The facts and figures are widely accessible. Wellness tourism is a flourishing industry projected to skyrocket – according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) – to over US$800bn globally by 2020. The numbers reveal that wellness tourism is growing at the same speed as the luxury travel sector, and somewhat faster than the global tourism industry as a whole.
As research continues to support evidence of booming global growth, it underscores the need for industry stakeholders to take note. This is no short-term trend soon to fizzle out for the next “flavour of the month.” As Jennifer Fox, then president of FRHI, so eloquently put it in a story I wrote in October, 2015 for Travel Market Report: “This is not simply a movement, but a paradigm shift in direction that will remain in place for a long time.”
THE DRIVING FORCE
So what’s behind this “paradigm shift” and who’s driving it?
Yes, we have ageing Baby Boomers, rising health care costs and a stressed-out population living in an anxious world, but beyond that, it’s human nature to want to be happy and healthy, and we are all predisposed to do what we can to make this happen. Consequently, as we become more knowledgeable in the ways and means to achieve our goal, we’re looking to adopt new lifestyle habits and practices that may allow us to find the level of health and happiness that we so seek.
Sometimes these habits and practices will be little things – small changes that we can implement ourselves – but for some, there may be a need for assistance from wellness professionals and practitioners to help find the tools needed to reach set objectives.
The above scenario is creating the two types of travellers fuelling the growth of the industry. At the Wellness Tourism Association, we are referring to them as the ‘wellness traveller’ and the ‘wellness visitor’ (see definitions below).
The bottom line is that the wellness travel sector will continue to grow and develop for two simple reasons:
1. As an increasing number of consumers adopt healthier lifestyles, they will try to work elements of wellness into their travels.
2. More consumers will use their vacation and holiday time for self-care, and that may mean learning more about themselves and the tools they need to meet their desired state of health and wellness.
Today, there is no shame or even selfishness associated with taking care of yourself, for it is universally accepted that if we do not care for ourselves, we will not be able to care for others.
THE EDUCATION FACTOR
Despite the fact that wellness tourism is a full-blown global industry, there continues to be some confusion about the terminology. The WTA found it prudent to make education one of its cornerstones, and one of the association’s first initiatives was to establish a glossary of the various terms that have become part of the lexicon since the rise of the industry as we know it today. It becomes the foundation for our newly launched Education Focus Group.
The following WTA Glossary will be added to as the industry continues to develop and evolve:
• Wellness tourism
A specific division of the global tourism industry that is defined by the common goal of marketing natural assets and activities primarily focused on serving the wellness traveller and those who want to be one.
• Wellness travel
Travel that allows the traveller to maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase a sense of wellbeing.
• Wellness traveller
Often referred to as the “primary wellness traveller,” an individual who makes wellness the primary purpose of their travels.
• Wellness visitor
Often referred to as the ‘secondary wellness traveller’, an individual who works elements of wellness into their travels for business or pleasure.
• Wellness vacation/holiday
Wellness vacation/holiday is wellness travel powered by a wellness-focused intention. They are typically self-directed, with the traveller setting his or her own timetable and schedule. They may also include a wellness retreat.
• Wellness retreat
A guided, intention-driven, multi-day programme with a set or semi-set schedule, and hosted by one or more facilitators. The programme may include learning and lifestyle workshops such as meditation and healthy eating, as well as fitness activities such as yoga, nature walks and hiking.
• Wellness resort
Any facility with accommodations and a range of hospitality services where the primary purpose is to provide programmes and experiences for the wellness traveller. The wellness resort is comprised of four primary elements: accommodations, a variety of wellness activities, healthy dining options and wellness-related facilities.
• Wellness destination
A geographical area that fosters and promotes wellness as an integral part of life within both the community and economics of the region.
Like it or not, the industry is also evolving. Mention the term ‘wellness travel’ to 10 people and six of those people will probably be thinking “spa”. While the sector has, in the minds of many, been long associated with spas, we tend to be moving away from that automatic response. A massage or other treatments can certainly enhance any wellness retreat or wellness vacation (and I speak from first-hand experience), but a spa treatment is not mandatory for wellness travel.
So if it is not just about the spa – then what? Today, the wellness travel big picture is more about food, fitness and nature. Plus, thanks to continuing advances in science and technology, we’re seeing wellness tourism and medical tourism edge closer together with offerings that fall under the banner of “preventative medical testing”. When it is deemed to be more proactive than reactive, medical testing can be considered to fall under both sectors of the industry.
We’re also seeing more tourism boards look to launch strategic wellness initiatives that will position them in the minds of the wellness-minded consumer.
One example in Europe is the Monaco Government Tourist Office, a founding member of the Wellness Tourism Association, now building on its sea-bathing history, which dates back to 1860, when people visited the principality to benefit from the curative powers of the Mediterranean.
The Greater Palm Springs CVB is leading the way for health and wellness tourism in the US by collaborating with nine cities in the Coachella Valley to offer holistic wellness experiences for visitors to the destination. This fall, the organisation will debut its ‘Wellest Season’ campaign, which embraces wellness opportunities that are authentic to the destination.
New developments are also causing – in some cases – disruption. Case in point: the Millennial-focused, influencer-led wellness retreat. Depending on your particular perspective, this could be perceived as a positive or a negative development. Positive, because these influencer-led retreats have the power to become a new source of business for a hotel or resort. Negative, because if you happen to be a wellness resort (the term that has replaced destination spa for the purposes of the WTA) with your own existing staff-led retreats, these “influencer retreats” popping up at hotels and resorts, private villas and elsewhere could very possibly pose perceived or real competition.
While ‘wellness’ is most often considered to fall under the luxury category of travel, the industry sector is also evolving to rightfully embrace other consumer segments. Wellness as a travel theme should be available to all, and we do see it moving in that direction.
For beyond the pure business aspect, wellness tourism has a far greater purpose. In the words of author and wellness visionary Madeleine Marentette, owner of Grail Springs in Ontario, Canada: “The significant interest and growth in wellness tourism worldwide is a profound indication of the need and demand for environments and experiences where individuals can be reminded how important it is to maintain a life in balance, and that our inner-connection to self and nature is needed now more than ever.”