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  • Writer's pictureDesign for Leisure

Top 5 Spa & Wellness Bathing Trends in 2024

Earlier this year, the Global Wellness Institute's Hydrothermal Initiative announced its key trends for 2024. Don Genders, founder & CEO of Design for Leisure, leads the initiative. We wanted to share these insights with colleagues and clients interested in understanding the consumers' current preferences regarding hydrothermal bathing and wet area experiences.

Spa relaxtion room
Communal, relaxation area with a view. Photo: Fritz Lauterbad Hotel and Spa

1: Sweat Bathing Reclaims its Rightful Spot in the Wellness Ecosystem

The KLAFS custom sauna at France's Maybourne Riviera Spa
The KLAFS custom sauna at France's Maybourne Riviera Spa features curved benches, perfect for inspiring social/communal wellness.

There is a significant revival of sweat bathing, a practice with a long history. Enthusiasts are eager to explore the broad expanse of authentic practices—from intense Finnish saunas and tranquil Roman baths to spiritual North American sweat lodges and invigorating Russian Banyas. Nations are embracing ancestral sweat traditions and refining them for contemporary wellness seekers.

 

The resurgence appears to be driven by three primary factors:

  • First, a growing body of conclusive research extols the virtues of frequent passive heat therapy—short, intense exposures to high temperatures have noted health benefits.

  • Secondly, the embrace of hot/cold thermotherapy, which necessitates enduring high-heat environments followed by bracing cold, is becoming more mainstream.

  • Lastly, there's a burgeoning consumer preference for proven wellness modalities over novel fads, and traditional sweat bathing practices have existed for millennia.

The DFL Take: There's no doubt this is a trend in full flow. There are new bathhouses and sauna businesses - small and large - opening everywhere. With communal, social bathing in major demand. These "third spaces" are healthy alternatives to bars and pubs and also force guests to put away their phones for the duration - a welcome respite. Great examples include NYC's new BATHHOUSE and Othership, both opened in the Flatiron district recently and offer large, event-style saunas and cold plunge baths.


2: Embracing the Chill: DIY Cold Water Therapy Goes Pro

Ice baths at Othership in Toronto, Canada
Ice baths get more sophisticated with filtration systems and powerful chillers as seen here at Othership in Toronto. Photo credit: Graydon Herriott

The homemade ice baths that have flooded social media—think repurposed barrels and makeshift tubs—are more than a fleeting fad. This grassroots cold water therapy craze is not only persisting but also evolving, with wellness spas everywhere starting to offer it as a sophisticated treatment. These professional setups eschew the labor-intensive practice of manually adding ice, instead featuring state-of-the-art tubs equipped with filtration systems and powerful chillers to maintain a consistent icy plunge. Anticipate seeing this wellness trend expand beyond local bathhouses to the amenities of five-star retreats, signaling its firm establishment in the luxury wellness market.


The DFL Take: Cold exposure is a huge part of the new communal bathing experience and ice baths are in demand, making them easy and hygienic to operate in a commercial setting is something new and DFL is working on numerous projects looking to incorporate commercial-grade ice baths in Europe and the USA.


3: Concurrent Rise of Personal and Community-Centric Wellness

Multiple sauna cabins
At Germany's Fit One, multiple saunas offer personalized temperatures and atmospheres to be enjoyed together.

As sauna bathing becomes a hot trend in personal wellness, enthusiasts toggle between the intimacy of private saunas and the dynamic atmosphere of social sauna clubs. In Norway, for instance, the seamless transition from woodsy retreats to urban living exemplifies this balance. Many Norwegians, accustomed to their cabin’s private saunas, turn to city-based communal clubs to satisfy their sauna cravings, often through economical memberships.

 

Moreover, urban spas are capitalizing on this cultural shift by offering private wellness suites. These spaces cater to small groups seeking bespoke hydrothermal experiences, allowing a personalized approach to regular wellness rituals.

 

In the fabric of social wellness, an educational component is also blossoming. Operators are curating experiences in hydrothermal spaces — from saunas to banyas and hammams — to guide guests through group and bespoke wellness journeys. These wellness pathways cater to varying objectives, be they recovery, relaxation, or fitness, enhanced by the social and enjoyable aspects of shared therapeutic experiences. The future of wellness is not just a personal journey but a collective adventure, blending health benefits with the joy of connection.


The DFL Take: No doubt personal wellness spaces - whether these are at-home wellness suites or private spa suites in a larger communal bathing facility - are in demand. Wellness seekers want not only to enjoy the social and communal aspects of hydrothermal bathing but they also want to be able to continue the benefits at home and in more intimate, smaller groups.


4: Urban Renewal with a Wellness Twist: Office Buildings Reimagined as Health Havens

Empty office buildings turned into self-service wellness amenities.
Self-service wellness amenities, like hydrothermal social bathing circuits, help to rejuvenate empty office buildings into mixed-use urban destinations and living spaces.


Disused urban office buildings suffering from post-COVID work-from-home vacancies are finding new purpose as mixed-use urban destinations, featuring retail spaces, residential units and communal wellness centers. The conversion aligns perfectly with the urban demand for wellness-centered living and the availability of expansive areas poised for rejuvenation. No matter who the target audience is for the redevelopment – high-end and expensive or affordable and accessible – we predict self-service wellness amenities, including European-style, social bathing circuits, will be a significant selling point in the competitive real estate market.


The DFL Take: This one is definitely happening. We are currently in the process of revamping two floors of the former AIG headquarters in NYC into a huge, members-only hydrothermal wellness center complete with gender-segregated saunas and a huge co-ed sauna with panoramic views of the skyline and river. This building, which had been standing empty, is being completely revitalized and wellness is a key component.


5: Japanese Bathing Culture: A Wellness Tradition Gaining Traction

Japanese onsens and therapeutic thermal spring pools
Japanese onsens, therapeutic thermal spring pools, are gaining popularity globally. Photo: Adobe Stock

Japan's esteemed wellness practices—from the tranquility of forest bathing and a zen-inspired lifestyle to a clean diet—have long been associated with the nation's impressive longevity. Now, the time-honored tradition of onsen bathing is capturing worldwide attention. Originating from Japan's volcanic bounty, these thermal springs are more than just a ritual; they offer a therapeutic retreat, rich in minerals reputed to alleviate ailments like muscle soreness, joint pain, and skin conditions.

 

Onsens present a diversity of indulgences, from serene outdoor pools that harmonize with nature to the quiet repose of indoor baths in ryokans, Japan's traditional inns. Each hot spring presents a singular journey, shaped by its locale, mineral profile, and amenities.

 

Mirroring the localized popularity of Korean jimjilbangs, Turkish hammams, and Russian banyas, Japanese onsen facilities are poised to make a significant splash in the wellness world. As enthusiasts seek authentic, immersive, and communal experiences, onsens stand ready to meet the growing demand for genuine self-care traditions.


The DFL Take: Several of our new projects are specifying onsen pools as part of their hydrothermal offering. World Spa (NYC) opened last year and offers several onsen pools for guests.

 

Ready to plan your next hydrothermal spa and wellness project? Download the latest "Guide to Hydrothermal Spa & Wellness Development Standards."

"Guide to Hydrothermal Spa & Wellness Development Standards."

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