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Gibson, Gaitanos, Johannessen and Apostoli keynote first-ever Medical Wellness Congress

07 Jul 2022
The first edition of the Medical Wellness Congress (MWC) took place last week at St Martin’s Lodge & Spa Hotel in Austria, with approximately 100 people attending from across the spa, medical, aesthetic and wellness industries.

The two-day conference included keynotes, workshops and networking, with attendees travelling from across Europe and from as far away as Chile, Qatar and the US.

Co-organised by Health and Beauty France – a subsidiary of the Bolognafiere Cosmoprof group headed by Pradip Bala and Vladi Kovanic, founder of Forum HOTel&SPA – the event took place from 27-28 June 2022 with a theme of ‘Integrating Health in Wellbeing’.

In opening the congress, Kovanic said the aim was to create a “specialist event” to offer different solutions in wellbeing.

“We would like to maintain a community and create a decision-maker’s club,” she said.

“More than just a congress, the MWC has brought together a community of experts and practitioners with a common vision of improving physical, mental and social wellbeing of their clients,” said Kovanic.

Dr George Gaitanos, chief operating and scientific officer of the Chenot Group, was the opening keynote speaker. He discussed Chenot’s mission since 1970 of integrating health and wellness into one concept – dropping the ‘and’ to create ‘health wellness’ and with a mission to unlock human potential to increase functionality and vitality at any age.

“People are coming to us for a total reset – to recover lost energy, improve metabolic efficiency, to build resilience and adaptability,” he said.

“We're not treating disease. We're promoting wellbeing and health wellness. We need to educate, engage, empower and inspire the guest to create healthy habits. Our bodies and our genes love habits.”

Architect Alberto Apostoli spoke about architecture’s ability to heal the mind, and a new field of science called neuroarchitecture that studies human responses to the built environment. Apostoli, who specialises in wellness architecture, also highlighted important features anyone designing a medical spa should consider.

“A medi-spa is not a hospital – we're trying to cure body, mind and spirit,” he said. “A medi-spa should not overstimulate, but rather soothe, and forms must be simple and sinuous.

"The risk of any medi-spa is that it elicits a hospital environment or doesn’t distinguish itself from a simple spa. Architecture can have a role in the healing process, and can be part of the treatment – not only the cover of our buildings,” he said.

On day two of the conference, Sandie Johannessen, director of health and wellness at the newly-opened Zulal by Chiva-Som in Qatar, discussed medical wellness trends in the Middle East, where several mega-wellness projects, including Neom and Amaala, are underway.

Johannessen also said that the Middle East has one of the largest developments of senior living homes worldwide, most of which include wellness components.

“Hospitals are trying to replicate five-star hotels, and there is a lot of demand on how to bridge hospitals and five-star hotels together,” she said.

Johannessen also revealed that the German national team for the World Cup, set to take place in Qatar, has booked out Zulal in the lead-up to the games. Zulal has 130 health and wellness employees on staff, as well as 15 doctors, and Johannessen said she sees sports teams investing in their health and going to resorts where they can have fresh air, organic food and a team of wellness specialists on-hand.

Spa and wellness industry icon Andrew Gibson gave an overview of the health and wellness industry from the 1980s until today.

“We’re really at an interesting position right now, because we’re doing treatments that at some point may be regulated by the medical industry,” he said.

In addition, Barbel Frey, managing director of La Pura Women’s Health Resort, highlighted the philosophy behind creating the women-only resort in Austria; Laszlo Puczko, co-founder and CEO of HTWW Life, talked about the importance of authenticity, saying “wellness claims need to be understandable and believable”; Martin Goldmann, CEO of ASPA International, asked “who really owns your health?”; and Sammy Gharieni talked about how technology and touchless treatments can help differentiate a location.

“The impact of the digital revolution touches every aspect of our lives – Metaverse 1.0 is already here,” said Gharieni. “The application of this in health and wellness is creating major industry disruptions.”

Most attendees agreed that the congress was an important first step in coming together across different industries that are increasingly overlapping or even merging together.

“If we're going to make an industry out of medical wellness, we need organisation, studies, voices and events,” said Gibson. “This is the first MWC, but it won’t be the last.”

Indeed, Kovanic and Bala have already announced plans for a second congress on 24-25 April, 2023.

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