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Wellness Travel Trends – A Niche Category With Broad Appeal?

September 2, 2019

What are the key wellness travel trends of 2019 to date? “Wellness” likely means something different to each of us. Luckily, the options for travelers who want to focus on health and wellbeing are growing. There truly is something for everyone.

Estimated at $639 billion, wellness tourism is expected to be a $919 billion industry by 2022 according to a report from the Global Wellness Institute. When WEX took a look at wellness travel trends last year, we found several sectors were finding ways to offer travelers easy access to things like healthy menus, meditation apps and in-room fitness equipment. Today, many wellness travel trends mirror those of the overall travel industry—with a twist.

Wellness Travel Trend 1: More Travelers Spending More
Global tourism continues to grow, but in the wellness tourism world, it is growing at twice the rate of general tourism. According to the Global Wellness Institute’s (GWI) 2018 report, Global Wellness Tourism Economy, from 2015 to 2017 wellness tourism grew at a rate of 6.5%, while all tourism grew by 3.2%.

According to the GWI report, wellness travelers spend more, on average, than other types of travelers. In 2017, they spent $1,528 per trip on international travel, 58% more than other international travelers. When traveling domestically, wellness travelers spent an average of $609 per trip, an impressive 178% more than the average traveler.

Recent research by Skift found that 78% of affluent travelers want to include wellness in trips. Last fall, the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) shared the results of its first survey. The WTA found 63% of respondents had taken a “wellness vacation,” and the other 37%, who had not been on such a vacation were interested in one.

Similar to all travel, much of the wellness travel trend is towards growth is coming from developing markets. GWI explains that Asia-Pacific, Latin America-Caribbean, Middle East-North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa represent 57% of the increase in wellness trips since 2015. During that time, Asia has become number one in wellness trip and revenue growth.

For more on international travel trends and challenges see: International Payments A Top Concern As Global Travel Grows

Wellness Travel Trend 2: Experiences To Suit All Interests
The value today’s consumers place on experiences over things can’t be overstated, and a key wellness travel trend is definitely is the call for experiences.

Sarah Casewit, co-founder of Naya Traveler, told CNN’s Nora Zelevansky, “People’s understanding of wellness goes well beyond a fancy spa and an infinity pool: [It’s] a wholesome, all-encompassing theme that explores the healing elements of physical treatments, as well as spirituality, cuisine and art, within the cultural context.”

The health and wellness offerings of luxury hotels continue to evolve. Several U.S. properties are adding more in-room amenities, including the Georgetown (Washington, DC) Ritz-Carlton. Their “wellness rooms” offer showerheads releasing vitamin C-infused water, sound and sleep machines, air purifiers and yoga mats. Wellness room rates are approximately 10% higher than those for a similarly sized deluxe room.

Three Swiss five-star Giardino Hotels offer programs based on Ayurveda (the Hindu system of medicine based on physical and energy types). Stays range from three to 21 days and may come with an Ayurvedic doctor’s services, such as a pulse diagnosis. Red Mountain Resort in Utah has an executive health and wellness program that provides genetic testing to look for mutations linked to cancer risks.

The concept of a “retreat” has been in the mainstream consciousness for generations. The 2019 version includes some interesting new options. Here are just a few of 13 retreat types included in Health & Fitness Travel’s 2019 wellness travel trends:

  • A “painmoon” is time for a traveler to get specialized treatment that can help them recover from the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship or a period of depression.
  • “Wellness mumcations” are designed to give mothers a break from their children and an opportunity to recharge.
  • “New middle-aged man” getaways have been created in response to an increase in men over 50 taking wellness trips

Wellness Travel Trend 3: Solo Wellness Trips Popular
Solo travel showed up as a top wellness travel trend on many 2019 lists.

WTA’s findings show wellness travel is no different. They report nearly 25% of respondents prefer solo travel, and cite the experiences of several properties. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Canada’s Banff Nation Park says solo female travelers purchased 50% of their wellness packages. That figures rises to 75% when looking specifically at three- and four-night stays. Canyon Ranch has a similar mix of solo travelers, but they are also seeing an increase in men traveling alone.

For more on solo travel trends see: Getting to Know the Solo Woman Traveler

Wellness Travel Trend 4: Demand For Options In Trip Length
Another key wellness travel trend is for customized trip lengths. Some wellness travelers opt for long annual getaways to focus on making significant changes to their health, while others prefer making several shorter trips to recharge throughout the year.

Ehotelier reports that over the past three years, New Life Hiking Spa in Vermont has seen a 90% increase in the number of guests who stayed more than two weeks, which led them to add a 21-night retreat. Hilton Head Health, a South Carolina weight loss retreat, finds that guests are maintaining their long-term wellness commitment by taking shorter trips two to four times a year, and 20% of their guests have planned their next visits before leaving.  

Wellness Travel Trend 5: A Cure For Over-Tourism?
Like the overall travel industry, an important wellness travel trend is the growing concern over the impact of over-tourism. The subject is a major topic for the upcoming 2019 Global Wellness Summit, which addresses a variety of topics related to wellness.

It was a topic at last year’s summit as well. Speakers noted that wellness travel has a positive role to play; particularly since wellness travel and wellness destinations often are intentionally off the beaten path or in regions that don’t attract hordes of travelers. In addition, a large segment of wellness travel focuses on nature and the environment, and this group of travelers will likely be motivated to look for travel options that are sustainable and eco-friendly.

Emerging Wellness Travel Trends To Watch
Wellness travel, specifically its role in marketing travel, is included in Skift Megatrends 2019.  As Leslie Barrie wrote for earlier this year, wellness is “having a moment,” but based on the numbers it looks like it could be more than a moment.

In her piece, Barrie quotes one of the co-founders of the Wellness Tourism Association, Andrew Gibson, “I don’t think wellness is a fad, but rather it’s a change in society, and what society now expects. We’ve seen wellness become a full-blown industry.” And that doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

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