Revolution Health

As travel restrictions lift in varying stages across the globe, the future of the hotel is at the forefront of our minds. The value of feeling safe and well has never been higher, and designers have been galvanized by the call to create comforting spaces that ensure peace of mind as well as body. Hotels need to be spaces people can trust completely with their health. 

The correlation between heath and hotel is deeply rooted. Hotels – and the caravanserais, abbeys and inns that predate them – have a long history of being places of refuge and recovery. Whether it’s in the form of a monastery in the Swiss Alps in the Middle Ages, a 13th century relay house along the Mongol postal service route, or a 19th century seaside retreat away from the pressures of Victorian London, the hotel has continued to evolve with the changing definitions of recovery and relaxation throughout history.

The Great St Bernard Hospice in southwestern Switzerland sits 8,000 feet up in the Alps on what was once the most dangerous mountain pass in Europe. For hundreds of years, the monastery was a lifesaving refuge from the cold and snow for everyone from local hunters to Napoleon (helped, of course, by the St. Bernard dogs that have been bred there since the 1600s).

When Scarborough’s Grand Hotel was completed in 1867, it was the largest hotel in Europe and one of the largest in the world (famous guests include Winston Churchill and The Beatles). In 19th century Britain, doctors were quick to prescribe sea air and taking the waters to society’s upper echelons, so the well-to-do headed to the seaside to mingle and try the latest medical advice.

When Woods Bagot first came across the opportunity to refurbish Sorrento’s Continental Hotel, it was our clients’ fascination with the property’s potential that really captured our imaginations. The Continental, or ‘The Conti’ to affectionate locals, has rich history stemming back to the 1870s but – standing together on that first sunny site visit in 2020 – we knew its future as a place of rest and relaxation was equally splendid.

Inspired by the calm, restorative glamour of the subterranean hydro-pools and spas tucked away in cities like New York, The Continental will feature a Wellness Centre that draws on the ritual of bathing – a practice that hotels and guesthouses have been linked to since the first Japanese Ryokan was built near an Onsen as early as the 7th century.

Render of the hydro pools at Aurora Spa and Bathhouse, located at The Continental Hotel.

“The hotel has continued to evolve with the changing definitions of recovery and relaxation throughout history.”

The Continental was the vision of George Coppin, a performer, politician and an entrepreneur known as the father of Melbourne theatre. Built in 1875, the hotel bought European luxury to the shores of Sorrento – a small seaside town on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia.

With its subterranean spa and bathhouse, named Aurora Spa and Bathhouse, The Continental will bring the ritual of bathing into the bright future of modern holistic health experiences. In a time when many of us need soothing, Aurora offers “evidence-based remedies, ancient bathing traditions with a modern twist, meaningful spa rituals, [and] the powerfully regenerative benefits of hot and cold contrast therapy,” providing services that improve visitors’ overall health and wellness in an environment they can trust.

Across the Indian Ocean in Cyprus, Woods Bagot is leading a project called Minthis Hills. Currently under construction, Minthis Hills shares The Continental’s commitment to offering premium wellness facilities to its guests. Deliberately located away from the rest of the development in order to create a tranquil setting, a wellness spa is set alongside a 25-meter lap pool, hydrotherapy pool, gym, treatment rooms, and a yoga studio – complemented by a landscaped courtyard and topped with overgrown green roofs.

The health benefits of connection to nature and landscape have been closely considered by our designers at Minthis Hills, who have ensured rest and relaxation occurs among natural light and spectacular views.

Celebrating Cyprus’s rich cultural history and gorgeous natural environment, Minthis Hills transforms a 1 200-acre site into a residential complex and resort. Only five percent of the site is being developed while the remainder will be left undisturbed to preserve the landscape.

The ability of The Continental and Minthis Hills to merge health with hospitality speaks to a wider potential emerging in the hotel sector: treatment-based stays. Medical tourism and ‘medi spas’ – which have a medical program and are operated under the supervision of licensed health care professionals – are increasingly popular.

In Shanghai and Zhengzhou, Woods Bagot has just completed the Zhenmeihui Clinics. These sophisticated beauty and health clinics allow their guests to undergo medical cosmetic treatments carried out by doctors and recover in an environment that draws on the welcoming nature of a hotel. Like a luxury hotel, both locations curate an exceptional guest journey from lobby to private room – drawing on aesthetic touchstones of hotels to create a relaxed, private, and specialised medical experience.

Projects like The Continental, Minthis Hills and the Zhenmeihui Clinics indicate that the future of hotels is closely tied to health and wellness. All answer the call from consumers for a personal, private experience that improves wellbeing – speaking to the appeal of a hotel environment that’s designed to treat as well as care.

“A future where a more private, dignified and personalised health journey needs to be made possible – and the answer lies in hotels.”

A specialised treatment room at the Zhenmeihui Clinic in Zhengzhou, China.

Wellness-oriented spaces have become more than just places for pampering and relaxing during the global pandemic. The Zhenmeihui Clinics in Zhengzhou and Shanghai (above) have been designed by Woods Bagot with the understanding that health is both a feeling and a foundation.

By working with designers to slightly modify their offering, hotels can meet these needs. Hotel staff, who are already service experts of the highest order, are well-equipped to support both patients and the required specialist medical, nursing, physio or therapeutic staff needed to tap into this $54.6 billion a year industry. Room service, laundry, concierge, cleanliness and responsiveness are inbuilt, and physical design changes such as transitioning junior suites for physio, personal therapy or facilitating the installation of medical equipment can be done with little fuss or stress to hoteliers.

The beauty of Revolution Health is that it may well increase the quality of care for all. A more decided merge between the health and hotel sectors has the potential to allow overrun health sectors to lean on the hotel industry. Lessons learnt from changing finishes and responding to increased cleaning requirements when refurbishing hotels in response to the pandemic tell us that change is possible, though I am not suggesting that contagious diseases cohabitate with holiday makers.

The next obvious step is that hotels make use of their luxury of space and five-star service and adapt to offer the treatment, consultation and recovery rooms that many hospitals are clamouring for – increasing availability and quality of care for those in need. As our understanding of health and holistic wellness grows, a future where a more private, dignified and personalised health journey needs to be made possible – and the answer lies in hotels.

Talk to Bronwyn McColl about Revolution Health

The conventional approach to hotels is giving way to more inspired, cross-sector design driven by user experience. A designer who understands this hybridisation and shows the versatility of her expertise in creating meaningful experiences is Woods Bagot principal Bronwyn McColl.

Bronwyn’s design career comprehensively spans any sector where user experience is paramount, and nowhere more so than spaces where commerce and culture converge. Her vast hotel experience includes The Continental, Ovolo The Valley (a collaboration across Woods Bagot’s Brisbane and Perth studios) and The Westin Brisbane – a project that rewrites the approach to luxe hotels with a hyperlocal experience embedded into the design through the deliberate merging of the ground floor hospitality and retail with the street.