associates, not just our clients.

How is technology impacting the way people access and experience wellness?

Technology is a major disruptor with touchless therapies and some hotel receptions becoming lounges, replacing desks and staff with sofas.

Get ready for urban technology-driven wellness havens where clients will access specific treatment rooms for specialized modalities with doors opening with facial recognition at specific times. No more therapists for hands-on modalities, some customers will opt for regular 30-minute sessions of cellular regeneration with Cryotherapy, Infra-red, Photobiomodulation, Neuro-acoustic deep relaxation …)

What personal wellness practices do you follow and how have they influenced your professional approach?

I used to practice Karate Shoto Kan, then Tai Chi and for the past 30 years I practice yoga regularly. Martial arts helped me harness vital energy by finding alternative inner resources to avoid feeling depleted. Tai Chi and shiatsu have also influenced the way I design Signature massages for hotels and cosmetic brands, addressing meridians and encouraging therapists to be more in the Flow.

Yoga is my happy place, so much so that one of my two daughters offered me a t-shirt that reads “I’m just here for savasana” 

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to enter the wellness sector?

Do your research on the specific niche you want to enter, and truly become a specialist in proven techniques where you can excel. As you pass on your passion with your clients, continue to stay curious and humble, to continue to learn and grow.

How do you see the future of wellness tourism and the role it will play in society?

I am extremely optimistic in the rapid growth of wellness tourism. You will see more and more wellness clubs with a membership model in the heart of bustling capitals, and more and more holistic retreats close to Nature. People crave for meaning and authenticity. When they travel, they want transformative experiences, lasting memories. They want to eat where locals eat. As Terry Stevens says, visitors want to feel as “temporary locals, not as tourists”.

As people travel, they discover cultural specificities, different ways of looking at life and lifestyles. They can grow mutual respect. On this note, many travelers want to include purpose and solidarity into their travels, supporting local associations, charities or hospitality schools, like Sala Bai Hotel School which in 21 years has trained 1,900 underprivileged students, enabling them to achieve economic independence and improve the living conditions of their families. in Siem Reap, Cambodia.     

How can tourism and wellness companies collaborate more effectively to enhance the customer experience?

In order to welcome active travelers and wellness seekers, an increasing number of Tourism Authorities are working on a calendar of exciting wellness activities, like the Wellness Month every January in Antigua & Barbuda. Others, are working closely with local wellness partners to grow the attractiveness of their destination, like Val di Fiemme (Italy), Punta Cana (Dominican Republic), Mineral Springs (Texas), Greater Palm Springs (California), Marbella (Spain)...

By providing a global event in 148 countries, World Wellness Weekend is a catalyst encouraging Tourism, Hospitality, Wellness, Fitness, and Beauty professionals to work together and create “wellness collectives” that not only attract new visitors, but also increase the wellbeing of local residents, and generate formidable opportunities to shine in the media. 

Beyond the promotion of the destination just during an event like World Wellness Weekend, I hope that cities will see the value of working closely with the venues visible on and possibly create other wellness offers in February for Valentine, or May for Mothers Day, even a “Wellness Pass” throughout the year to encourage locals to visit fitness clubs, spas, wellness practitioners, yoga therapists, and earn points that they could redeem with wellness brands.

How do you measure the success of a spa or wellness retreat?

Some owners or General Managers only measure the revenue generated by the Spa treatments, or specific modalities like yoga sessions, or special wellness events (full moon, or retreats with specialists or influencers). The reality is that a thorough wellness strategy can be measured in the total spend per guest per stay, the length of stay, the upgrade from double room to Junior suite, the number of meals taken on property. The “lifetime value” per guest should also be included with repeat visits, frequency of visits, referrals to friends and also brand reputation with positive comments on social media platforms. Revenue per wellness treatment is narrow minded.   

How do you find a balance between promoting genuine wellness and commercial needs?

People LOVE to buy, but they HATE being sold to. Clients see very quickly the properties that truly care for them as “people with hearts” in search of improvement, and not as “clients with wallets” that you can squeeze and upsell or cross-sell. Like in all sectors, clients have a keen perception of the “value for money”, especially in Asia where local therapists charge about 10 or 20 euros for a very decent massage, while some properties charge for 100 to 200 euros for a similar treatment. Wellness travelers are very savvy: treatment menus should be engineered in such a way that essential modalities are accessible, specific modalities are presented in packages, and exclusive Signature treatments are positioned aspirational for people in search of the “one of a kind” 

What message would you like to convey to the global community about the importance of wellness?

Wellness should not be a buzzword that any property can add in its offering because it has a spa, a fitness, a pool, a beach, and a salad bar. Wellness is a fantastic driver of business when it is genuinely offered to guests AND staff. 

Everyone can see that the public deems Wellness as ESSENTIAL in surveys, so we should earn their trust by increasing the professionalism of teams to be considered by local officials and policy makers as “essential workers”.

Finally, as a traveler, what advice would you give to travelers seeking wellness and health experiences during their travels?

So many times, when we travel, our fitness or wellness routine is disrupted because of jetlag or because of the lack of space in a guest room that does not facilitate yoga on a mat.

Whenever you can, use a chair to ground yourself, stretch yourself, or strengthen your core. A chair in your room and online chair yoga videos can help carve 15 minutes of movement or mindfulness. Then, go out, explore the city center, do not just count your steps looking at the pavement, but the number of moments you look up with a sense of wonder and awe admiring the architecture, immersing yourself in the local culture. Search for unique local experiences. Discover new places, new flavors. Expand your horizon. Then come back home and share what you felt to encourage others to pack their bag and see for themselves…

Wellness can be found around the globe, or around the corner.

Wellness is a renewable energy that can light up the world. It’s time for people to renew their energy, so they can light up their world! 

We thank Jean-Guy de Gabriac for sharing his perspectives and experiences, giving us an enriching insight into how tourism and wellness can converge to create transformative travel experiences.

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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