Leaderboard Banner

Global Wellness Leader

by Rona Berg

Susie Ellis takes it to a whole new level
Wellness is everywhere. Spas are creating “Wellness Retreats” and “Wellness Weekends,” doctors are integrating wellness into preventive treatments, while architects—and real estate companies—are building with elements of wellness in mind. But if you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “Just what, exactly, is wellness?,” Susie Ellis is the one to ask.
Ellis, president of SpaFinder Wellness 365 and Chairman/CEO of the prestigious Global Spa and Wellness Summit (GSWS), has more wellness cred than almost anyone in the field. And, not surprisingly, hers is one of the clearest and most compelling definitions I’ve heard. “I’ve studied all the definitions from the beginning,” she laughs. “We did a timeline of the word ‘wellness’ from its genesis to today. But when I think of wellness, I think of two things: health and happiness. ‘Thriving’ comes to mind. It’s become something people really relate to.”
It seems like Ellis was born to carry the mantle of global wellness. As a child, her European parents traveled the world, with Susie in tow. Early on in her career, as fitness expert at the Golden Door, Ellis was tapped by founder Deborah Szekely to head up the Door’s new “Spa at Sea” initiative on the Cunard QE2, the first spa located on a cruise ship. “The ship went around the world,” says Ellis, “and everywhere we’d go, I’d check out the spas. I think I’ve been to over 1000 spas!”
Ellis got her MBA in the ‘90s, at a time when spas were not exactly at an upswing and employment options in the industry nowhere near as bright as they are now: According to the International Spa Association (ISPA) 2014 U.S. Spa Industry Study, there are now 20,100 spas across the U.S., representing a near fivefold increase on the estimated 4,140 in 1999.
“In those days, there were three careers in spa: aesthetician, massage therapist or fitness expert,” says Ellis, who briefly considered leaving for the corporate world. “But then, day spas started exploding.” In 2000, Ellis and her husband, Pete, bought Spafinder, which launched 25 years ago as a spa travel agency. In 2004, Spafinder became Luxury Spafinder; it was reborn again in 2013 into Spafinder Wellness 365, “a comprehensive resource created to help people feel good and live well all year round.”
Ellis, an inveterate trendspotter, launched the influential “Top 10 Global Spa and Wellness Trends Forecast” in 2004. Now in its 11th year, the go-to report, developed by a team of research analysts and industry experts, is based on a survey of the 20,000-plus spa, wellness and beauty providers in the Spafinder Wellness 365 Network.
Some trends, like the renaissance of thermal/mineral hot springs, are surprising, even to Ellis. “We’re seeing it globally, where other countries are investing in thermal/mineral hot springs. The U.S. is a bit behind, but it will come around here—it always does,” she says. Another surprise: the uptick in Millennials spending on spa treatments. “Because so many don’t have house or car payments, they’re able to spend on beauty and spa treatments.”
Ellis founded Global Spa Summit, an annual gathering of global thought leaders in the industry, in 2007. “Along the way I noticed the word wellness more and more,” she says. A few years later, it became the Global Spa and Wellness Summit.
“Wellness pulls in more people, but spa is still where people want to go. I see wellness strengthening even more as an industry,” she says. “And spa is a place where people can experience wellness.”

You may also like