GWI Roundtable review: Hard Data behind the Soft Data – The Value of Wellness in Real Estate and Hospitality Projects

As the healthy building movement gains traction, critical questions regarding the connection between hard and soft data are being investigated by leading industry figures. Such questions formed the premise of a GWI roundtable, held 9th July, 2019.

Supported by HKS, an international design firm, and moderated by Stephen Marks, CEO of Mind Body Building Limited, the specialist panel engaged in lively conversation about the trajectory and challenges of the $3.7 trillion wellness industry.

An overarching theme of the discussion focused on the benefits and limitations of technology – specifically, how might investors, owners, or employers, use data to make intelligent and informed decisions about their product or service?

Responses were wide and complex. Alan Fogarty, partner in Cundall, praised the far-reaching implications of data acquisition from sensors located in all the company’s offices. He suggested that dashboards be implemented so that users can readily digest and analyse information, although methods of utilising such data is yet to be resolved.

Similarly, Claire Racine, from JLL, outlined a problem to do with measurement, claiming that people are “tooled up to measure environmental impact” and that attention should rather be paid to “how we stack up against WELL standards.”

The commercial advantages of a proptech company at such a pivotal time in the wellness industry is seemingly undeniable. Nevertheless, it is not without its challenges.

Freddie Pritchard-Smith, from Savvy Property, spoke of the advent of technology within real estate as constantly adapting to transitional behavioural change. As the narrative of understanding the value of wellness develops, so does the demand of all players involved in the property and hospitality market.

Consequentially, companies that are operating in line with WELL standards, guidelines, and design principles, are faced with the pressing task of configuring ways to bridge the ever-increasing wealth of soft data with hard data.

This sentiment became strongly echoed by the rest of the panel. As a result of unprecedented access to hard data, professionals and consumers alike are evolving to encompass a sophisticated awareness of health and wellbeing.

The impact is twofold. On the one hand, such transparency of data will shine a light on the integrity of practice, whereas on the other hand, it will reveal ‘well-washers’ for their inability to live up to wellbeing metrics.

It is the soft data – of tapping into human emotion – that prompted heated discussion. Elina Grigoriou, of Grigoriou Interiors, defined wellbeing as intrinsically subjective and therefore not existing within the building itself. “It is managing expectations and the understanding of wellness that matters,” she said. “Wellbeing is a choice, and our physical environment can remove or allow comfort to assist in this process.”

So where is the industry heading? Ann-Marie Aguilar, from IWBI Europe, recognises the growing alignment between the health and social sectors, and noted the rising interest from commercial occupiers to seek and incorporate wellness into their environment.

In particular, Aguilar looked at architecture and the integration of natural light. In terms of design, she believes that buildings have to be “restorative spaces” and that greater emphasis is being placed on human nature components – that is, of how clients feel within certain spaces.

The value of soft data is growing in significance and is feeding into a wider portfolio of wellness building projects. Yet despite efforts by Google to show how neuroaesthetics (the scientific study of how beauty affects the brain) can inform interior design, it flagged questions to do with self-quantification and the potential misuse of data profiles.

An intricacy of valuing wellness within real estate and hospitality seems to lie amongst the procedures of data measurement, collection, and application – precisely to do with the ways in which hard and soft data will be complemented.

Accordingly, the market must undergo a revision before wellness is accepted and acknowledged as part of this valuation. Given that 70% of destination-goers base their decisions upon the health of their surroundings, it is only a matter of time before building for wellness emerges as the norm.

GWI is considered the leading global research and educational resource for the wellness economy. Its latest report on wellness within real estate and communities can be downloaded here.

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