The key challenge for the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) 2021 Wellness Travel Consumer Survey was to establish what wellness-minded consumers consider to be most important as global travel begins to grow again.
The third survey of its kind conducted since the WTA launched in 2018, the objective this time was to give spa operators and the hospitality industry a clearer understanding of consumers’ priorities as they start planning to travel.
Members of the WTA are reporting business is looking up. Kimberly Rossi, wellness and business development director at the Art of Living Retreat Center in North Carolina, says there has been a steady stream of visitors since reopening: “People are ready – more than ever – to explore, be with others and practice radical self-care,” she says.
Some operators are running at higher capacity and charging more than pre-COVID. “In some segments, we’re seeing more than a 20 per cent increase in both guests numbers and room rates when compared with 2020 and 2019,” says Denise Perkins, vice president of marketing at the Garden of the Gods Resort and Club and Strata Integrated Wellness and Spa in Colorado.
In Switzerland, Marina Oshchepkova, senior medical sales manager, at Bürgenstock Hotels, says the Healthy by Nature wellness concept, launched in 2019 at the Waldhotel in Switzerland, welcomed three times as many guests between January and September of 2021.
Davina Bernard, director of wellness for Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Canada says enquiries for multi-day, wellness-focused retreats have significantly increased. “People are searching for holistic programmes now, which they would never have considered prior to the pandemic,” she says.
Cleanliness ‘a top priority’
A certified safe and clean hotel environment ranked number one across the three main generational cohorts surveyed (Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers) and research sponsor, WeTravel – which reached US$20m (€17.4m, £14.6m) in wellness-related bookings last year – reports retreat leaders are booking out places such as boutique hotels for groups of six to 12 people.
Sustainability and green practices also ranked highly, with consumers reportedly pushing retreat leaders to choose eco-friendly accommodation, donate a portion of sales to a cause, or add a volunteering dimension to their trip.
Researchers asked an open question in relation to what would be considered ‘must-haves’ and three main themes emerged – safety, access to stillness and quiet spaces and nature and the outdoors.
Desire for nature
Even though “access to fitness activities in nature” was included in the overall top five offerings and was rated extremely important by respondents, these same consumers also overwhelmingly included references to nature and the outdoors in their responses to the open question.
The importance of nature has been an overriding theme for wellness travellers since the WTA began conducting surveys in 2018, and there’s every indication that the demand for access to easily accessible natural assets – along with the opportunity to spend time in nature – will continue.
When asked what might influence them most when it came to booking wellness-travel over the next two years, respondents cited price; flexibility with both bookings and cancellation policies; trust in the supplier, and destination management in relation to how well local lawmakers are managing the pandemic.
Call of the ocean
Another question asked which geographical regions would be favoured when people feel comfortable travelling again. Reflecting the demographic of the respondents, the US was the most popular country, and Hawaii the most preferred state. South east Asian countries, particular Bali and Thailand, were mentioned and Italy was the most selected country in Europe. Costa Rica was the favoured country in Latin America, and the Caribbean was an often-mentioned destination.
When asked why they chose those places, the prominent theme was nature, with recipients using words such as beautiful, beaches and ocean, climate, outdoor adventures and tranquility. Others made their selections based on locations being safe, easy and close to home or being on their bucket list.
Overall, the takeaways for stakeholders are that demand for wellness-focused travel is increasing. Consumers rank nature and safety as top priorities when planning their wellness travels, and Millennials especially are currently planning trips. Finally, regenerative travel, which incorporates sustainability efforts, green practices, engaging and giving back to local communities, will continue to gain prominence.
• Anne Dimon is CEO of the WTA