Wellness Travel: Discovering Inventory and Clients in an Emerging Market

by Daniel McCarthy

According to Stanford Research Institute, the wellness industry is worth $494 billion worldwide, responsible for more than 12 million direct jobs and accounts for nearly 15% of all tourism spending.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a fully matured market or that it has entered the mainstream yet, according to Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders.

During the recent, sold-out Well-Being Travel Symposium in Toronto, Woodman addressed travel agents interested in breaking into the growing wellness niche.

A veteran of medical tourism, Woodman said that wellness travel is only a few years away from becoming as mainstream as cruising.

“Wellness is a big, big deal.” he said. “You know it’s here when [companies like] Phillip Morris and Coca-Cola want to get into wellness.

“The data and experience shows that we are in the very beginning of a sustainable, long-term market,” Woodman added. “It’s a good two or three or four years away, which means if you’re successful now, you’ll be even more successful in the future when it hits.

Being in an emerging marketplace provides agents with an opportunity to carve out a sector for themselves, according to Woodman.

Agents can grow their business by appealing to clients who don’t, at first glance, appear to be interested in wellness travel. They can also collecting inventory before the market explodes.

Clients: primary and secondary
The challenge to agents getting involved in wellness travel is that while clients may see the sector as a niche market, it’s actually very broadly defined.

“It’s a disadvantage is that it’s a very broadly defined sector, but its advantage is also that it’s a broadly defined sector because you can tailor to your customer’s interests,” said Woodman.

While anything from hiking to healthy vacations to business travelers seeking yoga is considered wellness, 84% of the total wellness travelers—and 80% of the total wellness travel revenue--are considered secondary wellness tourists.

That’s people who are on vacation for a reason other than wellness but seek out wellness add-ons and excursions.

The primary wellness traveler, the person who wants to go on a vacation specifically for wellness reasons, is only 16% of the entire market, Woodman said.

That means agents should be ready to sell to clients even if they’re not specifically seeking a wellness vacation.

 “You should have really big ears,” he said. “If you have a client base and a client says something like ‘I want to do something different’ or ‘I want to improve myself’ or ‘I just took a yoga course at home’ you should write that down.

“There’s so much out there in terms of possibilities. You want to probe those add-ons. . . don’t forget to bring it up to them,” he added.

Finding inventory
“A well-known business person told me that ‘I love confusion because where’s there’s confusion, there’s opportunity, and where there’s opportunity, there’s money,” Woodman said.

The confusion that an emerging market brings—the lack of infrastructure in particular—provides a unique opportunity for agents to stay ahead of the coming competition.

“The competition is going to come,” said Woodman. “It’s important to stay ahead in terms of credibility, knowledge and experience.”

Do it yourself
According to Woodman, getting involved in this market means performing a little D.I.Y.—researching and finding aggregators and suppliers in an agent’s area of interest.

While the information is out there, it hasn’t been collected and made easily accessible for agents looking to sell. That’s a good thing, according to Woodman.

“When it’s collected and made easy, that’s when the whole world is going to have access to the market, so you might as well get started now if it’s something you’re serious about,” he said.

There are partnerships with spas and medical centers, “right in your own backyard,” that will help with the supplier issue, Woodman said.

“The lack of inventory creates a need for third-party consumer engagement,” he added, “Agents must dig and be entrepreneurial.”

And when approaching a supplier who may not have a commissionable program in place—something that will be common in this emerging market—Woodman said it’s the job of the agent to negotiate a fee.

“Don’t be afraid to ask them, ‘hey, I have a group who wants to come, do you have a commissionable program?’ And if they don’t, don’t be afraid to [suggest they] negotiate [with you] or else you’ll go somewhere else,” he said.

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