Can touch-based wellness industries survive in a 'no-touch' world?

The Covid-19 pandemic poses challenges, but it's also an opportunity to create new trends

28 June 2020 - 00:02 By
"Many [wellness] organisations have had to create an online offer and to their surprise, have had an increase in subscribers and partakers," says Dr Mike Kelly, CEO of the Institute of Wellbeing.
"Many [wellness] organisations have had to create an online offer and to their surprise, have had an increase in subscribers and partakers," says Dr Mike Kelly, CEO of the Institute of Wellbeing.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

We can all agree that the world is in serious need of one big Band-Aid as economies are shaken and the extent of social disparities comes into focus. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to challenge the way we move, interact and work, the wellness industry has been forced to figure out whether it can heal remotely.

But does going digital further remove the human touch dynamic — or does it in fact enhance it?

In the South African context, lockdown has not only highlighted the challenge of how touch-based practitioners connect with their clients or students, it has held a magnifying glass to our communities' inability to prioritise wellbeing practices over poverty, unemployment and starvation.

The mission of the Institute of Wellbeing in London is to assist people with the integration of wellbeing tools so they can think, live and be well.

The institute's CEO, Dr Mike Kelly, says: “I have often heard of wellbeing being referred to as a luxury — not true. I believe that high-quality wellness, health and healing products and services are necessities of life. The therapeutic benefits of wellness, even if they seem deceptively indulgent, are soothing for the soul and help us to operate and function at our optimum levels. Wellbeing has a huge impact on our physical, mental and emotional health.”

I have often heard of wellbeing being referred to as a luxury — not true
Dr Mike Kelly, CEO of the Institute of Wellbeing

Particularly in our black communities, topics such as wellness, mental health or even anxiety may not be widely dealt with, leaving many underlying issues to rear their heads at a time when every type of disparity is exposed.

“We cannot say yet how the global impact of Covid-19 will impact the black community but it's important to acknowledge some of the well-known, deeply entrenched inequalities that pervade our society disproportionately impact black communities.

“Wellbeing becomes even more relevant from a socioeconomic and equalities perspective and I believe a collective impact community approach is needed and must be premised on the belief that no single policy, government department, organisation or programme can tackle and solve the increasingly complex inequalities faced by black people as a society.

“It calls for multiple organisations or entities across multiple sectors to abandon their own agenda in favour of a common wellbeing agenda,” says Kelly.

'DIGITAL IS NOT THE ONLY WAY TO INNOVATE'

As some communities live with no or limited digital access, how do you translate the healing practices of touch, especially when there is a single-minded approach that holds digital as the only way to innovate?

“Digital is not the only way to innovate. There are some healing practices that require zero technology. In fact technology can be a huge distraction in the healing process. I think it is important for wellbeing providers to not be tunnel-visioned into thinking technology is the only way to engage and reach communities.

“Services must include provision for the elderly, who are often not technologically savvy. Wellbeing providers must also ensure there is a technology offering for the person who loves gadgets and uses wearable tech. It is fundamentally important to recognise that digital and face-to-face therapies can coexist and/or work independently of each other,” says Kelly.

Despite the pandemic posing challenges, it's also a gateway to opportunities that could give rise to new trends in wellness.

“Many organisations have had to create an online offer and to their surprise, have had an increase in subscribers and partakers. Personal hygiene in corporate spaces is also something to be observed — will people want to use saunas, steam rooms, share weights, or even want a therapist in close proximity?  I believe the future for the wellness space is bright. The future is exciting and the wellness community needs to seize the opportunity.”