Booming Wellness Tourism Now a Nearly $495 Billion Industry

by Robin Amster

Wellness tourism is now a $494 billion worldwide industry—and it’s just one segment in a whopping $3.4 trillion global wellness economy—according to  new report from the Global Spa & Wellness Summit.

Conducted by SRI International, “The 2014 Global Wellness Economy Monitor” said wellness tourism’s $494 billion in revenues for 2013 represents an increase of nearly 13% over 2012, outpacing SRI’s original growth forecast of 9%.

The report—the first in what will be an annual study—was released at a press briefing in New York that follows the 8th annual Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) held last month in Marrakech, Morocco. More than 400 industry leaders from 45 nations attended the summit to chart the future of the wellness industry.

Gaining momentum
Susie Ellis, GSWS chairman and CEO, said the wellness industry has gained tremendous momentum since 2007 when SRI conducted its first study in what was to become the “wellness” arena: “The Global Spa Economy.”

Ellis said the word “spa” was eventually dropped because of its elitist connotation and also in response to the birth of the more all-encompassing concept of “wellness.”

“The conversation is broader now,” said Ellis.

And while wellness has evolved far beyond spa-going, it’s also now reaching into other industries including hotels, real estate and architecture as more and more consumers take wellness seriously.

A ‘perfect storm’
An aging population, widespread economic prosperity in emerging economies, the rise of “lifestyle” diseases associated with sedentary and stressful living, and conventional healthcare’s failure to prevent illness have all combined to form a “perfect storm” that’s behind the wellness movement, said Ellis.

“Prevention and self-responsibility are words I focus on when talking about wellness,” said Ellis, adding that today’s consumers are focusing on prevention and healthy lifestyles.

She pointed to a report finding that said the $3.4 trillion worldwide wellness economy is nearly three times larger than the $1 trillion worldwide pharmaceutical industry.

Wellness tourism plus
Wellness travel remains a huge chunk of the global wellness economy.

While wellness tourism represented $494 billion in revenues in 2013, the report said the spa industry accounted for $94 billion in revenues, and the thermal/mineral springs industry accounted for $50 billion.

A relative newcomer to wellness tourism, the thermal/mineral springs industry is rooted in age-old traditions of bathing and rejuvenating in thermal and mineral waters throughout the world, said Katherine Johnston, senior economist with SRI.

Many destinations are modernizing their thermal and mineral water facilities and building hotels and resorts near them, said Johnston.

The top three countries for this segment are China, Japan and Germany, she added.

Additional findings
Among the report’s other findings:

  • There were 586.5 million wellness trips taken worldwide in 2013, a 12% increase from 2012


  •  International wellness tourists spent $1,639 per trip in 2013—that’s 59% higher than the average international tourist spends


  •  Domestic wellness tourists spend $688 per trip, 159% higher than the average domestic tourist spends


  • The five top wellness tourism markets in 2013 were the U.S., Germany, France, Japan, and Austria


  •  There were 105,591 spas worldwide  in 2013, a 47% hike from 2012


  • There were nearly 27,000 thermal and mineral spring establishments worldwide in 2013

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