The eighth Spafinder Wellness 365 survey on spas and wellness provides a positive outlook for the spa and wider wellness industry. Undertaken mid-2015, the findings are based on an online survey of 200 travel agents, 70 per cent of who come from North America, while the other 30 per cent are based in Europe. This is the first edition to be called the State of Wellness Travel Report as opposed to the State of Spa Travel Report, reflecting, according to the survey’s authors, “that spa and wellness have become one in the minds of consumers and travel professionals”. In this survey, wellness travel is defined as “travel associated with the goal of enhancing one’s personal wellbeing and includes the pursuit of physical, mental, spiritual or environmental wellness while travelling for either leisure or business”.
One highlight from the findings is that the market has further increased its appeal to men and a younger clientele. Other key findings show that awareness of wellness travel has risen and further growth is expected, that the market commands a premium and that there’s an expansion beyond spas with more consumers increasingly “demanding a multitude of wellness travel components at properties and destinations”.
The top two age brackets to book spa and wellness travel are, in first place, 46 to 55-year-olds followed by the 36 to 45 age bracket. These two brackets lead by a significant margin. In third place are the heart of the boomers – the 56 to 65 age group, in fourth place the millennials and youngest gen X groups – 26 to 35-year-olds and at the bottom, those over 65.
Yet, interestingly, this survey reveals that “every wellness component at properties matters more to younger travellers”. Agents were asked to rate the importance to their clients of 16 wellness components offered by spas and other tourism facilities, on a scale of one (not important) to 10 (extremely important). Graph 1 shows that on every single one, millennials and gen X (under 49 year olds) rated these components as more important than the baby boomers and older (50-plus-year-olds), even though, as Beth McGroarty, research director at Spafinder Wellness 365 states, “baby boomers are the ones credited with jump-starting the ‘wellness revolution’.” Even weight loss programmes were deemed to be marginally more important to younger consumers. They particularly “demand outdoor adventures, eco-friendly properties, voluntourism (do good for the community) and fitness facilities”.
Women – travelling together, or with a man or alone – still dominate the market. Nevertheless, families and intergenerational groups “gained some ground in 2015” and men are also increasingly interested. Many agents felt that ‘wellness’ as opposed to ‘spa travel’ was a more appealing concept to men.
Sixty per cent of agents agreed that the spa industry “has done a good job branding itself beyond women and the wealthy and is now a more mainstream pursuit for all genders and classes. The democratisation of the spa industry has made real progress, but with still more work to do”. McGroarty feels spas should concentrate on “marketing, core messages and menus” to continue reaching a wider audience. She adds: “Spas need to think as creatively about men as they do about women – not via simplistic stereotyping – but by studying their diverse, real needs and desires… Anything that shifts the message from ‘pure pampering’ to health and prevention makes strides in that direction.
“Above all, spas need to keep linking what they do – whether it is massage, yoga, meditation, or even skincare – with the medical, objective evidence for health and prevention benefits and efficacy. The message of evidence-based stress reduction and pain relief and wide-ranging benefits is a message that knows no gender.”
Awareness and growth
None of the agents surveyed expect to see a decline in demand for spa and wellness, only 14 per cent expect business to remain at current levels and the vast majority (86 per cent) expect growth – this is the highest percentage of agents expecting annual growth in the study’s eight-year history. Thus, unsurprisingly, 71 per cent of agents report an increase in awareness of wellness travel amongst consumers. Even if clients do not specifically request wellness programmes or products, they “do ask about and book those kinds of experiences and locations”.
Some 83 per cent of respondents report that “consumers are willing to pay a premium for wellness travel and/or for access to healthy products and services while travelling”. However, despite this, only a small proportion
(18 per cent) of travel agents charge extra fees for booking wellness travel, which according to the survey authors, can be exceptionally complex. Nearly 30 per cent of agents state they will not charge additional fees, while over 50 per cent are still unsure or thinking about it.
Expansion of wellness
Spas are clearly still a major focus of wellness, but the market has grown to include other elements too such as access to nature. Nearly 20 per cent of travel agents report that more than half of their wellness bookings are spa-focused. However, a larger proportion, 52 per cent, report that only 20 per cent or less of their wellness bookings are spa-focused.
The survey concludes that the “definition of wellness travel has moved far beyond a narrower association with luxury spas and resorts, and now includes healthy offerings at more mainstream hotels and resorts”. When asked to rate the top three brands in wellness travel, three of the top five were large hospitality chains (see below left).
But it’s not just that mainstream hotel chains are now competing directly with predominantly spa-focused chains, the survey also found an increase in healthy meetings. Amongst those who book meetings and incentive travel, 79 per cent said there’s an increase in the demand for healthier meetings – for example “meetings with healthy food, fitness and spa experiences, access to nature, etc”.
In terms of facilities and their relative importance to the average client, sun, sea and sand top the list. Interestingly, environmentally-friendly destinations and voluntourism also score highly. McGroarty says: “we were surprised by the ranking of properties’ ‘values’… Environmentally friendly destinations matter more than golf/tennis facilities; voluntourism offerings outrank both weight loss and detox programmes. This suggests a new species of traveller… It’s eye-opening just how many wellness components at properties now matter to ever-more-sophisticated travellers – they seek a multitude of wellness experiences.”
Yet despite the expansion of the industry from a pure spa-focus, the most popular type of property is still a luxury spa resort which focuses on relaxation and stress-reduction. That said, beach-focused sun and surf properties, eco-resorts in wild nature which place an emphasis on hiking, adventure and wildlife as well as yoga retreats follow closely behind in the rankings.
The survey concludes that each year there’s an expansion of the wellness travel map. In 2015, for the first time, Asia was ranked as the fastest-growing destination for wellness travel and the two hottest individual countries were deemed to be Costa Rica and Thailand.
So what are the key trends for 2016? According to the study we can expect further growth in younger travellers (those under the 40 year age bracket), in people travelling alone, in “people travelling as groups and for special occasions”, as well as a rise in adventure tourism, fitness, yoga and environmentally-friendly destinations. Overall, the majority of the growth is expected to be outside the pure spa-focused destinations.