We live in an age in which technology allows us to quantify our every action and reaction. Apps and smart devices give us the power to measure our very existence, even as we sleep. Despite this, humanity continues to struggle with how to use this glut of intelligence to power meaningful transformation of mind, body, and soul. The consumers of the Experience Economy are now searching for more long-term payback from their spending. They demand life-changing betterment via how, where, and with whom they spend their time and money.
“Across generations and across the world, people are now looking for experiences, services, and products that help them to become better versions of themselves,” says Chris Sanderson, co-founder of The Future Laboratory. “This mission to be healthier, wealthier, and happier is leading to the rise of the Transformation Economy.”
In a world in which distraction is designed in the form of apps and content, our attention is considered a crucial yet dwindling resource. In answer to this, spaces and services that offer a sense of simplicity are redefining the high-end hospitality experience.
“Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back, you’re going to have to pay for it,” explains Matthew Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head. He cites walking from the main concourse of an airport into a business lounge as a prime example of this.
Just as moving from the bustling airport terminal into the privacy of a lounge provides an exclusive experience of serenity, so too does the recently opened Hoshinoya Hotel in Tokyo’s Otemachi financial district. Instead of a concierge desk, visitors are greeted at the entrance by a contemplative art installation and asked to remove their shoes to avoid disturbing the stillness of the space.
“Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back, you’re going to have to pay for it.”
Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head
The trend for solo contemplation is also in play at Japanese restaurant chain Ichiran, which has recently opened a branch in New York. It allows diners to eat with minimal human interaction. Food is served through a hatch to customers seated in individual booths. The brand’s reasoning behind the solitary confinement is that it helps diners to concentrate on the bowl of ramen in front of them. “There are so many distractions,” says Ichiran Director of Operations Hana Isoda.“When have we ever been face to face with the food in front of us and understood the flavor?”
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest, believes that the key to transformation through downtime is in seeing it as action rather than inaction. “The most restorative forms of rest, the ones that will help you be more creative and be a better person, are active, skilled, and essential,” he says. “We need more mind-wandering; the state where you don’t have to concentrate on anything, and can let your attention unfocus.”
In order to reach a state of “unfocus,” a growing cohort of transformation-seekers is looking to ancient ritualism and mysticism. In the Dark Ages, the ever-present threat of disease, short lifespans, and a lack of scientific understanding about the world led to a surge in religious fervor. Now, with lifespans extending into an unknown future of technological advancement, gender imbalance, political unrest, and potential environmental collapse, people are seeking solace in the magical and supernatural. The growing popularity of shamanic sweat lodges is evidence of this spiritual revival. These ritualistic daylong experiences aim to help people enter an altered state of being for long term betterment. The ceremonies, which include elements such as “smudging,” where herbs are burned to cleanse auras and environments, are carried out in intense temperatures, created by heating stones in an enclosed tent.
Salem, Massachusetts is also benefitting from the desire to look to the past in order to root oneself in a more stable sense of the present. The town has become a place of pilgrimage for feminist millennial witches 325 years after the witch trials that made it famous. Shops such as HausWitch highlight how the movement has evolved. Selling homewares and serving as a community and events hub for witches, it is far removed from the traditional image of broomsticks, warts, and cackling. “Salem is really a place that embodies the feminine divine through the archetype of the witch,” explains Erica Feldmann, owner of HausWitch. “We hope to offer goods and services in alignment with that energy and provide a space that fosters a community for Salem locals and visitors alike.”
When not seeking to disconnect from the tumultuous and distracting nature of 21st-century life, future travelers will look for opportunities to actively engage in the issues affecting society at large. Hospitality brands will need to plug into their guests’ viewpoints and create safe spaces in which they can gather, discuss, learn, and implement real change. In an uncertain world, the profoundly political nature of food is being brought to the fore. “Every single thing we eat and the way we share it has political implications, from who grew the ingredients to how they were distributed. This gives us so much power as individuals to affect change,” says Julia Turshen, author of cookbook Feed the Resistance, which features an “intersectional collection of recipes, essays, and ideas” that examine the political nature of what and where we eat. Female-owned and female-run bar and bakery Butter & Scotch, in Brooklyn, taps into this mindset with its politically inspired menu of drinks, which has included Not My President and This Pussy Grabs Back. “We decided to be up front about our politics and weave them into our business,” says co-owner Allison Kave.
Eaton Workshop, set to open in Washington, D.C. in 2018 as a hybrid of accommodation, co-working space, and wellness center, has a similar mission. According to its website, the hotel will act “as a gathering place for an inclusive tribe of changemakers and creatives, [inviting] activists, artists, and entrepreneurs from around the world to instigate meaningful and positive initiatives on both a local and macro scale.” “We believe that we’re a step toward a more humane business that provides space for community building and learning in a world that needs it,” says Katherine Lo, founder and president of Eaton Workshop. “We think hospitality can be a tremendous catalyst for social and environmental impact.”
The narcissistic and transient nature of the Internet is being replaced by a long-term, collective commitment to the issues that will mean boom or bust for humanity. However, the convenience culture we have built will be hard to forgo. More than ever before consumers will look to brands and businesses to help them achieve their goals. Food and drink is one of the key sectors to which people will look for convenient, but satisfying solutions to the world’s problems, with waste high on the agenda. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the world produces approximately 1.3 billion tons of food waste every year. Recently, the U.K. has seen the emergence of zero-waste restaurants, like Tiny Leaf in London and Silo in Brighton, that are hoping to put a dent in this figure by using donated ingredients, composting leftovers, and reusing containers, along with other sustainable strategies.
Social purpose will also be key to success in the travel industry, says luxury travel expert Juliet Kinsman. “Millennial travelers want to know that a hotel has a positive effect on the world—be it through fair living wages or giving back to the community. The older traveler looks at the environmental elements, including if the hotel in question has been recognized with eco-build certification.”
Across sectors and across the world, businesses will need to adapt quickly to the consumer desire for more fulfilling and ultimately life-changing experiences. As The Future Laboratory’s Sanderson explains: “For those hoping to tap into the Transformation Economy, the secret will be in offering people the tools, environments, and services for self and collective improvement. As a society, we will continue to look to businesses to reduce the pain points involved in becoming the best possible versions of ourselves.”
The preceding article by The Future Laboratory, a world-leading strategic foresight consultancy specializing in trends intelligence, strategic research, and innovation strategy, is excerpted from the 2018 edition of Directions, the magazine by Design Hotels—more than 200 pages of vividly illustrated travel content by leading writers, photographers, illustrators, and designers. Buy it here for €10 or get a complimentary copy when you order the 2018 Design Hotels Book.