Wellness Tourism: Four Trends To Expect in the Coming Years

by Jessica Montevago
Wellness Tourism: Four Trends To Expect in the Coming Years

Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest holistic therapies, has its roots in the Indian subcontinent, one of the emerging markets for wellness travel. Photo: Shutterstock.com.


The burgeoning wellness market has ballooned into more than a $4-trillion-dollar industry, a new report found.

The global wellness industry grew 12.8 percent in the last two years, from a $3.7 trillion market in 2015 to $4.2 trillion in 2017, according to the 2018 Global Wellness Economy Monitor, released by the nonprofit Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

Within that, the $639 billion wellness travel market’s annual growth rate of 6.5 percent from 2015-2017 is more than double the 3.2 percent growth rate for tourism overall.

In 2017, travelers took 830 million wellness trips, which is 139 million more than in 2015. As one of the fastest-growing travel segments, wellness travel currently represents 17 percent of total tourism expenditures.

At the root of this historic growth is a major shift in what consumers value. Wellness and health are more top-of-mind for people than ever before, and rather than going on vacations seeking out wellness, they are already leading a healthy and active lifestyle and wish to continue that while traveling.

“There’s also a big economic shift that’s allowing this, between the growing middle class and growing disposable income. This economic shift enables more and more shifting focus on wellness,” said Katherine Johnston, GWI senior research fellow.

As an increasing number of both business and leisure travelers value healthy food, fitness, and a mind-body balance, the wellness tourism industry is only going to develop further. Here’s what to expect in 2019 and beyond.

1. Hospitality hybrids
“If you go back five, ten-plus years ago, when wellness started ramping up, first, every hotel needed a nice gym; then it was having a spa that became standard; and now, we’ve gotten very far beyond that. It’s not just an amenity, but wellness is integrated throughout the hotels.” Johnston said.

Brands have leaned on outside players to capitalize on their expertise and tap into their brand value, she continued. One of the most recent and aggressive in this trend is Hyatt, which acquired boutique fitness and wellness brand, Exhale; as well as wellness resort and spa operator, Miraval.

Exhale's fitness studio.Photo: Hyatt Hotels
Exhale's fitness studio.Photo: Hyatt Hotels.

Other hospitality brands have partnered with companies in the fitness space, such as Westin Hotels with Peloton; Fairmont Hotels and Technogym; Shangri-La and Lululemon; and Mandarin Oriental Hotels and the Mayo Clinic. Equinox, which runs 82 fitness clubs, will be entering the luxury hotel sector with plans to open 50 locations worldwide.

Ophelia Yeung, GWI senior research fellow, noted that while having an in-room Peloton is aimed at a very specific demographic group, “different brands are trying to capture different demographics.”

It’s safe to say that we’ll see more intersection of the hospitality industry with other aspects of wellness, including fitness, sleep, and nutrition.

2. Emerging destinations
Wellness travel can draw travelers to under-visited regions, giving new destinations the opportunity to tap into the growing business.

According to the report, “Wellness tourism growth is very much a tale of developing markets, with Asia-Pacific, Latin America-Caribbean, Middle East-North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa all clocking robust gains, and accounting for 57 percent of the increase in wellness trips since 2015. Over the past five years, Asia is the number one growth sector in both wellness tourism trips and revenues, where trips grew 33 percent in two years, to 258 million annually.”

Many countries have only recently begun thinking about how they can position themselves to attract wellness tourism. They have developed strategies by determining how they will impact local communities, Johnston said, rather just sending tourists to a spa. This lends itself to a more sustainable model for communities. “The thinking of wellness is evolving to not just what’s good for me, but what is this bringing to the country and region.”

Yeung pointed out Sri Lanka as an example, where the country can be underdeveloped but provides pristine assets in conjunction with traditional Ayurvedic health practices. The country has seen a tremendous rise in investment and arrivals since promoting it as such.

“We see a lot of potential [for new destinations] in wellness tourism, and there’s a boarder appeal,” Yeung said.

3. Evolving the transportation sector
The shift over the last five years with airlines has been just as big as the hospitality sector, Johnston and Yeung explained. Airports have been rethinking infrastructure to include green spaces and natural light. Additional airport wellness offerings on the rise include: “silent airports,” yoga rooms, in-transit fitness clubs, therapy dogs, napping pods and suites, treadmill desks, and designated terminal walking circuits.

Yoga room at Miami International Airport.
The yoga room at Miami International Airport. Photo: Miami International.

In lounges, business and first-class travelers have access to spa and mediation sessions and space for yoga. Meanwhile, on the plane, menus are changing to include healthier options. Some airlines are also experimenting with circadian lighting to prevent jet lag.

Yeung predicts that, in the future, there will be a lot more attention on the air system, because recycled air is the main culprit causing many travelers to return home with a cold.

4. Localizing treatments and experiences
For a more holistic wellness journey, travelers are increasingly looking to connect with destinations through nature and local traditions.

Many travelers are interested in what a specific place has to offer. “When you have local healing or medical traditions, spiritual and other practices, it makes the whole experience more authentic,” Yeung said.

Parts of Asia offer ancient healing practices, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine. In Europe, “some look to their bathing traditions; for example, Finnish saunas, Austrian sauna aufguss, and Russia banya … There is also surging interest in Nordic lifestyle concepts such as hygge (“cozy” for the Danish and Norwegians) and lagom (“balanced” or “just right” for the Swedish), which can be incorporated into facility design, guest experiences, wellness offerings, and marketing/promotion,” the report said.

There is also more demand to combine activities in nature with wellness modalities, such as hiking to a scenic location for meditation, or doing yoga or tai chi in an outdoor setting.

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