World’s largest wellness conference to make Tel Aviv debut this year

Israel is set to host the Global Wellness Summit, the largest conference of its kind in the world, later this year after the event was moved twice in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three-day GWS is slated to take place at the Tel Aviv Hilton in November. The annual conference brings together entrepreneurs, executives and business owners in fields like hospitality, tourism, health, beauty and spa, food tech, fitness, medical tech, and manufacturing, under the multi-dimensional umbrella term “wellness,” which covers the pursuit of physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental wellbeing.

For Nancy Davis, chief creative officer and executive director of the GWS, the location for the upcoming summit was a no-brainer. Tel Aviv is Israel’s tech capital and home to a host of companies and startups in the health and wellness sector.

Boston hosted the summit in 2021, preceded by Palm Beach (Florida), Singapore in 2019, and Cesena, Italy in 2018.

The pandemic “woke everybody up to all things wellness,” Davis told The Times of Israel during a pilot trip to Tel Aviv last month as preparations get underway to host the summit.

While initially the global wellness economy took a hit, dropping from $4.9 trillion pre-pandemic to $4.5 trillion today, the market is expected to grow to $7 trillion by 2025, according to a report released last year by the Global Wellness Institute, GWS’s research arm.

Attendees at a previous Global Wellness Summit. (Courtesy)

If the last two years catapulted wellness to the foreground, this year is about putting all the pieces together of what Davis refers to as a “giant global puzzle.”

Once a narrow concept, wellness has become the umbrella for an array of verticals, including fitness, healthy eating, workplace wellness, mental wellness, tourism and travel wellness, and wellness real estate.

“Siloes are now intersecting. We see the vibrancy of… bringing the technology and innovation with wellness together, and how that has helped the wellness world,” GWS CEO Susie Ellis said.

Davis agreed: “If I had to encapsulate a single idea that is really going to help drive this year’s summit and its agenda, it would be this idea of convergence.”

According to Davis, Tel Aviv is unparalleled in fostering convergence, opening up opportunities for “unexpected collisions” to occur. The overlap between disparate sectors in Israel, its culture of collaboration, and unique public-private partnerships make it fertile ground for innovation in an exploding wellness industry.

The point was driven home for Ellis and Davis in a visit to IMED, the innovation arm of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center – Ichilov, to meet with Prof. Ronni Gamzu, director of Ichilov and Israel’s former coronavirus czar.

Davis said it was “astounding” to witness wellness, health and technology coming to life in a hospital environment. In addition to incubating startups, IMED has also opened an investment arm.

“They put together the doctors, who are entrepreneurs, and their innovations with funding to bring these companies to life. That is an extraordinary convergence,” she said.

General view of Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv, on November 10, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“We knew that we would find endless innovation in Israel, but to find something that really touched a nerve in the wellness world, in the medical world and the technology world together, seems like a real ‘aha moment’ to us,” she added.

The volume of mental wellness technologies, including therapeutic games, devices and apps, coming out of Israel has skyrocketed since the pandemic’s onset. According to Amir Alroy, co-founder of Welltech Ventures and GWS co-chair, Israel is now home to 2,000 health-oriented companies, 1,000 digital health companies and more than 500 wellness tech companies, making it second only to Silicon Valley in terms of absolute numbers.

Pandemic pivoting has also positively impacted the local wellness industry. Israeli entrepreneurs from the cybersecurity and automotive space became drawn to impactful innovations and “doing good,” Alroy said, so that “the brilliant ideas and the brilliant founders, the experienced ones, are now in [the wellness] industry. This is something that didn’t happen until two years ago.”

Alroy cited, among others, Amnon Bar-Lev, the former president of cybersecurity Check Point who founded AI healthcare startup Alike; Samuel Keret, who left Waze to found the digital health startup Hedonia; and serial cybersecurity entrepreneur Ben Enosh, who founded Antidote Health, a telehealth company for underserved populations in the US.

Bar-Lev’s co-founder, Varda Shalev, who is also a professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine at Tel Aviv University School of Public Health and the former head of the Morris Kahn and Maccabi Research and Innovation Institute, will be a keynote speaker at the summit.

Levi Shapiro, founder of mHealth, Israel’s largest community of health and wellness tech innovators, will also feature as keynote, as will Racheli Vizman, CEO and co-founder of SavorEat, an Israeli startup that uses robot chefs and 3D printing technology to make meatless food at the touch of a button.

Overseas speakers include Aradhana Khowala, CEO and founder of Aptamind Partners, a consultancy focused on regenerative tourism; Mindbody founder Rick Stollmeyer; and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health dean Michelle Williams.

An illustrative view of Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Street in the northern part of the city, with the Hilton hotel (left) in the background. (phaustov via iStock by Getty Images)

For Ömer Isvan, GWS co-chair and president of the Turkey-based hospitality consultancy firm Servotel Corporation, Israel’s R&D landscape is another draw as host country. Proactive R&D of the kind seen in Israel is usually a privilege reserved for large, multidisciplinary, multi-industry nations, he explained.

“If we could measure R&D and innovation in kilos, measure how many grams of innovation per capita, Israel would probably lead the world,” he quipped.

Isvan maintains that GWS is unique in its formation. Whereas at most summits, the content delivery is little more than a conduit for their main value of networking, with GWS the reverse is true, he said.

“The actual take-home value of the quality of content is just as valuable as the connections you’re going to make at the summit,” he claimed.

But take-home value doesn’t come cheaply. Tickets to this year’s summit cost upwards of $4,500 and that sum is set to increase by several hundred dollars as the date draws closer.

Virtual attendees are also expected to shell out $650 to attend the three-day conference from the comfort of their couch. And in order to attend, would-be participants must first be approved as a delegate. The reason behind this, according to the organization, is to allow as many companies and individuals from diverse wellness sectors to be included.

According to Isvan, the summit goes to great lengths to adapt itself to its host country.

“It’s not like a circus traveling from place to place; it is very much curated each time to the specific culture, to the specific destination. It is not a formula that works therefore you go and paste it in New Delhi or Marrakech. It is starting almost from scratch,” he said.

In Israel, conference topics will include the future of women’s health and femtech, wellness travel, and the rising role of spirituality and faith in wellness, according to organizers.


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