Photo: Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces
The top trends for summer and fall travel in the wellness sector point to a strong season, with a broadening customer base and more options—and therefore, more need for a professional guidance.
This year is all about shorter stays, more men, more physically challenging activities and a younger customer base, say a handful of top travel professionals specializing in wellness who spoke with TMR over the past few days.
Kathy Bernstein of Chicago-based Protravel International, a Travel Leaders Group agency, says she is seeing a trend toward shorter and more focused trips, with a specific goal such as learning to surf or meditate. The current state of information overload from surfing the internet for travel options leaves clients “overwhelmed with the volume of information and choices”—and sees her role as “helping them focus on their major motivation.”
Whether they are looking for spas or the increasing number of hotels that offer wellness options, there is something out there for everyone. But it’s important to make the right match, because “a misstep could have exactly the opposite effect of their intention.”
After almost 20 years in the industry, she says the biggest changes have taken place in spas. Most recently, “many spas that previously required week-long stays or specific dates have loosened their requirements to accommodate today’s hectic schedules.”
Virtuoso advisor Karen Benson, of Camelback Travel in Phoenix, AZ, agrees that the biggest changes have come on the spa side of wellness travel. An agent for 30-plus years, she says spas “have evolved from just a pampering experience to a total mind, body and spiritual encounter.”
Many traditional spas have expanded to include physicians, psychologists and even spiritual leaders from the community, she noted, or places to work on specific wellness goals such as weight loss or smoking cessation.
This year she is seeing a trend among customers of “seeking challenging physical experiences, including outdoor activities such as rock climbing, hiking and biking.” Keeping in step, many spas also have become a place to challenge the body through various types of fitness activities.
Benson notes there is no one-size-fits-all wellness spa “because everyone is looking for something unique to them.” And, that, she said, is when agent specialists can truly assist by assessing client needs and interests and recommending that perfect fit.
Kim Wilson, a member of TRAVELSAVERS and owner of Hollowbrook Travel at Allsport in Fishkill, NY, has been working the wellness travel sector for the past five years. The majority of her travel agency clients “are now actively looking at resorts and hotels that offer fitness programs and/or spas,” she said—including rising numbers of "men looking to work wellness into their travels.
Jackie Ceren, president of Travel Consultation & Mediation in Clearwater Beach, FL, and a member of TRAVELSAVERS, began focusing her business around health and wellness travel about six years ago. Since then, finding options for travelers looking for healthier lifestyles has become much easier.
“All the hype in the news about living a healthier lifestyle has jump- started the industry into focusing on wellness as part of the travel experience,” she said. “In the past, when consumers traveled, they typically went off their diets and stopped exercising. The biggest difference between then and now is that you don't need to change your healthy habits.”
Whether on a specifically “wellness-oriented” trip or just a family vacation, travelers increasingly are adding active components to their bookings, Ceren said. “They look for activities they can do as a family, such as paddle boarding, hiking, and cycling. Plus, they want organic gourmet meals, along with soothing spa and massage services.”
And what starts with one generation is increasingly passing down to the next. Ceren is happy to see young travelers in their 20s and 30s also including wellness options in their vacation travels, even when they travel without parents. “In years past, they were all about the party. Now they are more focused on healthier travel options. I used to be selling the best night spots. Now, they want the best activities and organic restaurant options.”
Of course travel suppliers are obliging with more and better products. Health and wellness options are now offered at resorts, on cruise ships, and by destinations, “giving agents the tools they need to promote Wellness Travel,” Ceren said.
Virtuoso travel advisor Stephanie Durst at ProTravel International in New York is seeing a growing interest in all-inclusive packages that include spa treatments. As far as treatments, she said, mineral bathing is hot.
Durst’s focus on wellness travel goes back to 9/11, when she saw an opportunity for travel to help clients heal emotionally. Following that tragic event “wellness took on a whole new meaning beyond the simple booking of spa treatments.”
While over the years clients have become “more knowledgeable about spas and what is being offered by looking online,” they also have come to appreciate the added-value Durst brings to their relationship. “They know that as their wellness advisor I can get added amenities, upgrades and benefits.”
Anne Dimon is Travel Market Report’s wellness travel contributor and the founder/editor www.traveltowellness.com. Follow her at @AnneDimon.