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The Model for Wellbeing in Hospitality & Tourism

I speak to a lot of people in our industry that aren’t familiar with the differences between wellness and wellbeing. From my perspective, wellness is concerned with the base physiological and safety needs of humanity. What we put in our bodies, what sort of environment we spend our time in, how we nurture ourselves. Wellness-minded decisions have been top-of-mind during COVID, because our health has been in jeopardy. ⁠

Wellness is essential for wellbeing. Because wellbeing by definition is the state of being comfortable, healthy, and happy. And it’s very hard to achieve that state if you’re stuck in survival mode, fretting over your health. ⁠

Wellbeing is where we start to enter the territory of relationships, belonging, personal strength, psychological needs, and ultimately self-fulfillment. These needs are just as pressing right now, but not enough people understand how to address or satisfy them. This is a problem. ⁠


Because it’s easy to install automatic hand-sanitizer dispensers and air purifiers. It’s not so easy to install programming that helps people flourish amidst a pandemic. Or let’s face it – even before COVID, in normal everyday life. Happiness levels have been dropping steadily over the last decade. ⁠

So now that every building and experience has been redesigned for wellness and safety, how do we redesign for wellbeing? Psychologists have been studying wellbeing and positive psychology for a very, very long time, and the PERMA model shows us the way. ⁠Well, it’s one popular model that shows us the way. Let's explore how this model applies to the hospitality & travel industry.


P stands for Positive Emotion

Obvious, right? Here’s the thing though: positive emotions can range from something as simple as satisfaction (this experience makes me content) to pure, unadulterated bliss (this experience makes me feel on top of the world). ⁠

Most experiences are designed to ensure the visitor or guest leaves satisfied. “Customer satisfaction, guaranteed!” But designing an experience so that someone is bursting with bliss, optimism, and joy? Mmmm… those experiences are rare. And far more valuable to the visitor & guest.

A guest might experience dozens of emotions in the span of a few hours, triggered by external and internal factors. External factors could be any environmental touchpoint or interaction along the visitor journey. Internal factors are the things people carry over from their previous experiences or simply the narrative they have going on at the time. For example, if someone’s worried about something at home, that’s going to color their experience.⁠

So it may be obvious that we need to stir up positive emotions, but the HOW isn’t always obvious to most people. Because what brings you a positive emotion might bring me the exact opposite. What just satisfies you, might be the thing that brings me bliss.

Is it possible to create an experience that evokes strong positive emotions that results in long-term wellbeing? I believe it is, if you understand people well enough.

My advice to you: map out your visitor journey, and determine where you can dial things up in the emotions department. What positive emotions DO you want people to experience? Satisfaction vs. bliss? Which emotions are going to get guests closer to their desires? And how can you reverse engineer the experience to ensure it delivers? ⁠


E stands for Engage

The second building block of the theory of wellbeing is Engage. A state of immersion in the present moment – in the here and now. This is also known as the state of flow!⁠

We have to recognize is that so many people are going through their days on auto-pilot – nearly half of their day, but probably more if you ask me. It’s up to you to jolt them out of that routine lull and give them something that wakes them up and brings them into a good kind of flow. ⁠

When was the last time a hospitality, tourism, or leisure experience put you in this sort of state? Where you were an active participant instead of just a going along with the motions? The sort of hands-on, interactive experiences that we all know and love? ⁠

They are not commonplace, unfortunately. So many experiences today are purely one sided – we entertain you, and then you leave. And while sometimes we’re totally in the mood for that, it doesn’t really do much for us. There’s much more value in engaging people in this heightened way.⁠

My advice to you: look for ways to involve and engage your visitors & guests on a deeper level. Are there moments that can be designed to get people into a flow? Where are their opportunities to co-create with your customer? ⁠

R stands for Relations

MOST reported instances of happiness occur while interacting with others. And yet, the world is incredibly disconnected right now.

One of the greatest reasons I advocate for developing a strong brand personality, is because you’ll tend to attract a certain sort of person when you do that. If your brand radiates the joyful creative archetype, you’ll likely attract visitors & guests that share the values and virtues of the joyful creative archetype. It's archetype attraction in action.

This is SO important for relationships, because when you attract people who share similar values and virtues, you create a safe place for them to connect. Not to say that diversity is bad, not at all. But if you create an environment that pulls in people with opposing values, that environment is more likely to instill a sense of dis-ease. This is where people are more inclined to put up walls instead of letting their guard down because they don't feel safe. ⁠

If people can’t be themselves in an experience, then it will be 10x harder for them to connect. Or do anything, really. They will constantly be worrying, on the defense. So what can you do to ensure your experience is an ideal environment for relationship building and nurturing?⁠

My advice to you: Make sure your values, virtues, and vision are VERY explicit in your marketing. The last thing you want to do is attract visitors that disrupt the peace and create turmoil for the people who are there for genuine connection. Also, check out the book "The Art of Gathering" - it's a must read for anyone in hospitality & tourism. ⁠


M stands for Meaning

Meaning is in my opinion the most important aspect of the wellbeing model that gets missed most often. Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something bigger than the self. AKA if your experience can help someone begin to uncover why the heck they are on this planet, you will be doing them a huge wellbeing solid.


The hospitality & travel industry is rooted in pleasure. But when you bring meaning into it, it evolves into ideological, purposeful pleasure. The question becomes ‘how can we give people an experience that not only makes them feel good, but also supports them in pursuit of their passions & aspirations?” There is just as much pleasure derived from having values & personal aspirations and being true to them, as there is relaxing on a beach (or maybe more…)


2020 had a lot of people questioning and reflecting on the meaning of their life. Many people’s lives were turned upside down and now they’re dizzyingly trying to find their way around. The important thing to recognize is that meaning is not tied to one thing – like a job, or a cause. A sense of meaning is guided by personal values. Helping people find meaning starts with helping them clarify what they value and helping them see their own worth.


My advice to you: Keep in mind that you are not responsible for giving someone’s life meaning – you don’t have to do the hard work for them. It’s more about providing an experience that acts as a catalyst for someone to discover their own purpose. Passion is contagious – where are you holding it back? Find ways that you can move an experience from the purely ‘pleasure’ sector into the ‘purposeful pleasure’ opportunity zone.


A stands for Accomplishment

Achievement, mastery, competence – without these things, life would feel very unrewarding. Wellbeing comes when accomplishment is tied to striving toward things with an internal motivation or working toward something just for the sake of the pursuit and improvement. Not because someone told you to.


What happens when our day, week, or month has nothing to show for it? That feeling of going through the motions without the reward is what creates a very unfulfilling life. Meanwhile, every experience is an opportunity to break that cycle.


This is why sightseeing and other surface-level attractions can feel so… pointless. The experience doesn’t really engage you in a way that makes you feel like you moved ahead. Sure, it’s nice to see something beautiful, and those experiences will certainly release bits of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals. But it will often leave people with an incomplete feeling and craving of more.


Accomplishment can be felt in the smallest of moments – like finally being able to stand up on a surfboard for a few seconds without tumbling over. It’s not always about tackling the biggest waves, because it’s all relative.


I remember when I booked a zip-lining experience in Costa Rica, I was under the impression that I could pick & choose from 5 different zip-lines. When I got there, I learned that I was very wrong. I had to take a tram up to the top of a mountain (2,625 feet high - just shy of the Burj Khalifa) and take 5 different zip-lines to get back down on solid ground.


There were many moments where I was like, NOPE. Can’t do this. But there was a 15-year-old kid in our group about to get on the tram and I said okay fine, if he can do it, I can do it. So I did it. And while I was flying down those cables at 50 MPH, I felt a supreme sense of accomplishment and pride.


My Advice to you: build in moments where people feel like they’re making strides. It doesn’t have to be related to something they ‘do’ in life – heck, I’m not going to become a professional zip-liner! But that experience reminded me of my resilience. And I can take that lesson & apply it to other things in my life. And that is powerful.


Which of these building blocks of the PERMA model do you see the greatest opportunity to enhance in your experience and visitor journey? Click here to view our free workshop, Becoming Wise on Wellbeing.