Travel Agents and Suppliers Talk About Wellness Travel in 2018

by Anne Dimon
Travel Agents and Suppliers Talk About Wellness Travel in 2018

A need to get back to nature is driving a lot of travel in wellness this year. Photo: Shutterstock.com


The term “wellness travel” has come a long way since it was primarily associated with a spa experience. Today, the concept has developed and expanded into many categories of travel, and that maturation continues on a global level.

Travel Market Report reached out to a number of advisors and suppliers in various travel categories to ask what they are seeing for wellness travel in 2018.  Here’s what they had to say: 

Science, technology and sleep therapy
The most often mentioned new or continued “trend” fell under the umbrella of science, technology and sleep therapy.

At Canyon Ranch, for instance, Denise Bruzzone, vice president sales, said they are receiving more requests for “science-based, medical approaches to wellness and how guests can incorporate it into their daily lives and travel."

The destination spa brand already offers a variety of innovative medical assessments that are focused on what they refer to as “prevention, precision (science-based) and personalization.” One example is Nutrigenetics for Personalized Weight Loss, which requires a simple cheek swab to collect DNA that indicates how a body metabolizes food. “Scientific advances will continue to combine with holistic practices for the perfect wellness retreat," she said.

Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations in New York, is also bullish on science and technology. He pointed out that the industry will see more demand for alternative treatments and therapies beyond the standard massage. “The number one driver of wellness,” he said, “will continue to be stress management and sleep, which has led to the proliferation of technology and results-driven experiences in spas around the world. “ 

Sleep was also mentioned by Lilian Roten, vice president, brand management for Swissotel and Pullman hotels. “Around the world, studies continue to show that people are getting less than the recommended sleep each night,” she said, “so I think we will see even greater emphasis on 'clean sleeping' in 2018. She pointed out that “a good night’s rest is the very foundation of a healthy mind and body, and research has shown that lack of sleep or poor quality rest has a direct link to negative health conditions such as depression, obesity and diabetes.” 

In the hotel industry, Roten said that getting a good night’s sleep means “better access to sleep aids, increased use of circadian lighting, the introduction of more naturopathic sleep remedies and the use of sleep technologies to track sleep patterns and develop customized sleep programs.”  

Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, Texas, will pilot a deep sleep program this year. “We will educate as to diet, exercise, meditation needed, plus provide pillow options, eye masks, tinctures, scents, music, and anti-anxiety weighted blankets upon request,” said Managing Director Janis Clapoff.

Kathryn Schulz, president of Chicago-based Kathryn Theodore Travel and an independent consultant with Largay Travel, said she, too, is seeing sleep therapy growing under the banner of wellness travel, along with other sectors such as ecotourism and voluntourism.

Active vacations and nature
Kiron Dhaliwal, president of California-based Concierge Vacations, feels that while wellness travel is becoming “much more visible,” her clients may not necessarily name it as such. “I’m seeing many more requests for active vacations and the need to focus on all areas of health, physical, mental, and spiritual. I think we’re going to see an increase in travel that allows clients to escape from their hectic lives, disconnect from their devices and get more centered and mindful.” She adds that there is “a need to get back to nature, whether that’s ocean or the mountains, and find peace (quiet/silence) and calmness.”

Ezon concurs. “Clients are asking for more active ways to explore destinations, and we will continue to see more supply,” he said. 

Bibi Mukherjee, vice president and co-owner of Vermont-based Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations said, “It's no longer about the intensity of activity but the breadth and the choices.” She noted that a biking vacation will not be restricted to miles of just riding a bicycle. “Rather it'll be a healthy combination of biking, hiking, walking, kayaking with maybe yoga classes and other wellness options included. That is the trend of the active vacation.” 

Digital detox
Travel Advisor Dori Cameron of Georgia-based WanderMore Travel said she is seeing more requests for digital detox-themed vacations from families, couples and individuals.  “People just want to relax their minds (and the minds of their children) and leave technology in the off position for a few days to focus on their relationships and their own well-being.” 

She added that she is also seeing “more resorts that have a 'no technology' policy in place, so there is a nice variety of destinations now catering to these types of clients.”  One example is Lake Austin Spa Resort, where Clapoff said guests are asked if they would like to also check their digital devices when they check-in. She noted, “we also offer an in-room sleeping bag for phones, and will soon offer sessions in digital detox education."

Follow the leader
Mary Funkhouser of Colorado-based Journeys That Fit said that while wellness group travel isn’t new, “what’s now emerging are travel agents forming business-to-business partnerships with business owners to leverage their own networks to book affinity group wellness travel.” She explained that the trip is promoted to their network and led by the business owner," resulting in enhanced network connectedness and brand loyalty.” She noted that this model is very popular in the wine industry, and now we are seeing the utilization within the wellness sector.

Personalized wellness on water 
“The trend we see for wellness travel in 2018 is the personalization of each vacation experience,” said Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of California-based AmaWaterways.    

The growing interest in wellness “presents a fantastic opportunity for travel agents to add value to the recommendations they make to their clients about vacation choices,” she said.  So, besides asking about accommodations and food preferences, she suggested that travel agents might also soon be inquiring about their clients’ fitness routines, and be prepared to offer vacation options that support those healthy lifestyle choices.

She pointed out that while agents will need to do their homework, she predicts that hotels, resorts and ships will also need to clearly outline not only the specific facilities and equipment provided, but also the type of classes and instructors available. 

To meet expected demand, the AmaWaterways Wellness Program, launched in 2017, led by onboard wellness experts and a natural complement to their hiking and biking shore excursions, will be available on six ships in 2018 and fleetwide in 2019.

Conscientious cuisine
Clapoff said Lake Austin Spa Resort is seeing guests who “not only want to be served healthy alternatives when it comes to meals, but they want to educate themselves on how to prepare, how to shop and what indulgences they can enjoy.” Conscientious cuisine, she calls it.

Ezon agrees that customers are and will continue to demand “healthier options, organic cuisine, and farm-to-table concepts.” He said, “Today’s hottest bites are produce-based and laden with nutritional hotties like quinoa or kale.” 

Mukherjee also sees that culinary trips with chefs offering farm-to-table experiences drawn from local food culture will be another big draw this year.

Two other things to watch for
New destinations: Cameron also mentioned that she is getting queries on wellness retreats in different destinations around the world. “People want help crafting a healthier lifestyle at these retreats, but they want to experience a beautiful location at the same time,” she said. Mukherjee agrees and offered that “when it comes to yoga and wellness vacations, travelers have historically thought of Southeast Asia. But we are increasingly seeing destinations and travel companies offering options closer to home for destinations less traveled."

Mental wellness programs: Clapoff said “speakers and educators on mental health and wellness will abound within their programs this year.”

No doubt, 2018 will be an interesting year for the ever-growing wellness sector of the travel industry.

Anne Dimon is Travel Market Report’s wellness travel columnist and the founder/editor of www.traveltowellness.com. Connect with her on Twitter or Instagram @AnneDimon.

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