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Spa People: 20th anniversary issue

Anna Bjurstam

When I graduated with a master’s degree in finance and joined the industry, my father thought I’d thrown away my education and career

Anna Bjurstam, Raison d’Etre and Six Senses photo: Six Senses
It’s an amazing time to work in the sector, says Bjurstam photo: Six Senses
A more feminine era is raising consciences and people are choosing differently for themselves and others photo: Six Senses
The LivNordic concept helped Raison d’Etre survive the financial crisis in 2009 photo: Raison d’Etre
Bjurstam experiencing shirodhara in Bhutan. She feels ayurveda is the most crucial healing method photo: Frederic Lagrange

What’s been your biggest life lesson?
The first is to never rely on a contract or ethics. I was naive and unaware of this in the early days when setting up a Raison d’Etre spa at a resort in the Maldives. It went so well the owner ripped up our contract, took down our sign, poached our staff, concept and products, gave it a new name and ran it himself. He was able to do that because he had more money and power.

The second is to never give up. During the financial crisis in 2009, Raison d’Etre almost didn’t make it. We hung in, got creative and founded LivNordic, a brand based on Nordic health traditions, which is now highly profitable. What you can do with a dedicated, talented and passionate team when everyone feels part of the whole is fantastic and many are still with us today.

The third is not to be afraid to take risks – you either succeed or you fail and learn a valuable lesson. When I was given a blank canvas to turn Six Senses into a wellness company, there were a lot of non-believers in the initiatives we created. However, we walked the road less travelled and it paid off.

How has the industry evolved since 2003?
Back then, most people didn’t even know what the word ‘spa’ meant and doctors certainly didn’t acknowledge it. When I graduated with a master’s degree in finance in 1997 and joined the fitness industry, my father thought I’d thrown away my education and career.

I was a founding board member of the Global Spa Summit in 2007, which is now known as the Global Wellness Summit and gradually this organisation, led by Susie Ellis, has helped our industry earn the respect of doctors and scientists. Just about everyone is interested in wellness and it’s an amazing time to work in this sector right now.

Who have been the biggest industry influencers?
Susie Ellis, founder of the Global Wellness Institute, definitely, as well as Alberto Villoldo and his work in energy medicine, neo-shamanism and the connection with the non-visible realm.

Also Dave Asprey, the father of biohacking. Mark Hyman, a pioneer in functional medicine and Deepak Chopra for the way he’s spread the knowledge of ayurveda – for me, personally, this is the most important healing method in the world today and it would be my ‘go-to’ if I ever got seriously sick.

More recently, there are neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, longevity expert Peter Attia, genetics professor David Sinclair, fitness, nutrition and health coach Ben Greenfield and many more.

What innovations have made a difference?
I have to mention tech and the wearable market and how we can use both to understand more about our health. When I started, it was all about touch and technology was looked upon as a disturbance of wellness. Today it’s part of the solution and AI is opening up a whole new world of personalised wellness and medicine.

Also biohacking. I stumbled across Dave Asprey 10 years ago and realised what an opportunity it presented – interventions are typically not labour intensive, are low risk and offer a high ROI.

I use a cryotherapy chamber as well as a red light bed a couple of times a week and truly feel the difference.

What societal trends are impacting the market?
One of the biggest trends right now is that just about everyone is interested in wellness. Before it was only the early adopters and those who encountered some kind of health problem that wellness helped them solve.

A more feminine era is raising consciences and people are choosing differently for themselves, others and our earth.

The quest for not being lonely is another driver. We need to find new ways to meet ‘our tribe’ and wellness will play a big part.

The need for mental health and people seeking spiritual development is fuelling the psychedelic market. It’s booming and is not going away – it’s built up too much momentum. It’s also driving a market for indigenous therapies, shamanism and the invisible realm.

What business models will be the most exciting?
The combination of medical, wellness, mental and spiritual modalities under one roof in tandem with an online presence, wearables and real-time health and lifestyle advice 24/7 is what excites me most.

What do you wish had been invented but hasn’t yet?
I’ve always dreamt of walking through a portal at a spa reception, that scans all your vitals and tells me exactly what I need for that day. What type of exercise I should do when I go to the gym, what kind of massage I should have or what foods I need to eat. It would only take a minute, be accurate and easy to understand. It could also write up a week’s wellness programme, a month’s lifestyle advice or a yearly plan to reach my goals. I’m sure this is coming and can’t wait to experience it.

What’s holding the global spa industry back?
It’s too fragmented and a bit ‘wild west’ right now. False claims are everywhere. There are products that don’t deliver what they say they will and influencers who don’t know what they’re talking about.

As we become more mature, standards will form and those products and services that hold true to their promise will emerge. But, at the moment, my biggest fear is that powerful, large profit-hungry companies with questionable values will infiltrate the wellness sector – just as they have the food industry – and destroy it.

What do you still hope to accomplish?
So much! I’ve always seen my purpose to be a bridge builder, to help people cross into a more healthy world where they can live better for longer. And there’s so much coming down the line in terms of personalised wellness, stem cells, exosomes, peptides and biohacking.

At the same time, having been initiated as a shaman and working in the non-visible realm has shown me that the world is much more than what we can see. Spiritual wellbeing, connection, purpose, love, creativity, quantum physics, psychedelics and learning from nature and ancient practices are equally important as the new science.

In fact, the two go hand in hand. I’m determined to help create a world where there’s less judgement and more curiosity and where doctors, healers, scientists and spiritual masters work together.

Spa Business birthday message

"I always look forward to reading Spa Business. It educates, inspires, questions and connects the industry. I’m incredibly grateful to Liz Terry and the team behind it"

More from spa industry leaders...

In celebration of Spa Business’ 20th anniversary, industry leaders take a look at how far the sector has come since the magazine’s inception in 2003, share personal career highlights and reveal their plans and ideas for the future

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Originally published in Spa Business 2023 issue 3
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