Wellness travel isn’t a passing trend. It’s here to stay. This, according to travel industry executives who specialize in the market and participated in a panel discussion on the topic last week at the New York Times Travel Show.
The panel, which included MSC Cruises’ Senior Vice President of Marketing Bonnie Levengood, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection President and CEO Ellen Bettridge, Hilton Director of Global Brand Wellness Melissa Walker, and well-being travel expert and agent Denise Wiggins, was moderated by TMR’s Publisher Anne Marie Moebes.
Wellness is a constantly evolving way of life that is unique to each individual. That was the universal message panelists communicated to a room full of travel agents eager to ramp up their wellness business or hit the ground running.
Being able to meet the needs of all different kinds of wellness travelers was addressed, as were tips on how to market to this segment. Whether it be as simple as biking or a vigorous walk, hiking or a spa treatment, the definition of wellness is expanding almost daily, as are the travel products that cater to these travelers. So, what does this mean for travel agents looking to attract wellness travelers?
Ask the right questions
According to industry insiders, wellness travel is a viable segment to explore, but it requires setting up the best environment to meet your wellness goals, and then asking your clients the right questions. According to MSC’s Levengood, you need to find out what personal fulfillment your client is searching for within the realm of wellness.
“Everyone looks at wellness travel in their own light. ‘Do they want to relax at a spa, get toned with physical fitness, or take an active excursion?’ Determine what your clients are looking for, and then become an expert in wellness because this will set you apart from other agents.”
Levengood noted that once onboard an MSC ship, cruisers are provided with a health and wellness assessment that assists the staff in putting together comprehensive and personalized wellness programs for them. Among other initiatives, the cruise line has partnered with TechnoGym, so guests can then monitor their progress.
At Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, adding bicycles onboard its ships in 2010 catered to a growing demand the river cruise line saw for passengers who wanted to explore cities in a more active, up-close-and-personal way. That move was followed by the addition of spas, fitness centers, “Traveling Lite” menus, and a soon-to-be-launched spiritual yoga cruise through India. “We want to give our travelers choices and make sure we are leading the way in that light,” said Uniworld’s Bettridge.
Hilton’s Walker is responsible for spreading wellness products and initiatives throughout the company’s 14 distinct brands that address “time, convenience and privacy.” The hotel chain has developed walking and running map programs for its guests; is currently working on implementing a program that invites guests to exercise using its stairwells; and even rolled out an in-room “mini-gym” initiative called Five Feet to Fitness™ that allows guests to do strength, core and cardio through the guided use of a fitness kiosk.
Marketing to wellness clients
While it’s clear the wellness market is not at a loss for products that cater to these travelers’ needs and desires, knowing how to market to them is key to harnessing this group. Wiggins, a health and wellness travel expert and agent, said she has found success with hosting “Wellness Wednesdays,” a dedicated day or night where she hosts seminars or visits local gyms, yoga studios, or hospitals to build up her client base and communicate her expertise in wellness travel.
She also recommends partnering with local yoga, Zumba or fitness instructors and inviting them to be the pied piper for group wellness bookings. “You have to physically get yourself out there to get business in,” said Wiggins, who added that putting testimonials from wellness clients in newsletters, on social media or on flyers is another way to get their peers to listen.
TMR Publisher Moebes also reminded attendees to get in the habit of looking for wellness options in the products they already sell, and to incorporate personal experiences into their wellness initiatives whenever possible.
One agent who attended the seminar did just that, noting that she has been a wellness travel expert for five years, specializing in organizing trips for cancer survivors. As a survivor herself, she decided travel was a wonderful way to bring other survivors in her community together in a healthy way, leading groups on yoga and spa getaways as close as Miami and as far as Costa Rica.
Panelists agreed that agents need to do their homework on the products available, connect with wellness coaches at brands, and then work with their local BDMs to create marketing that is sustainable. And it’s important to note that many of the wellness suppliers can provide assistance in reaching these travelers. For example, MSC Cruises offers wellness sales tools that agents can customize with their name and logo, as opposed to developing their own materials. “We have spent millions of dollars on these assets and we want agents to use them,” said Levengood.
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