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Wired for wellness, Washington Spa Alliance syposium previews 2015 trends

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Wellness was the buzzword at the Washington Spa Alliance symposium at the National Press Club June 24.

Newsmakers, shakers, and movers from across America attended the fourth annual WSPA symposium. The consensus: spagoers want innovative programs that combine fitness with wellness. Adapting social media, spa experiences will be wired to aupport healthy lifestyles.

Keynoter for the event was Dr. Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, the Bethesda-based author of "Hunger Fix" and other books on living well. An internationally renowned physician, scientist, and expert in the fields of nutrition, metabolism, stress, and fitness, Dr. Peeke provided a graphic explanation of new science on how the brain affects well-being. This challenging concept will be explored next month at the Aspen Institute in Colorado when Dr. Peeke teams up with Dr. Deepak Chopra at a brain seminar.

Early in her career, Dr. Peeke researched alternative and complementary medicine at the National Institutes of Health. With her help, the International Spa Association which I managed brought these new concepts into the mainstream of wellness programs at American spas. Today she leads workshops at the Miraval resort in Arizona, and has established the Peeke Performance Center for Healthy Living in Rockville, Md.

Symposium chair Mary Bemis, publisher of Insider's Guide to Spas, picked up Dr. Peeke's theme, inviting experts on beauty and wellness to discuss how spas can enhance well-being for more Americans. The possibility of expanding coverage under Obamacare was cited by Matt Wiggins of Remedy Partners, a privately held contractor to the federal government inside the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

Bringing business management to spa wellness, Todd Walter, CEO of Red Door Holdings said prevention rather than pampering is the way to go. Since joining the iconic brand begun by Elizabeth Arden, Walter has worked with experts like Washingtonian Sharilyn Abbajay to introduce new services and products. The new Red Door flagship in Manhattan has experienced dramatic growth among a younger demographic of clients, he said.

Annbeth Eschbach founded her company called exhale on well-being, and has seen business increase by 15 percent last year. With 23 locations in 11 top markets, exhale 's award-winning mind/body/fitness classes and healing therapies demonstrate the opportunity for spas to be creative.

The WSPA symposium brought together individual day spa owners like Jerri Carr who is based at Fort Belvoir, with global spa brand directors like Ryan Crabbe at Hilton Worldwide headquarters in Maclean, Jeremy McCarthy from Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in Hong Kong, and Kenneth Ryan at Marriott International in Bethesda. Perhaps the big gorilla in the room was Alfredo Carvajal, COO of WTS International, a management company based in Rockville that partners with hotels around the world. Alfredo said the spa industry needs to encourage more young professionals to become active in the business of wellness.

Research presented by Mia Kyricos, chief brand officer at Spafinder Wellness 365 confirmed growing interest in wellness services. The upcoming Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Morocco will explore how spas help people feel good and live well, said Mia. Exploring how to develop the trend, Anne McCall Wilson, former head of spas at Fairmont/Raffles Hotels International, spoke from practical experience.

Deborah Szekely, co-founder of Rancho La Puerta, broungt the WSPA symposium to an emotional peak with her historic perspective on how people learn healthy lifestyles. "We simply enjoyed everything natural under the Mexican sun," she recalled. And with the ranch turning 75 next year, the 92-year-old honorary chair of WSPA was a true inspiration.

For more details on the symposium, go to www.washingtonspaalliance.com.

The 2015 WSPA Symposium will be held at The National Press Club March 17.

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