Well, Well, Well(Ness)

On the eve of the Global Wellness Trends for 2020 being announced, LYNETTE BOTHA delves deeper into the billion-dollar industry and highlights ideas that were predicted before their time
The health benefits of green and open spaces will lead to innovations in architecture and interior design
The health benefits of green and open spaces will lead to innovations in architecture and interior design
January 09, 2020

In our fast-paced world, predicting trends that will remain relevant is no easy feat. But since 2004, it’s something the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) has been getting right. Currently valued at more than $4.5-trillion globally, the wellness industry is big business. It incorporates 10 sectors, including tourism, food, architecture and fashion. A division of GWI is the Global Wellness Summit (GWS). Held annually, in a different city each year, the summit exists to bring together like-minded people, press and those involved in the multifaceted industry to discuss what’s new, what’s next and what’s now.

The most recent summit took place in Singapore in October 2019; the brainchild of Susie Ellis, co-founder, chairman and CEO, GWS is about more than matcha lattes and yoga retreats – it’s about holistic, all-round health. “The wellness movement has inspired many of the 7.7 billion people in the world to participate in their own health. That’s quite an accomplishment,” she says. “We’ve spent the past dozen years getting the wellness and health industry organised and collaborating effectively to become a global force. My prediction for the next dozen years is ‘wellness’ needs to be about moving the needle on preventable illnesses, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, heart disease and even some cancers. In other words, the focus is going to shift toward more emphasis on results – really helping people become healthier and making long-term, lasting lifestyle changes.”

While every year the GWI releases its top 10 global wellness trends, Ellis feels that, with the way we are living, these are not just fleeting ideas but continual additions to a list of what we need to consider incorporating into our lives to be our best. “This past year, The World Government Summit in Dubai, The World Health Organisation in Geneva and the World Economic Forum reached out to us to collaborate. Wellness has never been so high on the global policy agenda,” she exclaims.

In anticipation of the new trends being released in the next few weeks, we look back at those that were predicted by the GWS before anyone else, and remain relevant today.


Wellness communities is a trend that was originally highlighted (as far back as 2007) dubbed ‘spa real estate’, and has grown exponentially. “The increased impact of wellness on architecture has been part of several of our trend predictions throughout the past decade, with each forecast further illustrating that while aesthetics are always important, building design and entire communities and cities are being conceived from the ground up with a focus on improving our health and happiness,” says Ellis.

“Through new standards and technologies, building for human health – and a new ‘wellness architecture’ – will be one of the biggest (and most impactful) future wellness trends. The strategies will span the simple, like deploying plants that excel at removing deadly air toxins to the highest-tech, like ‘living’ buildings with walls made of algae biofuel cells that grow their own energy, or new phone apps that alert you when you’re entering a ‘sick’ building. From
air quality to indoor acoustics, everything in the built environment will be re-evaluated and re-engineered,“ she adds.


First predicted in 2015, forest bathing is literally the act of heading to a green, natural space (preferably a forest) and just being still, deeply inhaling the fresh air, feeling the soil and touching the leaves, until you reach a sort of meditative state. GWS’ prediction concluded, “it may be a poetic concept, but there’s powerful evidence that forest bathing is also medicine for our bodies and mind, offering stress-reducing, immune-boosting benefits that you simply can’t get anywhere else. It’s uniquely accessible (download one of the many forest finder apps) and perfect practice for our stress-crushed lives, with shinrin-yoku (which in Japanese literally translates into ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’) giving people a framework for experiencing the forest in a new way: with intent, mindfully, meditatively, with every sense open,” notes Ellis. “In short, forest therapy will be supported by more governments, promoted and developed in more forests, and incorporated into more wellness/spa retreats. Meanwhile, mounting medical evidence regarding forests’ and green spaces’ impact on human health will continue to lead to innovations in architecture, urban planning, and workplace, hospital, school and home design. And while more people travel to forests in search of health and rejuvenation, experts will find creative ways to bring more green corridors to where more and more of us live: the city.”


“In 2017, we predicted that there would be a sharp new desire for true silence – and the quick embrace of this trend has shown how deeply it’s needed,” says Ellis. “We predicted that as digital noise ratchets up, we will see a sharper focus on silence, mindfulness, and deep nature at hotels, retreats and spas: from new ‘silent spa’ models to more wellness destinations being developed in (and with the quiet, contemplative values of) former monasteries. We will even see more silent eating and restaurants, salons, gyms, stores and airports.” The rise in silent retreats and travel to places where there is no connection with the outside world has been exponential in the last few years. Ellis continues, “The conclusion of the initial trend write-up still rings true: Travellers won’t want to take all their vacations at a quiet monastery-style wellness retreat, but they will want to take more of them. And if the idea of taking a few days at a place where you can’t compulsively text and check your social media ‘likes’ seems scary...then you really need to ask yourself, how badly do I need this?”

3 Ways the Wellness Industry Can Be More Supportive

According to Susie Ellis, co-founder, chairman and CEO of GWS

SUSTAINABILITY - “As we look to the future, whenever we are talking about wellness for people, we should also add the words ‘and the planet’. After all, how can we be healthy if our environment isn’t?”

DEMOCRATISATION - “We need to make sure that while some of our businesses are targeted at the more affluent market, wellness has to be for all.”

MENTAL WELLNESS - “This topic is so important that I’m happy to announce that ‘mental wellness’ will be the subject of the Global Wellness Institute research in 2020.”

For more information, visit Global Wellness Institute & Global Wellness Summit


The biggest food-wellness trends for 2020 include:

  • PLANT-BASED PROTEIN - What it means: As more and more people opt for a meat-free lifestyle – or at least experiment with it – the demand for a wider range of plant-based protein alternatives is increasing.
  • ADAPTOGENS - What it means: Not a new trend per se – we’ve been adding turmeric to everything for months – but the rise of adaptogens will continue. Adaptogens are plants or herbs that are kind to your adrenal system; they assist in balancing hormones and help your body to deal with stress.
  • GRAIN-FREE FOODS - What it means: Grain-free alternatives of your favourite snacks and staples are likely to pop up all over. The benefits of a grain-free diet are said to include improving digestive health and balancing the gut, as well as reducing inflammation.
  • INTUITIVE EATING - What it means: Pretty much as the name suggests; you are guided by what your body is craving. You do not diet or feel guilty about eating certain things, but in the same vein often opt for the healthier choice, and you just relish the pleasure of eating.
  • SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD - What it means: Ensuring that our oceans can endure forever is paramount. A wider variety of lesser-known fish will likely make appearances on restaurant menus and in supermarket aisles.