Trend: Urban Bathhouses Heating Up

The Global Wellness Summit (GWS) recently released its annual wellness trends report, looking at new directions in wellness that will have the most impact on the industry and people worldwide. The 110-page report goes in-depth to look at major shifts ahead in nutrition, wellness travel, wellness real estate, women’s health, men’s wellness, healthcare, technology, sustainability and spas.

Among the 10 wellness trends predicted for 2022 is one that caught our eye: Global Wellness TREND #7 – The Rise of Urban Bathhouses: Affordable wellness is coming to a city near you.

“If it’s always daunting to predict trends in the fast-moving wellness space, it’s especially so two years into a pandemic where the long-promised ‘post-pandemic world’ is becoming visible but is repeatedly delayed,” said Susie Ellis, GWS chair and CEO. “One thing that this forecast makes very clear is that the future of wellness will be anything but a ‘restart’ of 2019. What consumers need most, what they perceive as ‘true wellness,’ has profoundly changed.”

city dwelllers seek wellness

Several other themes emerge in the report. With new awareness of the fragility of life and the planet, a “survivalist wellness” is emerging: more people are seeking resilience and self-reliance and are aware that their own wellbeing is inextricable from the planet’s.

Another theme is tackling the gaps, missing links and underserved populations in both healthcare and wellness: from male body issues finally getting the attention that women’s have, to innovative technology closing the women’s health research gap to “senior living” getting a dramatic rethink, to the rise of professional wellness coaches helping people make behavior changes.

But let’s get back to the Bathhouse…
We were most curious about the urban bathhouse trend, so we dove into the report to find the elements behind it.  

Today, historic bathing culture is being celebrated — and updated — catering to locals and tourists alike, whether through renovating ancient bathhouses or creating new, modern, urban sauna and bathhouses. These new-styled social bathhouses have begun popping up in our urban landscapes, providing a new kind of “social wellness club” that not only brings urbanites together to relax, but also provides a gentle reboot of mind, body and soul through the discovery and sensory delight of traditional bathing rituals. 

Public Bathhouse Hungary

The need to congregate, gather and socialize around a communal pursuit can help combat isolation and loneliness. Urban bathhouses are part of the solution.

Though numerous projects were in development pre-COVID (and many spa openings were delayed due to the pandemic) it was partially the two years of restrictive, isolated city living that stoked the very real need for purpose-built, easy-to-access wellness sanctuaries, like a second location in Manhattan for Brooklyn’s popular Bathhouse. And indeed, the creation of BC’s first urban Nordic Spa — RITUAL — in downtown Victoria, BC.

At the same time, there has been a push of community support to save historical bathhouses. Sites like the UK’s Carlisle Turkish Baths are being saved from falling into disuse or disrepair and in San Francisco there is a group working to revitalize the old Sutra baths location.

“A revival and appreciation of historical communal bathing and swimming sites in locations around the world is taking place as people turn to authentic, traditional, and proven wellness practices,” said Don Genders, chair of the Global Wellness Institute’s Hydrothermal Initiative. 

Why the Sudden Wave of Interest?
Many factors are fueling the desire of city dwellers to hit the steambath or saunahouse:

  • Social feels good, coming out of COVID:  there is a pent-up demand to do things with other people in real life, rather than via screens. Putting on a bathing suit and doing a circuit with others is part of that.
  • Changing views for what is a “fun” night out: millennials are seeking lower cost, less-alcohol fueled social activities to do as a group. Hello to the Friday night sauna session.
  • Years of history! Bathing feels good and always has. Now, we are seeking this as a way to deal with stressful city lives.  Like the Romans did in their day.
  • Urban density in cities is going up, often without the services and public pools that used to go along with it. Bathhouses are being built in downtown locations to fill this gap.
  • Spas are nice, but communal sauna or bathhouses are affordable: this is an accessible wellness trend, compared to the luxury hotel spa market.

social sauna experiences

A Shift in Wellness
The report goes deep into related trends — like the rise of mobile saunas, event-sized saunas being built in Europe and the “aufguss” events happening — which we hope to cover soon here. It also covers the cool, new experiences rising in wellness: from pandemic-weary cities being reimagined as accessible “wellness playgrounds” to destinations answering the call of a new kind of purpose-seeking wellness traveler, with experiences that help them grow spiritually and creatively. And while the report is based on the insights of economists, doctors, investors, academics, global executives of wellness companies and technologists that gather each year at the GWS, we find it makes very good, elemental sense too.

See you in the sauna.