Wellness Reimagined: Laszlo Puczko of HTWWLife On 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve and Reform The Health & Wellness Industry
An Interview With Maria Angelova
Break Down Barriers — One of the greatest opportunities in health and wellness is the breaking down of the barriers between healthcare and wellness. Integrative approaches can show the way ahead. The combination of any potential and relevant method or treatment either coming from traditional healthcare or from wellness represents a great potential. Outcome and results-focused approaches can create the optimal combination of treatments and services. The mutual trust and acceptance from both sectors are critical. Medical schools need to include wellness treatments in the curricula. Wellness education programs need to strengthen the biological context of the treatments and activities.
In our world of constant change, and with life moving faster than ever, topics such as mental health, self-care, and prevention have become popular buzzwords. People are looking to live healthier lives, and there is superb care out there that is being offered. At the same time, there are misconceptions about the meaning of self-care and exercise. Many opt for quick solutions — surgery, pills — to dull the problem without adequately addressing the underlying cause. Meanwhile, many parts of the industry are unregulated and oversaturated. People with years of training are competing with people with weekend training. Many providers are overworked, overwhelmed, and underpaid. The general public is not educated about asking the right questions when selecting a wellness provider. In the face of all this, what can be done to correct the status quo? In this interview series, we are seeking to hear from a variety of leaders in the health and wellness industries who agree that the wellness industry is in need of an overhaul and offer suggestions about what can be done moving forward. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Laszlo Puczko.
László has been working in the field of travel, hospitality, leisure and health for 25+ years. He is an experience engineer, strategist, mentor and trainer, and wellbeing intelligence expert. László has been active in every aspect and domain of the health, wellbeing and travel spectrum, i.e. medical and wellness tourism, wellbeing and hospitality, spas and leisure experiences.
Thank you so much for doing this interview. It is an honor. Our readers would love to learn more about you and your personal background. Can you please share your personal backstory? What has brought you to this point in your life?
The town I grew up is famous for its hot springs. I have been visiting these hot springs from a very early age. Ever since, I have been a hot spring enthusiast and visit hot spring/thermal facilities everywhere I go. This heritage is the foundation of my interest in wellbeing, health and spas.
I studied in a Business school followed by a Masters in Art and Design Management. This is where my interest in creating and curating experiences comes from. I was always interested in leisure, travel and hospitality. All I needed to do was to combine the elements above and for some 20+ years I have been working for private and public sector clients creating wellness experiences and facilitating health and wellness policy and strategy formulation.
What is your “why” behind the work that you do? What fuels you?
I have always enjoyed thought-provoking or disrupting stories, films, images, and discussions. I do appreciate it if something or someone can make me think. I started to teach and train people at a young age and I thought I should have the same impact on my audience. After 25+ years, it seems that it was the right approach. I am aware, however, that not everybody likes to be disrupted.
Two feedbacks that I received summarize what fuels me: after an industry conference, one participant came and said to me ‘This was the most disruptive talk I ever listened to’. One important client’s Head of Investment recently turned to me stating that ‘I am so happy that we decided to listen to what you had to say. If we had not, we would just have built a couple of buildings and would not have created value with a clear storyline’. Apart from the internal motivation of believing that I actually have something meaningful to say, such comments give me affirmative feedback too.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
I would like to refer to two somewhat similar but still different ones. We support one governmental body in the Middle East in its efforts of redefining the wellness tourism offer of the country. Another government has asked us to review the wellness-related assets of the country. We provide them with a development guide that gives guidance for existing hospitality operations and inspires new investments in wellness, leisure and travel.
The other end of the spectrum is represented by two projects that tasked us with the re-definition of guest journeys in hot spring locations. We are identifying the service elements, e.g., the types of wet areas and other attractions that will optimize guests’ wellbeing.
Another exciting and, may I say, very timely project is the Wellness of Men / Wellness for Men Initiative that looks at how men around the world think of their own wellness and what do they do about it!
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can share with you a funny but also very sobering experience. Working in different cultural environments can create unexpected scenarios. In the culture I am from, we use the term ‘thermal’ springs for those natural springs that are hot at source. The realization that this term may not be used all around the world resulted in a funny-embarrassing situation. The colleague who I had to liaise came from the US and he asked me about my opinion of the ‘hot’ water. Not being aware that ‘thermal’ springs are called ‘hot springs’ in the US, I mistakenly thought he had something wrong with the temperature of the tea he was sipping. This was many-many years ago, but ever since, this incident reminds me to appreciate local customs, traditions and heritage even more. In wellness (and health), the role of local cultural or natural resources can be especially paramount. Traditions, rituals and customs have shaped the lifestyle of local communities for centuries. This should never be underestimated.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. From where you stand, why are you passionate about the topic of Reimagining The Health and Wellness industries? Can you explain what you mean with a story or an example?
As mentioned, I grew up in a hot spring destination city. Enjoying hot springs has always helped me balance physical as well as mental imbalances. I am absolutely amazed about the myriad ways one can look after his or her health. I keep learning about these practices and resources. At the same time, I am eager to share what I have learnt. Working with healthcare, hospitality, leisure and travel sector representatives made me recognize how limited the understanding of health and wellness can be. Sector-defined silos tend to limit thinking as well as the application of otherwise great ideas. As a mentor and educator with 20+ years of experience of running trainings and education programs made me passionate about building the bridges between these sectors. I am interested in the result and outcome of any service, treatment or program. With my work I help health and wellness sectors to recognize how they could benefit from the other sector’s resources, inputs and innovation.
Let me share a couple of examples. A travel agent wanted to ‘wellnessify’ its operations. We helped this agent to identify touchpoints during the guest journey when a small dose of wellness-improving components can be added to the service. Note that this agent is not a wellness travel specialist! We created a welcome drink that can help the heavily jetlagged traveler’s physical state upon pick-up at the airport and added post-wedding relaxation treatment options to the mother-of the-bride.
In another example, we allocated and designed a therapeutic green space (‘garden’) at the medical wellness facility that can facilitate faster rehabilitation and soften pre-treatment anxiety. We also devised a series of complimentary wellness activities that integrate a large resort’s otherwise independently operated spa, wellness, fitness and F&B operations.
When I talk about Reimagining the Wellness industry, I am talking about reimagining it from the perspective of the providers as well as from the perspective of the recipients and patients. Can you share a few reasons why the status quo is not working for both providers and patients?
The health and wellness industry sells services and treatments. The guests and patients pay for these services. However, what guests and patients really buy is not these services or treatments. They buy a life without pain when they purchase a hip-replacement. They buy improved self-esteem when they visit a plastic surgeon. They self-gift when they book a wellness weekend with body and facial treatments, saunas and bath-for-two with champagne. They buy me-time to rethink their life when they visit a retreat.
Nevertheless, hospitals and clinics promote treatments and surgical interventions. Spas bombard guests with photos of beautiful, fit and healthy-looking people with black stones on their backs. Where is the value definition? With this approach, both healthcare and wellness providers can easily ‘lose’ the patients’ and customers’ attention and interest. Customers and patients want confirmation about the expected outcome, results or benefits.
In health and wellness, we deal with individuals who have very different physical, biological and mental characteristics. It is no surprise that wellness has 6 pillars. Whereas a tablet remains a tablet regardless of who uses it, one treatment may work with one patient, but does not necessarily work with another. A tablet can be personalized by its user but a healthcare procedure or a wellness treatment is a rather different phenomenon. Personalization in health and wellness is not a marketing buzzword but very much an entry level necessity, but in a very different way. The successful outcome of any health intervention or wellness treatment depends as much as on the provider as on the receiver. The so-called co-creation approach, however, is limited in healthcare and has somewhat more flexibility in wellness. The high level of personalization and the limited co-creation may sound contradictory. It is and it is not at the same time. Elective surgeries can be influenced by patients, e.g. breast augmentation. The pressure of the massage can be adjusted according to the guest’s wishes. Still, both health and wellness service providers need to learn more about their patient’s or guest’s overall health and wellness status, preferences and pre- as well as post-treatment or procedure to ensure the best possible outcome.
The successful outcome of a health or wellness treatment may also be dependent on the involvement and dedication of the patient or guest. Pre-treatment preparation and post-treatment rehabilitation are critical components of the actual treatment. However, these phases tend to be managed by the patient or the customer. Active participation and dedicated commitment in post-operative rehabilitation tends to be the patient’s responsibility. A more active lifestyle and calorie-controlled diet may be expected after spending 3 weeks in a weight-loss camp. To ensure better outcomes and results, people need to become more health and wellness aware and conscious. They need to recognize their own role in their health and wellness. Many patients and customers assume that all they need to do is pay for the services. Otherwise, they have no responsibility for the results.
Why do you think there is a good opportunity now to improve and reform the health and wellness industry?
The world pandemic made most people recognize that health is a very precious but fragile thing. It should not be taken for granted. As one of the several studies mapping the anticipated shift in the attitude towards health and wellness, our own data also show that people are more open to learn about wellness. Many actively seek wellness-related information and tips. They are happy to learn and to be inspired. This growing interest and increased openness provide good grounds for improvement and reform. We should not only build it back better and greener, but we ought to build it back well.
Talking about one segment specifically, men have shown a growing interest in physical fitness. At the same time, many gyms and fitness centers have taken on wellness and spa services. Wellness services and the benefits of those services may be introduced to men in these multi-purpose outlets.
I believe at corporate level there is a relevant opportunity as well. In the last couple of years, ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) policies and frameworks have received much attention. Organizations as well as corporations, large and small alike, define and implement such frameworks and reporting systems. Along with the build-back-better intentions, I believe health and wellness can also be incorporated into ESG policies. I would very much advocate the introduction of the so called WellESG frameworks that take health and wellness parameters to the same level as Environmental, Social and Governance. Bringing wellness and health to WellESG policies can support as well as improve the reform of the health and wellness industry.
Can you please share your “5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve and Reform The Health & Wellness Industry”? Please share an example or story for each if you can.
Admit: No Pain No Gain
It really is time to admit reality: no pain no gain. There are so many miracle pills, drinks, supplements and even exercises that promise a quick-win. False promises and unjustified claims can both be found in health and wellness. This can mean aiming for weight loss, muscle gain, curing a certain illness or condition and balancing the mind. Improving one’s health and wellness needs attention, time, dedication, self-awareness and self-control, as well as significant funds. The miraculous quick-wins may not be realistic or available to most customers and patients. The industry needs to revise its communication and sales techniques. It is not only unfair and unethical to promise such quick-wins, but such practices can cause risks and negative counter-effects as well. Regulators need to provide better guidance to customers on supplements, weight loss pills and any other healing practice that promises a quick result. As a very honest and educative approach, I do like those gym T-shirts that reveal a ‘well done’ message only if the person sweated enough during exercise!
Health or wellness are not commodities — do not sell them as such!
Customers can now buy wellness ham as well as wellness towels. I do not think that this is a good direction. It appears that health and wellness are just some of the many products we can buy that will do the job. It is actually the contrary, I find. Health and wellness are phenomena that need constant attention. This never stops. A person can decide not to pay attention to his/her health and wellness but then they need to be aware of the likely consequences. Healthcare and wellness services can be rather expensive and not at all affordable to most customers. Still, there are many ways people can pay attention to their wellness at no or low cost. The commodification of health and wellness supports the exclusive status and does not help most of the population.
There are so many ways a person can improve his/her wellness that is actually free, just think of simple things such as going for a walk every day, look for shooting stars at night or taking half the sugar in coffee than usual.
Break Down Barriers
One of the greatest opportunities in health and wellness is the breaking down of the barriers between healthcare and wellness. Integrative approaches can show the way ahead. The combination of any potential and relevant method or treatment either coming from traditional healthcare or from wellness represents a great potential. Outcome and results-focused approaches can create the optimal combination of treatments and services. The mutual trust and acceptance from both sectors are critical. Medical schools need to include wellness treatments in the curricula. Wellness education programs need to strengthen the biological context of the treatments and activities.
Note that IVF treatments combining a personalized dietary program, specific physical exercises, spiritual activities as well as hormonal and other biological interventions can result in a significantly higher success rate.
Show the Evidence
Both in health and in wellness, trust is of paramount importance. Healthcare protocols are really tight and patients tend to be relatively well-informed pre-treatment. In the wellness sector, however, there is not such a system. Customers cannot be sure about the outcome or the components of the actual treatment either. This is especially a critical issue in the case of treatments that are new or unknown to the customer. The systematic collection of treatment results, success rates and factors can provide the expected evidence. The industry needs to up its game in terms of information collected and shared about treatment results. This is very much true both for the health and wellness sector.
Did you know that Picasso used to immerse himself in his bathtub as a place for re-balancing and inspiration? Hot springs have traditionally been used for relaxation, prevention, life enhancement as well as for healing. Ancient Romans had two types of hot spring facilities. The balnea was used for healing, medical purposes, whereas the therme was used for leisure and relaxation. The evidence of using hot springs, and muds for curing certain illnesses has already convinced many governments. The application of medical hot waters and therapies based on such springs represents the path towards a more integrative healthcare approach — along with using hot springs as a lifestyle-improving leisure amenity.
Learn from Happiness Secrets
The lockdowns of COVID19 made most of us recognize how important social, interpersonal relationships are. Traditional practices and activities aiming at improving happiness, however, have always built heavily on social aspects. This analogy should make the health and wellness industry take a closer look at the numerous happiness systems all around the world. We reviewed and analyzed some 50 of those systems and identified several common threads that could inspire the health and wellness industry. For example, how sisu from Japan builds on nature and movement or how Ho’oponopono from Hawaii finds wellness pillars in vitality and singing. These Ancient traditions can re-educate us about what really is important in a happy life and can provide valuable input for industry as well. Of course, there is a fine line between wellness appropriation and inspiration. Still, a health or wellness facility adopting the Norwegian ‘kozelig’ approach can create its own interpretation of how textures and nature can be adapted aiming to create a higher level of happiness for patients, customers and employees.
From the recipient and patient side of the industry, can you please share a few ways that patients and recipients should reimagine what the wellness and healthcare industry should provide?
Patients need the confirmation that their intervention is going to work out just fine. This is especially true for elective treatments such as plastic surgery. Showing a 3D model on a tablet of what s/he may look like after the augmentation is one thing, but patients may not think of several crucial aspects. A nose or breast augmentation could result in permanent changes to the body and the mind of the patient. They may or may not like what they can see in the mirror after the surgery. What is more complicated is the extra weight the patient may need to carry post-surgery. A clinic can provide the patient with a 3D printed prosthetic that can be worn for a couple of days or weeks. If the nose size and shape was not up to satisfactory level, a new print can offer an alternative. If the breasts appeared to be too heavy for the shoulders and back and uncomfortable at night, a smaller implant could be adopted. The technology is available for such a level of personalization. The clinics need to take advantage of such innovation.
More flexibility of wellness providers would also be welcome. Customers may want to use different music or a different essential oil for the treatment. Treatment protocols may not easily permit customers to change any of the elements. Still, guests may have their own preference in scents or sounds during treatment. The question is what can be an acceptable level of flexibility and of co-creation in a wellness treatment?
What do you think are the biggest roadblocks to reforming the industry? What can be done to address those hurdles?
Any reform requires change and change may bring uncertainty, which can come with stress and anxiety. Not everybody is cut out for that and they resist.
Let me start with education. Health professional need to go through an extended education process. During their studies they learn about illnesses, indications, and therapies. But they rarely learn anything about integrative methods, natural therapies or traditional healing modalities. These may not be considered as serious approaches. I find this a fundamental problem. Personalized and longevity healthcare approaches or evidence-based healing represent the way ahead. Still, traditional medical school curricula may not include these and many healthcare professionals of the future do not have the basic understanding of all the potential modalities they could combine.
Healthcare regulation and licensing are very strict and so they should be. Still, it aims at curing certain illnesses and does not tend to consider the patient’s overall wellbeing. Patients may be cured but at the same time, they may not be that well. Some patients cannot be cured therefore they will never be totally healthy again. Can they still be well? The answer is yes or at least they could be better, even only temporarily. Can you imagine hospitals permitting patients to have a glass of wine or even a cigarette from time-to-time? Referring to a very extreme and sad situation, patients who are diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer may not become completely healthy again. But they could feel better from time-to-time if they can have a glass of wine. Extreme? I do not think so. It was a big step when pediatric wards let clowns in who could entertain kids. The SerioüsFun Children Network already applied this holistic approach many years ago to its camps. Most hospitals and clinics, however, have not, often because of legislative constraints. Healthcare regulation and licensing also need to look at healthcare from a wellness perspective rather than an illness perspective.
The last roadblock is the general understanding of health and wellness or more like the lack of understanding. From an early age we learn that should something go wrong with us, we need to cure it. But most of us do not learn that we could prevent many of those illnesses, discomfort, or pain by ourselves. Note that I do not refer to the whacky, unjustified self-care approaches or products that have no healing evidence whatsoever. I also do not refer to extremes, either. I find that a balanced approach to exercise, diet, etc. can bring the best results. It may not prevent all possible illnesses, but at least we know that we did what we could to prevent them. We need to teach from an early age to everyone that they have one life and there are many ways that they can have a healthy one. It is no surprise that the World Health Organization also advocates the shift from looking at only lifespan and extend it to health-span!
I’m very passionate about the topic of proactive versus reactive self-care and healthcare. What do you think can be done to shift the industries towards a proactive healthcare approach? How can we shift the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike?
The mindset of consumers is being shaped during all their lives. What they learn in school, what they see and do at home and what they hear from their peers, online or offline. Health does not really feature until it becomes a main issue, which can be too late. Health is a not a project with a deadline that can be ticked-off, i.e. it does not get finished, it is a continuous project. For example, as a global concern bending over digital screens for many hours a day can result in permanent deterioration of cervical vertebra. Gen Z all around the world will face a high risk of neck hernia at a very young age. Who is responsible? Schools, parents, peers, governments as well as corporations need to provide better and credible information about health and wellness. I do not think there is another way. One may find an unlimited amount of health and wellness information or data online. The challenge is how to separate sound and trustworthy information from the rest? Especially in the wellness and spa domain, national regulatory bodies have way less to say about standards and quality. There are no international wellness standards or safety protocols customers could consult. If nothing else, the basic quality standards of wellness and spa treatments and services would need to be defined and applied.
Thank you for all that great insight! Let’s start wrapping up. Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I would like to quote Helen Mirren who said: “The trick in life is learning how to deal with it.” This may sound trivial but to me, it summarizes all the challenges, opportunities and circumstances that we face every day. We need to be aware, humble, gracious and reflective, among other qualities. It resonates with me since there are many moving parts in life that we cannot influence or change. What we should do is take care of what we can, i.e. our own health, wellness and happiness as much as we can. And we should start doing this as soon as we can.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
This is a difficult one. I prefer to have inspiring discussions during breakfast or lunch therefore I chose not one, but two persons. I would be more than happy to share this lunch with Anthony Capuano, CEO of Marriott International. As the CEO of the world’s largest hospitality company his influence could be paramount on how hospitality merges with health and wellness. We would be accompanied by comedian and author, Graham Norton. He knows very well that happiness, fun, and entertainment are crucial elements in a well-balanced life. I am certain that we would have a very inspirational discussion!
I appreciate your time and valuable contribution. One last question, how can people reach or follow you?
Thank you so much for the interest and your time. I can be reached directly at email@example.com or via my LinkedIn account.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a free consultation, click here.