Wellness programs have blossomed in the past few decades, especially at worksites. In addition, many hospitals and nearly all universities have created wellness centers for fitness and lifestyle education. For the most part, however, worksite programs have focused on risk reduction and medical education, not systematic programming targeted at enhancing quality of life.

An opportunity exists for a different kind of institution to come forward to lead a genuine REAL wellness revolution. The institution best suited to play this role has a very different constituency than that of American worksites. In the latter setting, the focus must necessarily be on efforts to help employees prevent or manage their health issues. It will take a different kind to offer positive, life-enhancing wellness programs. That kind of institution must be one that serves a more diverse and independent population than the customer base for worksites, hospitals and universities.

That REAL wellness candidate is, in my view, the destination spa. All across the globe, such spas are prospering, offering pre-wellness education and services. Most are resource-rich and capable of evolving to perform a wider mission that would complement what they already do well.

I want to see a few of these destination spas become Centers for REAL Wellness! I’ll explain a little about how and why some spas are in position to transition to such Centers. First, however, a little history about institutions called spas seems in order.

Spas have a rich history. Like other enduring institutions and humanity itself, the nature of spas has evolved over time. The name spa is derived from a town in Belgium-Bath. By the 16th century, the spas in Bath and elsewhere in Europe became famous. However, as far back as the heyday of the Roman Empire, spa-like facilities prospered at multiple locations, usually where there were thermal waters. The earliest functions of spas were associated with healing cures, health enhancement, pleasure, recreation, relaxation and meditation. While best known in European cities, Japan and other countries in Asia also have claims to historic spas. In fact, the origins of some spas can be traced to the earliest recorded periods.

REAL wellness, the heart of the proposed new educational centers, is a concept that transcends the wellness movement as we know it. The new spa role would attract new markets and new revenue streams. It would add another reason to visit and study at such places. Spas would become more valuable as local resources, treasured by communities served. The experience of REAL wellness would surely add to the quality of life of spa patrons.

Three benefits would be dramatic if spas transitioned into Centers for REAL Wellness (henceforth CRW. These three principal beneficiaries would be:

1, The spas. They would gain a new market, an attractive image and a significant revenue stream.

2. The attending public. No institution at the present time serves in a manner consistent with the functioning described for CRW.

3. The communities affected, and thus the broad public interest. This is a natural consequence when populations become more knowledgeable concerning the arts, the humanities and the applications of science.

As a consequence of spas operating as CRW, intellectual functioning will be associated with spas prospering around the world.

Spas already are a key part of an expanding global wellness market. Last year, spa leaders received a revolutionary report prepared by SRI International (SRI) at the behest of Global Spa Summit (GSS) entitled, “Spas and the Global Wellness Market.”

A little about the GSS might be of interest. The GSS is an international organization that connects leaders and visionaries within and outside the spa industry. GSS sponsors functions that shape the future of the global spa industry in many positive ways. The SRI report, for instance, described a worldwide wellness industry poised to cross the $2 trillion mark. It encouraged spa leaders to learn more about and invest in this “fertile wellness arena of expanded opportunity.” Extensive data were presented in the watershed GSS/SRI report that demonstrated the extent of the booming wellness marketplace. It was made quite clear that many destination spas were ready for the kind of change and expansion recommended. Spa leaders were urged to seize the day. In so many words, the suggestion was that spa leaders not so much settle for jumping on a wellness bandwagon but rather that they take the reins and steer it. The nature and scope of REAL wellness possibilities can be seen throughout this landmark report.

As a critic of the workplace wellness industry (for focusing on risk reduction and medical management rather than promoting exuberant well being), I welcomed the GSS and SRI initiatives. However, the best and brightest opportunity area, the function I call CRW, was not addressed. (I suspect that the authors of the SRI report reasoned that the nine core segments they did address provided a full plate for the industry. This was no doubt an accurate assessment at the time.)

My sense is that all who welcomed SRI’s description of the global wellness market will be attracted to the logical expansion of the CRW idea.

The first step for spa leaders is to learn about and explore possibilities for communicating the nature of REAL wellness.

REAL wellness is a distinct philosophy. It is founded on reason and science, and dedicated to personal responsibility for the conscious pursuit of quality lives. REAL wellness lifestyles are characterized by exuberant living. The R-E-A-L in REAL wellness stands for reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty. It entails, as well, a passion for happiness, ethical living, a respect for the environment (global awareness) and a sense of having ample meaning and purpose in living. Thus, REAL wellness learning environments, as proposed for the guests of extended and short-stay spas, would enable the study of vital life areas. These include but would not be limited to happiness, ethics, environmental challenges, critical public issues and the consolations of philosophy.

The landmark report, “Spas and the Global Wellness Market,” provides a foundation rationale for the spa industry to segue to CRW. It demonstrates that some spas can provide the wellness leadership as educational centers to advance REAL wellness. No other institution has this opportunity. Universities have a different mission, private companies have their hands full trying to mitigate health-damaging conditions and employee habit patterns. Destination spas, on the other hand, can go the logical next step toward promoting richer, fuller lives. The SRI report showed that industry leadership already values regular wellness in an expanding market. REAL wellness simply represents the next, profitable step.

Current wellness spa activities include services classed as medical, beauty, prevention, holistic, spiritual and a range of related single-focused issues, such as exercise and nutrition.

All this is well and good. REAL wellness education via public events, courses, seminars, lectures and much more can follow seamlessly on existing traditions. The SRI report urged spa leaders to view the wellness concept as a broad advance into practical philosophy in order to adopt, celebrate and promote true quality life for all. Investing in efforts to understand and plan CRW would inaugurate a new era for leading spas around the globe.