In the last few years, there has been a significant increase in people engaging in wellness travel as a means to relax, reboot, or reestablish their sense of inner balance. As more and more travelers opt to take charge of their physical and mental health, advisors should be aware of this growing niche and know what it is and how best to sell it to their clients.
To that end, a panel was held during the New York Times Travel Show last week, led by Geraldine Ree, executive director for Travel Market Report – Canada. Several travel professionals discussed what wellness travel is, and what advisors need to know before they start selling.
What is wellness tourism?
Typically, wellness tourism is travel for the purpose of promoting health and well-being, and is usually placed into one of four categories: traditional medicine, preventative medicine, fitness mind and body, and healthy eating/weight loss.
Wellness travel is a massively growing segment of the travel industry, accounting for nearly 17% of all global tourism. However, in order to be able to sell wellness travel, agents will first need to understand what it is, and what it involves.
“I would say the biggest change in the four years I’ve been at Hilton, is the understanding that wellness is very holistic,” said Melissa Walker, senior director of global wellness, for Hilton. “Previously, hospitality was very centered on spas and fitness, and there really wasn’t anything in between.”
Since then, many travel organizations have embraced the wellness model, and cater to the varying needs of travelers. But as this niche continues to adapt and grow, so too, does the approach that travel advisors take need to evolve.
“A lot of this is really about the advisor understanding that the need is out there already, the desire is there, and sometimes people just don’t know that they had that desire. And that is your job, to bring that desire out through asking the clients questions and being boastful about what you know,” said Walker.
Those who sell wellness travel have begun to see trends form regarding who wants to go and why. Many newcomers who never considered wellness vacations have been going in the last few years. There has also been an uptick in traveling for mental health purposes.
One aspect of wellness travel that the panel discussed was the sense of community that clients feel when they are engaged in wellness travel with others, or even solo. “When you think about physical wellness or emotional wellness, there’s a lot of opportunity to feel better when you connect with other people,” said Jenn Lee, VP of sales and marketing, for Travel Planners International.
“I think even when traveling solo … they don’t want to be isolated. There’s this opportunity to connect with a larger community.”
Another segment that the panel focused on, was family trips. While family wellness getaways represent only a small portion of overall wellness travel (about 8%), there is a growing demand for more family-inclusive services and activities to cater to the needs of kids and teenagers.
“We have seen this trend of families going on wellness trips in Costa Rica, and we are starting to think that it’s because they need to reconnect with [each other], and they need to find the right environment to do that,” said Adalberto Rodriguez-Fallas, marketing executive for the Costa Rica Tourism Board.
“It’s interesting to see, even though [family wellness] is still a small number of trips, I think it has the potential to grow.”
Wellness and sustainability
Another aspect of wellness travel that was brought up was its innate connection with sustainability.
“If you’ve got somebody you’re helping and sustainability and travel is important to them, chances are wellness is, as well,” said Walker. “If you have a respect for your world, you most likely will have respect for your body.”
Many of the people who travel for wellness want to know how their travel is going to impact the local community, the destination, and the world as a whole. And with increasing awareness of climate change and overtourism, these nature-minded travelers want to reduce the negative effects of their stay as much as possible.
“Their clients want to know, ‘Is the destination, product or company friendly to the environment? What are they doing from a sustainability standpoint?’” said Steve Smotrys, VP of sales for Cunard. “There is a huge aggressive push to eliminate the carbon footprint.”
Nearly all segments of the travel industry have begun embracing sustainable travel solutions, from airlines and cruises, to hotels.
“Our designers are really thinking about how to design with natural materials as opposed to manmade materials,” added Walker. “There’s a big push for sustainability in Hilton, but also just for access to the greenery.”
Keeping your client’s needs in mind
Understanding what wellness travel is and what it can provide, and balancing that with what your clients want and expect from a wellness vacation, is needed to ensure these trips go as planned. “If a travel advisor is unsure and not confident on where to send [clients], what destinations to send them, what type of hotel, what type of cruise line … then they’re not going to put it together,” said Walker.
Wellness doesn’t necessarily mean spas and meditation. Sometimes it could just be an escape from the trappings of day-to-day life. “When we constantly have distractions in our lives, it becomes more and more of a struggle. I think that people are forgetting to live in the moment. They forget that right now is important, that sharing experiences is what really counts,” said Rodriguez-Fallas. “I think, as travel advisors, you have a great opportunity to offer new products and new information for those customers.”
So, it’s very important for advisors to understand the destination and the product, but also to understand their own clients, and what they’re looking to get out of a wellness vacation. It’s that leadership to help educate the consumer that makes a travel advisor’s job easier.
“Once we understand the customer’s needs, it will be better for us, so we can offer a better product, more personalized and more suitable for the client,” said Rodriguez-Fallas.