The Awakening of Sleep Tourism



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If you’ve ever heard yourself utter the phrase, you’re a bit out of step with the latest trends. Getting a good 8 to 10 hours is a priority for Gen Z and other generations too.

So of course, the travel industry is taking notice of sleep tourism. Skift Editor-in-Chief Sarah Kopit is on the case with her latest feature, The Science of Sleep: How the Travel Industry Is Cashing In on Tourism’s Latest Obsession. Sarah and Head of Research Seth Borko delve into her reporting on this week’s Skift Travel Podcast.

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What’s the Growing Fascination With Sleep Amongst Gen Z?

Sarah Kopit: It’s kind of interesting because the sleep or the hotel and hospitality industry, to a certain extent, have always been about sleep, right? I mean, it’s what you do when you go to a hotel. But the most recent kind of emphasis is really on the scientific backing that we now know coming from the medical community, coming a lot from the wellness community. Also about how to actually help weary travelers and road warriors really get that precious shut-eye.

There are two distinct wings to this movement. The first is around jet lag. So people who are flying across time zones. It’s like the granddaddy of all travel-related sleep woes is when you’re crossing time zones and you have a big meeting on Wednesday. You’ve left your house — I don’t know — Sunday.

You’re somewhere in time and space getting to your destination. And you get off the plane and you’re just all upside down and miserable and nauseous and tired. And then you can’t even get to sleep when you try, right?

Borko: Awake on the plane for 10 hours. You finally make it a hotel room. And then you’re wide awake as soon as you hit the floor, right?

Kopit: Exactly. And for me personally, I’m not one of those people. I have a really good friend who, like Taylor Swift is like, jet lag is a choice. I wish that was me. That is not me. It’s kind of devastating to my body. And of course, it just gets worse like everything else as you get older.

So jet lag is a big problem in my life. We work for a travel publication. We’re constantly flying all over the place, which is great, but you want to be coherent to enjoy all of it. So there’s that. And there’s tons of emerging science about circadian rhythms and how important they are and how to kind of trick them, so to speak, to prepare you for your trip.

So that’s one wing of this kind of new movement. And the other one really is … very attached to the wellness movement. It’s using science. Once you get to the hotel so you can go to sleep when you want to. So you’re optimizing your hotel room and your entire experience to really focus on one thing very specifically and that is getting to sleep so you’re rested and refreshed.

And I had kind of a … very fun experience at Equinox Hotels here in New York City, where I tested out all of their various sleep-related scientific bells and whistles, and it was great.

Where Gen Z’s Fit Into the Sleep Tourism Trend

Kopit: Well, they seem to be on anything that relates to getting good sleep. They’re here for it and I kind of love that. I’m old enough for I’ve been through many iterations of culture. And I think earlier in my career, it was very much the hustle culture. For me, girl boss type, you go, go, go all the time.

You work all the time. If you’re busy, that’s great. You’re important. All of that kind of ethos, early startup type stuff.

Borko: It’s almost that status symbol. Having a BlackBerry and being available 24/7 is a weird sort of brag, right?

Kopit: I’m not old enough for the BlackBerry. So there is …

Borko: I was using a BlackBerry at my first job … The BlackBerry is long dead. We have TikTok now. That’s what’s replaced the (BlackBerry). And what I like is you … actually (had a) link to this clip in your article. This TikTok wellness influencer taking about sleep tourism. So let’s have a listen:

Come with me to adult sleep camp and let’s celebrate World Sleep Day. I braved the rain and made my way to beautiful downtown Los Angeles, where I was hosted at my only hotel of choice downtown for a day of rest and relaxation. Hotel Figueroa revamped its rest and recovery suite with a slew of new partners to give travelers the sleep tourism experience.

There’s only one self-care suite in the entire hotel. And for $500 a night, you get a customizable take home pillow from Pluto along with inspired workout apps like therapy and tips and supplements designed to get you to relax. And here’s a little overview of the room. As you can see, very minimal, very soft lighting, very calming. Beautiful. And here is the sleep doctor who guided us through any questions we have about sleep.

And we have self-styled expert Laurie who guided us throughout yoga meditation sort of thing. At the end, we were treated to a wonderful dinner. So delicious. What a beautiful day in the rain. Get some sleep everyone. You deserve it.

Borko: So I feel relaxed already just listening to that TikTok — the dreamy music, the sleep doctor. I think that’s an interesting point where she says, “Then you deserve it.” That really is about how I think it’s becoming a part of the culture. And we don’t know if this a paid influencer or not, but how these hotels that offer these sort of experiences — she calls it her hotel of choice because it has that rest and relaxation element.

Kopit: So it really of kind of typifies what many, many hotels are really leaning into. So a lot of it is marketing but it’s what the hotel is there for, anyway. It is so you can sleep. So those are some kind of small things that hotels are doing like the lighting and the sleep induced meals and drinks and all of that kind of stuff.

But then there’s the Equinox and what they are doing, which is on a whole other level.

What’s Sleep Tourism?

Kopit: Sleep tourism to me is going on a trip or going on a vacation purely for the purpose of rest and relaxation. So, you know this isn’t a new phenomenon. This is something that travelers have been doing for a while. But I think the differences now is that in addition to a lot of the activities or maybe like going out and just really kind of experiencing anything and everything that you can in a location — these trips are purely to kind of rest, reflect, connect.

Kind of like the spa days of all, but really focused on sleep and getting to sleep and enjoying that sleep. So, there’s all sorts of things that hotels are doing. A lot of them have to do with light, which I talked to Timeshifter CEO and their scientific findings around circadian rhythms, which are fascinating really.

(They’re) a lot more complex and different than I was expecting. And then there are is all sorts of, spa and other sorts of treatments that hotels are offering specifically to help get good sleep.

What Is the Market for Sleep Tourism?

Kopit: It’s massive. I mean, you have to kind of think about where the boundaries are around what is regular kind of sleep at a hotel and what is sleep tourism. But the numbers that I’ve seen from researchers who are looking at this are something like (a) $400 billion increase over the next five years.

Borko: Yeah, so that’s that’s pretty big. On the Skift Research side, we did our American Travel Tracker survey. It’s about 800 Americans we surveyed. And I think 40% of them told us that they had booked some sort of sleep improvement activities, like some sort of rest or relaxation or sleep experience.

So 40% of American travelers participated in some way, shape or form in this form of rest or relaxation. It’s a big number.

Kopit: It’s a huge market. it’s a big number. And it just kind of shows that humans globally are really looking to improve this part of their lives. There’s all sorts of studies, which of course surprised me. None about how women, especially under 50, are deprived.

They think their life would be better if they could sleep more. Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times.

I actually think … I know why this has happened in these last few years. And I really think it was the pandemic. I think that especially like to have this sort of global trend. There are very few events that happened in the world.

The pandemic was so unique. I’m sure scientists and historians will look back at this time with great interest because it was (a) perfect test sample of being able to say, “What happens to the whole world when you, from one day to the next, change everything about how they’re going to go about living their lives?”

And I think about it personally. I worked for Bloomberg News for 15 years. That’s a financial and markets related-industry. I was at work by 6:00 a.m. every day. I have little kids. When the pandemic hit, I always kind of knew that I was sleep deprived. But I just didn’t realize how sleep deprived I was and how much of a difference that made for me until the pandemic, when we were all kind of got to not do anything and not go to work — and sleep a lot.

Borko: I think there’s two pieces to it that are interesting to me. I think one is just a straight reprioritization of people saying, “Life is short.” They want to prioritize themselves, prioritize their wellness, prioritize their heath. I think that was a big shift. I think memories are somewhat short, but that I think is a long-term thing.

And one of the things that’s interesting — you know, I love to cite numbers — we have this survey question, “Maintaining my sleep routine is a priority even while on vacation.” Almost 77% of travelers agreed with that. I think part of it is developing new routines and habits during the pandemic because you’ve got the time to get into a sleep routine. And then saying, “I actually am really happy with some of the results that my routine got me. I want to travel, but I’m not going to let that disrupt my habits and my routines.” I think that might be a part of it, too.

Kopit: Absolutely. We all kind of found out what it might be like to get some good sleep during that time and were unwilling to let it go when everything kind of lifted. So I think that that has kind (been) a really big reason why … and the Gen Z age group, they kind of came of age during this period.

And so, (it was) formative for them. So, they don’t remember hustle culture. It was never a part of their lives. And they’re like “Yeah, of course, I’m going to sleep 8 to 10 hours a night. Like why would you ever not want to do that?”

And so the rest of us are kind of like (scratching) our heads, “Oh, OK, perhaps I should try this and maybe I need a little help getting there, you know?” So that’s what these hotels are serving.

Getting Better Sleep

Borko: You took it for a bit of a test drive at the Equinox Hotel. Let’s talk about that a little. What was that stay experience like for you?

Kopit: So it all kind of started at our Megatrends event, which both of us were at in New York in January. And I interviewed Chris Norton, who is the CEO of Equinox Hotels. And at the time, I kind of gave him a little bit of a hard time on stage because I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know if I want to go to a hotel and have somebody stick an IV in my arm.”

I think we have a clip of that which we can take a listen to now.

Borko: Let’s play it.

Kopit: I’ve read and I’ve seen some pictures about how you offer IV therapy. Tell me about that. I’ve never done it. I don’t know — I think I would feel strange about having somebody put an IV in my arm at a hotel. But tell me why I’m wrong.

Chris Norton: Because we had this discussion and we talked last week. And you’re convinced that you thought it was the room service waiter who was going to do it.

Kopit: I wasn’t sure.

Norton: These are registered nurses … that’s actually a third party company we work with. It’s incredibly popular. You could argue, but there are people who are huge believers and enjoy the benefits of it. It’s in our spa. So in combination with the massage or facial or — people go in. We have these pods overlooking the trains that come in from Long Island. That’s in Hudson Yards.

You’re sitting there and actually some people have a glass of champagne with it.

Borko: So you were nervous about it … so what was it really like? We have a hard-nose journalist here to tell us the truth about IV therapy at the Equinox Hotel.

Kopit: Chris and I got off stage. He made me promise that before I pass judgment on the IV therapy that I would come over to the hotel and try it out. And so I did, but it wasn’t just the IV.

So I stayed overnight. I did an unscientific sleep study. I pulled a Fitbit out of the back of the closet, tried it out, and I measured my sleep for the week before I went to the Equinox. I went to the Equinox Friday night, (and) did it all.

My Fitbit gave me a rating of only fair sleep through Thursday, and so I kind of wanted to see this. (It’s) of course incredibly unscientific. It was just kind of a fun exercise for me. So that’s about right for me.

Borko: I tried Fitbit …

Kopit: Super cool. So I had fair sleep that week that seemed accurate. And so on Friday morning, I went to the went to the hotel. Chris and I had breakfast, and then I went to the spa. And not only did I get the sleep IV, I did an infrared sauna, all sorts of things that are that they have there in order to bolster your sleep.

The infrared sauna was intense. I almost fainted afterwards. They give you an electrolyte drink. All of a sudden I started seeing a bit of tunnel like … I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience, but I was like, whoa, OK.

Borko: I struggle in a normal sauna. If I’m in a sauna for five minutes, I (become) woozy. This sounds like an overdrive.

Kopit: And so after that, I actually did the IV, and it was the sleep IV. Of course, what Chris said is accurate. Their spa is just to die for. There are registered nurses and I didn’t have the champagne. I should have, (but) I didn’t …

I should have listened to that clip before I went … I didn’t know (the champagne was available). I had forgotten. So yeah, you look out over the Hudson. It’s very beautiful. I finished …

Borko: What was the verdict on your sleep? Did you have a fair sleep?

Kopit: I finished the spa. But they have more. They have more stuff. So they sent up these little accoutrements that they have to the room. They have their own proprietary sleep masks. They have a charcoal-infused bedtime drink. They have all this stuff. It’s so good. And then, my favorite part is in the room, like … we’re talking about our various ages to date.

I’m going to date myself here. I am one of those people. When you go to a hotel, I cannot figure out how to turn off the lights off — like I cannot do it. Like there’s usually a light underneath the bed, the side table that I’m just like … I’m going to have to call down to the front desk because I can’t get this light off.

So that’s me. So I think that I am not the only one. I actually read something. I think it is in the New York Times last week that that whole article about the frustration (about) trying to figure out how to turn the lights off in hotels these days.

Borko: I had to call the front desk. It was the most embarassing phone call I made. When we were in India, I had to call the front desk and be like, “I’m sorry. I can’t get the lights off. Can you send someone to help me do it?

Kopit: And so Equinox knows that the struggle is real. And so they have next to the bed a single panel. Not only does it turn the lights off, but it lowers all of the blackout blinds and resets the temperature to 66 degrees, which their sleep scientists sleep have told them is the optimum temperature for sleep.

It needs to be a little bit colder than most people think it does to have good sleep. So these are the kind of things that this hotel is really thinking about when it’s trying to promote sleep. So here is the punchline punchline …

It told me I got an 82 — good sleep that night. The only day of the week that I did get good sleep. Yep. So I told Chris, “Very unscientifically proven.” My husband came for dinner with me. We went to dinner there, and I had one martini and I thought that was really going to screw me up, but probably did a little bit.

Usually, it causes the opposite effect. Like I said, this is an unscientific study. We were there to have the full experience. But anyway, it was great.

Borko: Scientific for not, it sounds like a wonderful study is what I’ll tell you.

Kopit: We all have to suffer for our jobs sometimes.

Dealing With Jet Lag

Kopit: Another thing that I looked at for this piece (was) the dreaded jet lag. So I also downloaded Timeshifer (beforehand). Any of you that follows Skift …. you know, Seth and I were on a kind of a bit a tear starting in December.

Ending in … I don’t know when. Just constantly from here in New York to Dubai to London to Morocco to India. So I downloaded Timeshifter. So this is an app. They are very into the circadian science — that of the circadian rhythms of your body that can help with jetlag. So they are not so much in the wellness camp at all.

They are in the pure play jet-lag camp. And it was amazing. I downloaded it and I used it and it worked for me too. I was talking to the CEO of Timeshifter and I was like, “It’s amazing. It worked.” And he just said he wasn’t that surprised because the science is the science, right? Tt does just simply work.

Borko: I was talking to some some colleagues, and their advice was, “Just look. As long as you can stay up till 5 p.m. and then go to bed. That’s it.” But I guess that’s old fashioned. That’s way too simplistic of just stay up till 5 p.m.

Kopit: Well, it’s kind of for me anyway, and I think for a lot of people. Yeah, I try to do that. But then I’m like exhausted, like mentally and physically exhausted. Like my eyes hurt like the back of my eyes hurt. I’m so tired. But I can’t go to sleep.

And there’s not just one circadian rhythm in your body. There 10, 20 different. It’s why different circadian clocks that you kind of have to trick in order to get them all on the same to sync up. And what, Timeshifter CEO told me was that the biggest factor in whether you’re able to overcome jet lag … it’s not exercise, it’s not food.

It’s not like kind of some of the other things that maybe we might have heard. It’s light. So on the Timeshifter app, it starts a couple of days before you’re going. Like if you’re going to Europe or the Middle East or Asia on one of these big, long overnight, long-haul trips, you kind of start adjusting your sleep, going to bed.

If you’re traveling east, you’re going to bed a little bit earlier, waking up earlier. And then it gives you prompts about when to go and stand out in the sun and when to shield your eyes from any light — like for 15 minutes, and what it’s doing is it’s tricking your melatonin systems and all of the kind of circadian clocks in your body to try to shift your body clock to that different time.

You have to start a few days before so and, and it’s like go and stand out in the sun for 15 minutes. And they also talk about using melatonin and using caffeine if that’s something you’re into. So it was not only fascinating, but that worked for me, too. So I guess now all I have to do is use Timeshifter, fly to Asia where maybe someday, there’ll be an Equinox Hotel and get an IV.

And I’ll be good to go. That’ll be perfect. It’s all. That’s all it takes. Very simple. Exactly.

Borko: Well, I think from all levels of in-between. So it really does cover the spectrum, right? Like you’ve got these hotels — obviously, they say for years that it’s all about heads and beds. But it’s specifically now about that head gets in that bed and sleeps in that bed. We’ve got the apps. We’ve got the airlines coming into play as well. They’re doing all sorts of stuff … It really is …

Kopit: A full-court press.

The Importance of Jet Lag for Destinations

Kopit: And another thing that was interesting — this is actually the seed of the story while I started writing it. I was talking to the tourism folks at Tourism Australia, and …

They said they were talking about how it’s hard to get people from maybe the U.S. to come over because it’s so far away. It’s expensive. These are big trips. And I started talking about jet lag and they were like, “But that’s probably one of the biggest things is that when people come over, they have to stay for such a long time because the jetlag is so intense.”

Borko: That’s a fascinating angle there. If you’re in a long haul tourism market, this is not just a wellness or even a luxury. It could even be a straight dollar — like a real return on investment from jet lag.



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