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The big business of Wellness Tourism

As wellness, well-being and health becomes a concern for consumers of all ages, the tourism industry is offering new methods to support their customers beyond the traditional spa weekend.

Wellness tourism, once confined to relaxing spa treatments, has developed into a billion-pound industry, with a varied range of new services. Travellers now approach their holidays with a dual purpose; to escape their busy and stressed lifestyles and avoid future health issues.

  • Figures from The Global Health and Wellness Tourism 2018 report show that wellness tourism is growing at 12% annually
  • The non-spa sector represents 59% of the wellness tourism industry, according to SRI International
  • SRI International also discovered that wellness tourists spend on average 130% more than the average traveller
  • Brands should take a more holistic approach to wellness, considering the social and environmental impact of their product.

Wellness Tourism

Wellness places of interest

With health and wellness now a key concern for consumers, this area of tourism has created a niche portion of the travel industry to become its fastest growing sector. With year-on-year growth of 10.6% between 2013 and 2015, wellness tourism is predicted to produce £561 billion by 2020. This is mainly due to increasing demand for wellness, but also the fact that wellness tourists spend on average 61% more than regular travellers.

Americans are the biggest investors in wellness tourism, as they seek to escape their busy lifestyles and avoid burning out. ‘The old model was ‘party time,’ and to let go,’ says Beth McGroarty, research director at the Global Wellness Institute (GWI). ‘But that’s changing. What you need to achieve now to stop feeling burned out is different.’

Americans spend over £140 billion annually on wellness tourism, followed by the Germans who invest £42 billion every year, according to GWI. Europe with its reputation as a spa Mecca, remains a significant market for wellness tourism with 36% of the 691 million global wellness trips coming from a European country. 83% of these trips are in Europe however, there are promising signs when it comes to international destinations. The GWI revealed an increase of 22% in international wellness trips and a 20% growth in revenues, compared to just 17% and 11% respectively for domestic excursions.

China has shown the biggest growth with an annual leap from £8 billion in 2013 to £21 billion in 2015. This reveals how much Chinese consumers are prioritising health and wellness. According to Jane Sun, CEO of travel services provider Ctrip who was speaking at the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos, the number of Chinese passport holders is set to double from 120 million to 240 million citizens by 2020 clearing the way for a growing cohort of wellness tourists.

The generation divide

Wellness tourism is being largely driven by Generation X and Millennials. For younger consumers in particular, wellness travel focusses on a sense of personal well-being, but also how their holiday will impact the world around them, which as John Bevan, COO at Spafinder Wellness explains ‘aren’t niche considerations’ for Millennials and Gen X as they search out eco-resorts and authentic yoga retreats.

The Maldives is championing eco-tourism and luxury wellness. Alongside the Four Seasons resort at Kuda Huraa’s for traditional yoga, meditation and luxury spa treatments, it offers guests a Caring Conservation experience, whereby customers can join activities including looking after baby turtle hatchlings or transplanting coral frames to regenerate reefs.

‘It’s one thing for a resort to be promoting and running a spa that draws from the purest organic marine elements, or activities that rely on a pristine marine environment, but if that same resort isn’t taking solid steps to preserve that environment then it isn’t operating as honestly or as ethically as it can,’ says the Four Season’s Asia Pacific spa director Luisa Anderson.

For the most part, older tourists continue to seek out the relaxing aspects of wellness travel, younger travellers are pursuing activities which combine spa and adventure. Research reveals adventure travel to be the fastest-growing wellness tourism segment, with YOY growth of 65% and a market value of £184 billion. Dubbed the Adrenaline and Zen Cocktail by Susie Ellis, Chairman and CEO of the Global Wellness Institute, thrill-seekers are seeking an adrenaline rush brought on by extreme sports, which triggers the release of endorphin, dopamine and serotonin, accompanied by a state of parasympathetic dominance, during which the body seeks to regenerate itself. This period of relaxation is enhanced by massage, meditation and thermal bathing.

The brave new world of Spa

Spa retreats and the healing properties of water have long dominated the arena of wellness tourism. Consumers globally spent £15.5 billion on overseas spa visits in 2016 and the sector is set to grow by 4.9% CAGR between 2017 and 2021. However, this is evolving beyond the traditional sauna and steam room to offer nutrition and fitness.

Overseas destinations such as Asia-Pacific are more affordable for treatments. Thailand is a key market within the region and according to the Public Health Ministry and the Tourism and Sports Ministry, are hoping to establish themselves as an international health hub. Non-communicable diseases such as strokes and heart attacks, currently account for around 70% of premature deaths worldwide each year. This fear factor is fuelling a desire for spa treatments that promise a long life. These Medi-spas combine traditional spa therapies with medically-verified treatments to offer tangible results.

The Amatara Wellness Resort in Phuket, has tapped into this exact market by partnering with Bangkok Phuket Hospital to offer a luxury Brain Health Enhancement package. Cashing in on the concept that spas and wellness help to improve mental wellbeing, the program is designed to improve cognition and protect against age-related cognitive decline. Guests begin with three days at the Brain Health Institute, during which time staff run tests and patients enjoy personalised meal plans, meditation and stress management. This is then rounded off with five nights relaxing at the Amatara Wellness Resort where wellness professionals integrate guests’ medical recommendations into their stay.

If you fancy reading some of my other Asia articles, click the links below:
How can cities beat the over tourism epidemic?
Thawing of the Polar market
How much do consumers really care about sustainable tourism?
Millennial family travel market – How ready is your business to adapt?
Emerging Youth Travel Market Trends
Budget Travel – Does it have to be a race to the bottom?


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