Wellness Travel Is Attracting More Agent Specialists
by Anne Dimon /

One of the fastest growing trends under the wellness travel umbrella is the burgeoning number of travel consultants now specializing in the niche.  

The Travel Institute launched its Well-Being Travel Specialist Program two years ago and Patty Noonan, CTC, director of sales for The Institute, said that while the specialist course is “still in its infancy, it already reflects a roster of more than 200 travel counselors.”

The course is offered in conjunction with Well-Being Travel, a marketing organization that focuses on educating travel agents and suppliers on the growing trend of health, wellness and medical travel.

‘Big ticket tourists’
Noonan noted that a recent report indicates wellness tourism is generating nearly $440 billion in global sales and is expected to grow by close to 10% over the next few years.

“Even more compelling: wellness enthusiasts are “big ticket” tourists, spending 130% more than the average traveler,” she added.

The opportunity to generate more revenue is certainly one good reason to specialize in a particular niche, but when it comes to wellness travel there are other motivating factors, according to several Well-Being Travel Specialists.

Here’s what they had to say about the market.

A wellness ‘concierge’
Tammey Perkins of Bel Air, Md.-based Life Enhancing Travel, an agent who has been planning itineraries for most of her adult life, said her interest in the sector began when she was frequently approached by people suffering with a health issue.

“They wanted direction and advice for alternative solutions to manage their health,” Perkins said.  She soon found herself becoming what she calls a “concierge of wellness solutions.”  

A strong believer in preventive care through diet, exercise and yoga, Perkins began exploring the combination of travel with the healing of mind, body and soul.  

Perkins took a tour last year of a JCI (Joint Commission International)-accredited hospital in India to learn more about medical tourism. It changed the course of her travel business.

“I knew the options available were endless in managing one’s own well-being,"  she said.

Clients who take a proactive approach to healthcare “find great value in their travel since they feel they have invested in their own preventive care, said Perkins.  “They come home rested, happy, and rejuvenated.”

A personal passion
A travel consultant since 2007, Deb Fogarty of Be Well Travel in Pembroke Pines, Fla. found that her esthetician’s license and passion for yoga, beauty and wellness was the perfect fit for the wellness travel niche.

Fogarty has been attracting many requests for wellness-focused retreats.

“This part of the industry is only growing and I am so happy to be a part of it,” she said.

An agent for four years, Melissa Bruno of Invigorate TraveI in Wayne, N.J., was drawn to wellness travel two years ago for a number of reasons including her own search for a vacation product.  

She found that very few agents were offering wellness vacations – an all-inclusive vacation with spa, fitness and experiential learning elements.  

Filling the gap
Bruno decided to do something about that.

“To close the gap, I set out to take a deeper dive into the industry and became a certified well-being travel consultant,” she said.

Bruno began to curate and form relationships with suppliers and tour operators with a focus on wellness travel.

She relates well to the segments’ demographics - mainly educated, successful professionals and executives who value guidance and are looking for a partner to help them design their "best fit" wellness vacation.  

People are looking to immerse themselves in healthy cooking tours, indigenous spa treatments, and cultural hikes like Machu Picchu that offer a deeper connection to the world, she said.

“I’m passionate about the niche because people return with renewed vigor, perspective and insight,” Bruno said. “I find it incredibly rewarding to play a part in transforming the unknown into the unforgettable.”

A healthcare background
Some agents come to the niche with a background in healthcare.

Former nurse Shayne Messina of Sunmasters Elite Travel of Key Colony Beach, Fla. has been a travel agent for about a decade. When she found out about the Well-Being Travel Specialist Course she “jumped on it.”  

Clients still want beach and spa but they also want to add some hiking, stand-up paddle boarding and other fitness adventures offered in the area, said Messina.

“Clients just wanted to ‘chill,’” years ago, according to Messina. She still gets those requests but more often than ever her clients want to " mix it up,” she said.

Messina is also getting more requests for total immersion yoga retreats with cooking classes and organic foods. There’s a pronounced trend toward "less sitting - more activity," she added.

When it comes to who should considering becoming a wellness travel specialist, The Travel Institute’s Noonan said, “It’s hard to fully characterize the wellness travel specialist but certainly those who have a passion for and an understanding of healthy living is helpful.” 

I’m passionate about the niche because people return with renewed vigor, perspective and insight. I find it incredibly rewarding to play a part in transforming the unknown into the unforgettable.

Melissa Bruno, Invigorate Travel