What is wellness tourism – and why it matters?

You may have heard the term ‘wellness tourism’ bandied about and it’s with good reason; the sector is one of the fastest-growing travel categories. It’s not medical tourism; instead, it brings together wellness and tourism in an explosive new niche. It is defined by DRI International as ‘all travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing’.

Between 2012-2013, wellness tourism grew by 12.7%. This was 40% larger than what had been originally forecast, and 74% faster than global tourism overall. In 2015, the domestic wellness tourism market held 66% of the market share for revenue, with spa tourism heading this.

According to the Global Wellness Summit, wellness tourism is expected to reach a value of $678.5 billion in 2017 thanks to travellers taking around 586 million wellness trips per year. The sector makes up 15% of the overall global travel sector, second only to cultural tourism. It is also directly responsible for 11.7 million jobs globally. By 2020 it is thought that wellness tourism will be worth $392 billion in the US with North America proving to be the world’s largest market for wellness tourism in terms of expenditure, and the second largest for trips in 2015.

Wellness tourism is expected to reach a value of $680 billion in 2017.

Wellness tourism is becoming increasingly popular thanks to the global health, wellbeing and fitness boom, plus consumers having greater disposable income – but also because of a revived interest in preventative health care. Along with hotels and travel tour operators bookmarking this sector, many airports have also been jumping into this market, offering quiet rooms for meditation, reflexology, massage chairs, yoga classes, seasonal and healthy snack choices, indoor green spaces, indoor walking tracks, extra hydration opportunities, and organic restaurants.

Top 10 Wellness Tourism Markets in EuropeIt’s a lucrative market. While Europe and North America are currently dominant, projected growth is expected in regions such as Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East/North America. In 2013, one in every seven dollars spent by tourists went on wellness tourism. Plus, compared with the average traveller, the wellness tourist spends around 130% extra – with some of the most sought-after experiences, as identified by the 2016 Virtuoso Luxe Report, being massages and other treatments, fitness classes, healthy cuisine, environmental beauty, and sports activities.

There are two core types of wellness customers, according to the Global Wellness Institute. First is a primary wellness tourist, who is defined as someone who considers wellness to be the sole purpose or motivating factor in taking their trip and making their destination choice. They might be looking at visiting a destination spa or going on holiday to a hot springs resort.

They could be staying at an ashram for a meditation retreat, or booking a yoga trip in the mountains. They might be travelling to a wellness centre for a health check-up or headed on a wellness cruise. They may also be interested in niche venues, such as eco-spas or conscious hotels. Similarly, they could choose somewhere specifically for the healthy food and fitness classes being offered in a natural setting.

A primary wellness tourist is defined as someone who considers wellness to be the sole purpose or motivating factor in taking their trip and making their destination choice.

Then there is the secondary wellness tourist, who will be looking to maintain their sense of wellness or will participate in wellness experiences while taking any type of trip. This could include a business traveller who seeks out healthy restaurants or fitness options while away. Alternatively, it could be someone who spends one or two days visiting a spa or hammam during their holiday.

Likewise, it could be a person looking to book a cruise who is interested in the spa, beauty and fitness offerings on-board; or a tourist who gets a massage or reflexology treatment during their visit. They could also be an adventuring individual who has gone hiking or biking and who chooses to book a relaxing wellness experience at the end of this.

Wellness Tourism by Region, 2015-01

There’s huge potential for innovation in wellness tourism; at the Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort at Kaplankaya in Turkey, and at the Carillon Miami in Florida, there’s the option to enter an igloo within their spa. The latter also offers 200 fitness classes per week, nutritional and health counselling sessions, acupuncture, therapeutic and medically-focussed spa treatments, and healthy dining experiences. Meanwhile, The Dolder Grand in Zurich has a ‘Snow Paradise’ room that is said to help improve circulation through an icy mixture that feels just like fresh snow.

Then there’s the option to try intravenous treatments; these concentrated doses of antioxidants and vitamins are available at destinations including Underground Spa at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and The Maslow Hotel in Johannesburg. Or you could try The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona, which offers jet-lagged visitors the chance to try zero-gravity nap pods. At the Viceroy Snowmass, visitors can try their complimentary Oxygen Inhalation Therapy, which is said to help cure both altitude sickness and jet lag. Delos, meanwhile, has been designing ‘Stay Well’ rooms that feature lighting which changes throughout the day to help regulate your circadian rhythm.

The Fairmont Scottsdale offers jet-lagged visitors the chance to try zero-gravity nap pods.

Other wellbeing tourism options include guests heading for spiritual healing services, visiting ‘sweat’ lodges, experiencing acupressure massages and water baths, ‘forest bathing’, silent retreats, meditation programmes and pods, having fitness equipment stocked within hotel rooms, experiencing diagnostic facials, halotherapy salt baths, and detox camps.

As well as offering experiences to visitors, hotels and tour operators are also partnering with other health, wellbeing and fitness brands (e.g. app providers, beauty products, snack ranges, beverage companies, aromatherapy businesses, nutritionists and dieticians, etc) to include these products or services for guests, or to include expert and tailored knowledge to their packages and menus.

It’s an exciting market packed with inventive, creative and innovative possibilities – and it’s only going to get bigger and better!

For bespoke support with your branding, marketing and PR, contact us today: grace@greencontactbook.com


Global Wellness Institute; Global Wellness SummitVirtuoso; Technavio; Bloomberg

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