This article first appeared in The Spa Business Handbook, 2020/21 edition.

 We are at the beginning of a new juncture of disease and design, where confidence controls what kind of space we want to be in. Physical spacing and sanitisation will drive the design of wellness spaces moving forward. Where development budgets once allocated more to the aesthetics of the space and less to how the mechanics of it could improve health, in a post-COVID-19 world, these less visually appealing items will demand a larger slice of the budget.

HVAC systems with individual controls that ensure return and supply air is separate from other rooms will become the norm, limiting cross contamination. Innovation in material finishes will be sought from the medical field, where developments in antimicrobial surfaces such as copper-laced flooring and the use of silver compounds will continue to inspire new innovations that also offer antiviral properties. One such potential development from Manchester University uses sugar to create a broad-spectrum virucidal antiviral. This is currently being considered as an ingestible or topical application, but who knows what direction this innovation could take; sugar, long seen as the enemy in wellness, could provide a non-toxic antiviral solution.

Adoption of technologies such as RFID-activated doors and lockers, sensor-activated faucets and hand dryers, and voice-activated lighting will become standard. Surface coverings such as carpets and window coverings will be eliminated in favour of hard surfaces that are easy to clean and hygienic. And gender-specific hydrothermal spaces in the changing rooms will give way to larger, co-ed spaces that move guests into a space that allows for easier management of physical spacing.

Finally, there has been much talk in recent years about integrating the wellness offering throughout the hotel, spa and exterior spaces. Now is the time to embrace this movement; spa design of the future needs to be more adaptive and resilient to ensure the business model can accommodate the unknowns before us.

Claire Way is the managing director for international spa and wellness consultancy Spa Strategy.