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Sleep tourism now mainstream with the Global Sleep Symposium at the Equinox Hotel

Once you go down the wellness rabbit hole, there’s no going back. Living a healthy lifestyle has far too many advantages. You think more clearly; you have more energy; your mood improves; you’re happier; then you end up having better relationships and being more successful overall.

We wellness folks can often forget, however, that not everyone shares the same mindset. Interest is growing, sure, but we need landmark news stories to emphasize this industry’s progression from niche to mainstream and the multi-trillion-dollar opportunity that awaits hospitality brands who anticipate the societal shift towards valuing a wellness lifestyle. The upcoming inaugural Global Sleep Symposium at the Equinox Hotel New York on June 19th to 21st is one such milestone that’s worth talking about.

Why sleep, why now?

Speak to any wellness professional and the vast majority will tell you that the cornerstone of wellbeing is high quality sleep. Getting better sleep – more consistency, deeper, longer and with fewer interruptions – is the first step on many people’s wellness journey. And yet, this is more often than not the first thing that suffers when we travel.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22: in today’s fast-paced, knowledge-worker-driven economy, frequent travel is both a necessity for one’s career and a top aspiration for leisure, but doing so can come with a sharp interruption to one’s circadian rhythm, not to mention one’s diet and exercise routine. Even if transcontinental voyages and the resultant jet lag aren’t part of your regular life, the interruption to the daily routine and rituals combined with the added stress of planes, trains and automobiles can be enough to sharply degrade sleep quality.

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To help remedy this conundrum, sleep-centric hotels and resorts have emerged for those guests who are starting to seriously prioritize sleep while traveling, wherein this microsegment of sleep tourists is willing to pay a premium for a guarantee of a good night’s rest in order to maintain high quality sleep and all the benefits that result from that – mood, energy, cognition and so on. Touching base with Chris Norton, CEO of Equinox Hotels, he has labeled this mindset as high-performance living to denote those individuals who are voting with their wallets for products that will support their ever-healthier lifestyles.

While we previously called sleep tourism as a microsegment, it won’t be for long. As a society, we weren’t cognizant of the harmful effects of travel on sleep until only recently – roughly within the past decade and a half – when clever scientists started putting the pieces together and publishing their research. The appreciation for sleep next came into the limelight during the pandemic as our daily rhythms were disrupted and many of us had time to properly reconsider the rat race.

Now in 2024, with more of these scientific studies on the importance of good circadian rhythms, proper sleep hygiene and how nutrition, exercise or mindset affect sleep patterning all reaching the daily news, more and more people are adjusting their lifestyles at home. Critically for the travel and hospitality industries: as customers does at home, they will come to expect at their chosen hotels.

One final milestone to note was the publishing of Dr. Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep” in 2018, which went on to become an international bestseller largely because the nonfiction book made advanced neuroscience and psychology concepts accessible to a mainstream audience. This acclaimed professor of and founder of the Center of Human Sleep Science is now a keynote speaker for the Global Sleep Symposium, whereby he added, “It’s fantastic to see a company like Equinox Hotels embracing and celebrating sleep, especially considering that sleep is the single most effective thing we can do each day to rest our brain and body health.”

About the Equinox Hotel New York

Since its opening in July 2019, the 212-key, luxury Equinox Hotel New York has tenaciously positioned its ‘sleep chambers’ as both a central value-add to guests and as a primary differentiator from the numerous other five-star properties in Manhattan.

Having last stayed there in the summer of 2023, the theme of ‘dark, quiet and cool’ exudes through every guestroom feature, from black and brown woods, marble and sound-dampening materials through to the blackout curtains, reinforced windowpanes to minimize noise pollution, beds layered with temperature-regulating natural fibers and the motion-activated cove lighting for you to navigate the space without disruptive overhead LEDs.

Complementing the FF&E is the RoomBar, the hotel’s branded minibar that goes far beyond the standard fare with whole-food snacks, sleep-inducing herbal teas, tinctures (like liposomal glutathione) and flavored collagen to mix into the morning coffee. Further still is the all-in-one iPad room remote which has a one-click button to turn the room completely dark, in addition to advanced climate controls. Lastly, to round out the sleep-centric features, the Equinox Hotel offers an in-room ‘Sleep Well’ dining menu with items like bone broth and charcoal lattes that help support natural melatonin production as well as on-demand breathwork programming to help guests unwind before bed.

By fully embracing sleep as part of its brand DNA, there’s no better hotel to inaugurate a forum that celebrates the restorative power of sleep. Indeed, as Chris Norton remarked during our time to discuss the event, “As a beacon of excellence, we’re thrilled to pioneer a collective forum that transcends traditional boundaries, forging new pathways in sleep tourism, health and performance.”

The programming for the event

The megatrend affecting hotels around the world is the demand for more dynamic and immersive conferences and meetings versus simply congregating in the same ballroom hour after hour. Within this precept, the Global Sleep Symposium involves interactive experiences and collaborative workshops, spread over three days and two nights so that guests can monitor their sleep quality and note any improvements.

Attendees will also receive a special prearrival sleep prep kit as a welcome amenity, containing a rituals book with an AM+PM sleep guide, custom sleep mask, St. Genieve travel pillow and more. This, of course, is in addition to all the regular sleep-centric amenities in the guestrooms and the Spa by Equinox Hotels with its range of sleep-centric treatments. Beyond only lectures and seminars, there will be yoga on the terrace, sound-art experiences, breathwork, yoga nidra, spa circuits and community sessions.

Then there are the speakers, which include:

  • Matthew Walker: Professor of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley, Sleep Scientist and author of “Why We Sleep”
  • Will Cole: Leading functional-medicine expert
  • Amy B. Killen MD: Leading longevity and regenerative physician, founder and speaker
  • Tom Middleton: Electronic musician, Psychoacoustics Sound Designer, DJ and sleep science coach
  • Daniel Pompa: Author, health expert and speaker
  • Cynthia Thurlow: Intermittent fasting and nutrition expert and a two-time TEDx speaker
  • Neil Paulvin: Longevity and regenerative medicine doctor
  • Catharine Arnston: Founder, CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of ENERGYbits

While the Equinox Hotel has bundled the three-day, two-night experience as a guestroom package with access to all events, it’s also selling one-off tickets for events like an evening seminar with functional cocktails or a rejuvenating art and sound therapy session with superfood appetizers.

Contextually for the big picture, what we see here is a property that has strong brand equity that’s also deeply meaningful for travelers, and this is something for every hotel to really think. A question to ask is: what’s your property’s purpose beyond simply heads in beds? How are you helping your guests live better? What will they take home with them from their time at your hotel?

In this example, going through all the effort to line up a who’s-who of sleep experts for a multi-day conference is entirely ‘on brand’ for Equinox Hotels insofar as reinforcing the brand’s core attributes of sleep and luxury. But the event is also a means of raising the profile for the importance of sleep by giving all these notable speakers and attendees a platform for transformative discourse.

And this spirit of giving back is something that every brand can find a way to work both for the business as well as for the broader community. It may not have to be at the same scale as the Global Sleep Symposium, but hopefully this example nevertheless reveals what’s possible.

Tags: Sleep tourism, Wellness

Managing Partners at Hotel Mogel Consulting, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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