Psycle CEO Rhian Stephenson Takes Aim At The £369bn Wellness Travel Sector

Wellness tourism, an estimated $919 billion industry by 2022, has been steadily gaining traction over the past decade – growing more than twice as fast as the tourism industry as a whole between 2015-2017, according to GWI.

Before coronavirus hit, the stats show that in 2017, 830 million wellness trips were made. By 2020, it can be assumed that figure would have surpassed the 1 billion mark. Today, health-conscious travellers are demanding everything from full-blown retreats to integrated wellness solutions and facilities — and businesses are eager to leverage that momentum.

2019 alone, saw the launch of fitness lifestyle brand Equinox’ first hotel, dedicated to health and fitness, retreats from fitness boutiques across the globe and new wellness-focused properties from legacy brands such as Hilton. 

Read More: Hilton Launches New Wellness Focused Hotel Chain

Despite the influx of competition, luxury retreat ARTAH — a transformative concept, founded by Nutritionist, Naturopath and CEO of Psycle London, Rhian Stephenson — has plans to shake up the sector, with a unique formula that it says is truly transformative.

Backed by a philosophy combining over a decade of Stephenson’s clinical experience and wealth of knowledge from the fitness industry, from its flagship property in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees, ARTAH’S programmes combine fitness, plant-based nutrition, functional medicine and restorative treatments. 

The vision is to create an accessible and inclusive model where people can uncover a new level of health, without the prescriptive or elitist approach favoured by many existing offerings.

At ARTAH, Stephenson says, guests get all of the benefits of a transformative retreat without spending 10k or restricting calories to 400 per day. 

Currently, the travel industry is on pause while the world works collectively to fight the spread of COVID-19. However, once the market begins to recover, with the right measures in place, wellness travel has the potential to thrive as the post-COVID consumer prioritises their health, perhaps more so than ever before. And Stephenson believes ARTAH is strongly positioned to capture the market. 

In the meantime, the business is pivoting and adapting to deliver digital content to keep customers engaged, connected and ripe for future loyalty. 

To find out more, we sat down with Stephenson to discuss her business journey, the value of community and how she’s reinventing the retreat model……….

What inspired you to launch ARTAH, especially as someone with an already incredibly successful career with Psycle?

My background is in nutrition and Naturopathic medicine, so before Psycle this was my sole focus and it’s something that has always been a huge passion and sense of purpose for me. 

I’ve always believed in the power of retreats and have been going on them myself for years so it’s something I’ve always had a passion for. A few years after starting Psycle I experienced a major burnout and was hospitalised for severe pneumonia and I went to a more clinical-based retreat to recover. I decided that it was something I needed to do every year so that I could keep up my health and energy whilst working so hard, but when I went back the following year I didn’t enjoy it at all. 

The main difference is that the first year I went I was incredibly sick, but when I went back I was tired but otherwise well – so it was too hardcore for me. It felt punishing and I missed exercise, movement and didn’t feel that the severe calorie restriction was necessary for me. 

When I got back I did a lot of research and realised that there are a lot of incredible medical-based clinics like Mayr, Lanserhof and Sha on one end of the spectrum, and on the other end there are endless retreats run by trainers or individuals in yoga or fitness, but there was a gap in the market for people like me who wanted to go somewhere chic and still get all of the benefits of a transformative retreat without spending 10k or restricting calories to 400 per day. 

So I wanted to create somewhere to go for either a mini-break or a full program where you can have a holistic and transformative experience in a modern, welcoming environment.

What did it take to turn that vision into a reality?

The process of setting up ARTAH took about 18 months. 

We found an estate in Spain that had the perfect energy and layout, so the first thing we did was start the design process thinking about the gap in the market and what we needed to create to make ARTAH unique. 

At the same time, we hired someone to lead the development of the business. Finding the right team is one of the most important and most challenging things in business — nobody is going to know how to do everything all of the time, but if you have the right team you can graft and solve problems together. Together we just worked on a plan and day by day put everything into place.

Psycle CEO Rhian Stephenson Takes Aim At The £369bn Wellness Travel Sector
Image: ARTAH
With the concept complete, how did you go about cultivating a community?

We’ve been able to build community quite organically by communicating our purpose and fundamental beliefs — I think this is something that allows people to build trust and see if they align with what you’re all about. 

Sharing content, providing recipes, wellness tips and other aspects of what we do at the retreat is the best way to showcase our lifestyle and get people engaged with our philosophy around health. We also knew early on that nothing is as effective than positive word of mouth referrals from people who have had incredible experiences. So, we decided that we would be generous in the gifting of retreats, either through competitions, events, or community engagement.

And what about tapping into the behaviour of the modern wellness consumer?

Behaviour in fitness, health and wellness has drastically shifted over the last few years. 

Whereas people used to only engage to fix a problem — lose weight, heal after a burnout etc — now they realise that having a robust and varied approach to health is the way forward. 

People want great experiences that will give them results, and they want this from brands they resonate with. Five years ago people would only go on retreats when they got into a bad state, now people are pencilling in time for themselves to go each year so that they can continue to feel great, look great and operate at the intensity that London often requires without compromising their wellbeing.

We wanted ARTAH to feel like a stylish holiday home — combined with an incredible wellness program and incredible food — it’s a place you can come to every year to rest and reset, which is what people are looking for now.

As a newly launched travel brand, how are you navigating the COVID-19 challenge?

Of course it’s been hugely challenging, travel restrictions and social distancing have meant that we have had to reschedule the first half of our season. But like most small brands it has also forced us to think outside the box and get on with other projects that were already in the pipeline, which we can deliver digitally. 

In some ways it will be a great accelerator for things we had planned on doing in the future. I think that so many people have found lockdown challenging both emotionally and physically, so there will be a huge attraction to fitness, health and regaining a sense of energy once it’s over.

People are eager to get healthy and feel amazing again, so we’re already hearing a lot of early interest in the 2021 season. Until then we’re creating ways in which we can support people at home.

We are committed to delivering our retreats as soon as we’re able to, so have accelerated the planning of our 2021 season. In the interim, we have so much knowledge packed into each retreat that we are working on a digital solution to share that.