If numbers don’t lie, travel agents can’t afford to ignore wellness tourism. This lucrative tourism segment already comprises a $439 billion global market, or 14% of international and domestic tourism expenditures.
And wellness travel is expected to grow by more than 9% annually through 2017.
The U.S. is, by far, the largest wellness tourism market today, generating $167.1 billion in combined international and domestic expenditures annually.
The statistics are drawn from the Global Wellness Tourism Economy Report, a study commissioned by the Global Spa & Wellness Summit, an education and research organization, to analyze the global and domestic impact of wellness tourism.
The study, which was conducted by SRI International, was released at the first Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) in New Delhi last month and was the subject of a press briefing in New York last week.
Taking wellness on the road
Among its findings: Travelers who have adopted wellness strategies in their everyday lives at home want to stay healthy while on the road. As a result, more consumers are demanding that aspects of wellness be incorporated in leisure and business trips.
“Many nations will make wellness mandatory in the future,” said Susie Ellis, chair and CEO of GSWS and president of SpaFinder Wellness. “There has been a renaissance in the use of natural hot springs in Japan, China, Eastern Europe and Turkey.”
The U.S. will see the largest growth in wellness trips, adding 46.1 million more trips by 2017, according to the study.
What is wellness?
The concept of wellness entered the mainstream in the 1970s; today it is applied to anything that makes one feel good or healthy. The World Health Organization’s broadest definition of “health” is “a state of complete physical, mental and social being.”
As defined by the Global Spa & Wellness Summit, wellness travel encompasses everything from healthy offerings by hotels such as Hilton and Westin, which are introducing wellness rooms, to meditation and life coaching.
Today, bookings at healthy hotels now account for $93.4 billion in sales; spa cuisine, $71.9 billion; activities such as spa treatments, fitness, meditation and life coaching, $61.4 billion, and shopping, $64.8 billion, according to GSWS.
“This industry is at the intersection of wellness and technology,” Ellis said.
Vacations are changing
Ophelia Yeung, the study’s author and co-director of SRI’s Center for Science, Technology & Economic Development, said the research results reflect a major shift away from vacations associated with excess – too much eating and drinking and too little sleep – to vacations focused on health and wellness.
“People are now choosing destinations that help them stay or get healthy while traveling,” Yeung said.
There are two types of wellness seekers, Yeung said ¬– those for whom a trip is “purely about wellness” and those “who seek wellness while traveling.”
Advice for agents
How can agents translate the growing interest in wellness travel into sales opportunities?
One suggestion offered by spa experts at the New York event was for agents to pursue groups for spa getaways, including to celebrate milestone occasions, a tactic cruise agents have been using for years.
The most straightforward approach is for agents to take the initiative and suggest to clients that they add a wellness component to their vacation.
Refresh & relax
Stephanie Durst, a certified SpaFinder specialist with Protravel International, said her clients already are interested in health and wellness while traveling, so she books accommodations that satisfy that need.
“For clients going to a destination for culture and history, I might include hotels or resorts with a spa component that they can use, as my clients do want hotels that have good fitness facilities; if they've been traveling a lot, they might want a massage or treatment to refresh and relax,” Durst told Travel Market Report.
Jill Radin-Leeds of Just Spas & Adventures said she sees a range of interest in health and wellness among her clients.
“Some clients have never experienced a spa vacation and just need to get away, as they are stressed-out, while others are already fit and want to go to a destination that offers more fitness and motivation and be challenged physically.”
The 2014 Global Spa & Wellness Summit will take place in Morocco.