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The rise of wellness travel, from rewilding to yoga and pilgrimages
Having escaped the confines of the spa, wellness now influences the travel experience far and wide, offering new ways to discover the world.
The number of people concerned about their health and wellbeing has rocketed since the pandemic began. The stats are legion but among them, 80% of those surveyed by Public Health England in 2020 — in the first year of Covid-19 — reported wanting to change their lifestyle in 2021 to become healthier. Meanwhile, an Ipsos study in 2021 noted that 62% of Americans believe health is more important to them than before the pandemic. And this has, as countless more reports will attest, changed the way many of us want to travel.
Just over a fifth (21%) of global travellers are currently travelling for health- and wellness-driven reasons according to the 2022 Travel Trends research by luxury travel network Virtuoso, conducted jointly with YouGov. And its findings suggest this is likely to grow in 2023, with 29% of global travellers stating interest in travelling for wellness reasons in the future. Trends include travel to reconnect — with friends, family, partners or children — and a growing focus on sleep wellness. The research notes ‘the rise in apps like Calm and Headspace permeating travel products, providing flyers the ability to plug in and meditate while in flight’ — not to mention the growing number of sleep retreats aimed at aiding insomniacs.
“Health and wellness technology is moving forward at a very fast pace and creating exciting new possibilities that we’re exploring, from sleep therapy and guided meditation to dynamic bathing, cryotherapy and infrared saunas,” says Emlyn Brown, vice president of wellbeing at Accor, Europe’s largest hospitality and hotels company, which released the Health to Wealth white paper earlier this year.
“Guests now come to us loaded with their own health data,” says Brown of the ubiquity of smartwatches and fitness apps. “We’re exploring ways that we can create bespoke wellness experiences for our guests in spa, nutrition, fitness and sleep.” Accor’s Fairmont Windsor Park hotel, for example, is home to the UK’s first spa multi-person cryotherapy chamber. Hotels Pullman Paris Centre-Bercy and Pullman San Francisco Bay, meanwhile, equip guests with Dreem, a technology wearable that monitors breathing, brain waves, heart rate and sleeping patterns.
Wellness travel is clearly no longer something that’s confined to the spa, but it’s travelled far beyond the hotel, too. “Wellness travel has evolved and expanded to encapsulate all manner of experiences that boost travellers’ mental and physical health,” says Paul Joseph, founder of Health and Fitness Travel , a specialist tour operator for wellness breaks. “Far from the ‘fly and flop’ wellness holidays of old, we’re able to send customers on a hand-picked retreat that includes a tailored wellness programme — from personalised nutrition and exercise plans to one-on-one coaching and holistic healing therapies. Following the pandemic and in spite of the cost-of-living crisis, we’ve seen a marked increase in bookings.”
It’s what Expedia is calling a ‘no-normal’ era of wellness travel. “We’re seeing a new wave of interest in wellness retreats, and a spike in demand for outdoor destinations beyond beaches and mountains,” says Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands. “Not a new normal, but people branching out to unexpected trends: the ‘no-normal’.”
The travel brand has seen a 30% increase in demand for wellness breaks between 2021 and 2022, and found that almost half (46%) of global travellers are more open to wellness breaks than ever before. And the quirkier, the better. Expedia’s Travel Trends report reveals activities as diverse as sylvotherapy (forest bathing), food bootcamps, chakra sessions, puppy yoga and laughter therapy were more popular than some standard spa offerings.
So, what exactly does ‘wellness’ mean today? According to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) — the US-non-profit offshoot of the Global Wellness Summit, which has been driving research and business across the industry since 2007 — the term is varied. It can be associated with fitness holidays and adventure travel focused around improving a sense of wellbeing or life balance, along with the obvious mind and body retreats. And it’s a booming sector. GWI projects a 9.9% average annual growth in the wellness economy between now and 2025, when it will reach nearly $7 trillion (£5.5 trillion).
Meanwhile, US-based non-profit the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) was founded in 2018 with the aim of bringing standards to the growing wellness sector of the tourism industry, and defines wellness travel as simply that which allows the traveller ‘to maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one’s sense of wellbeing’.
“What constitutes a wellbeing holiday is subjective,” says Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of activist holiday company Responsible Travel . “I’d say a painting holiday in the Scottish Highlands or a wild camping experience can be as much about wellness as a vegan Pilates retreat. Wellness holidays simply allow you to rest and revive in your own way, mentally and physically.”
The company has added numerous nature-based holidays to its offering since the pandemic, in response to rising demand. It notes that activities like river kayaking are becoming more popular, and that interest in trips that give customers a chance to really focus on their physical wellbeing has risen almost 100% in the last five years. “We’re all much more attuned to the benefits of switching off our phones and being outdoors,” says Francis.
It’s clear that well before the pandemic hit, our travel habits were changing. A McKinsey report in 2021 noted that 79% of respondents believed wellness was important, and 42% considered it a top priority, but in the preceding two to three years consumers in every market it researched reported a substantial increase (from 27% to 65%) in the prioritisation of wellness. Within the last decade, yoga mats have become the norm in hip hotels and gym access a hospitality standard, while spa-focused accommodation is ever-expanding.
Sports travel, with its tangible benefits and measurable outcomes — such as the number of miles hiked — is a thriving area of wellness. This boom in so-called ‘endorphin tourism’ attracts travellers seeking trips that give them a natural high — from desert marathons to trail running in the mountains. In Europe, the Alps have become something of an outdoor wellness playground. A 2020 report for France Montagnes, an association promoting French Alpine tourism, states that up to 70% of travellers see the mountains as a synonym for wellness.
“For several years now, and particularly since the post-Covid period, the mountains have been popular with visitors looking for an escape, nature and wellbeing, alongside more sporting activities,” says association president Jean-Luc Boch. The activities on offer range from the expectedly athletic to such specialisms as communing with nature while learning how to herd goats, meditative waterfall bathing, guided foraging for medicinal plants and mindful marathon running.
Cycling holidays have also boomed, with weekend/leisure bikers increasing between 30% and 60% across the UK and Europe between 2019 and 2022, according to European Parliament estimates. And surfing is seeing similar spikes in popularity. The International Surfing Association reported that around 35 million people surf worldwide, a figure it forecast to rise to 50 million by 2020, though it’s yet to release numbers. Whatever that number is, it looks set to increase further if the NHS starts adding to its ‘green prescriptions’ — issued for people to improve their mental and physical health by spending time outdoors in nature — by prescribing surfing as a treatment. A 2022 trial by select NHS trusts in England looked into the benefits of surfing for young adults with mental health issues.
Our increased state of ‘permanxiety’, be it fuelled by the stresses of modern life, lack of access to nature, economic instability, political turmoil or climate change, may be alleviated by travelling to immerse ourselves in the natural world, be it forest bathing, cold water swimming or mindful hiking. Travel, it seems, can be a proposition for salvation, not least among the booming number of people making pilgrimages. Both mainstream walking-tour operators and religious organisations are reporting soaring interest in such popular routes as the Camino de Santiago, with pilgrimages offering the chance for a hike to connect with yourself with others and with nature, even if religious beliefs don’t come into play.
But for some, this is exactly what travel, at its best, has always been about. Wellness was not something you singled out, found in a spa or were prescribed, but was about finding yourself out in the world, making connections with others or spending time in the great outdoors. Wellness was integral to the kind of travel that happened as slowly as time and money allowed, staying local, exploring on foot. Walking, for one, is something British travellers have long seen as vital to their health and wellbeing. Ramblers , a charity founded in the wake of the 1932 mass trespass on the Duke of Devonshire’s Kinder Scout grouse moors in Derbyshire, has received lottery funding in recent years for its Walking for Health initiative. The programme has seen some 70,000 people discover the benefits of a hike.
For many of us, working from home or a hybrid approach to work life has simply allowed more opportunities to do the things we enjoy. And the travel industry has responded with almost limitless options. Wellness has even infiltrated the traditional sand and sea resort-based breaks. Package tour operator On the Beach , for example, has curated a list of ‘dopamine-inducing’ destinations — places that boost the body’s natural feel-good factor with high-contrast colours and all-senses stimulation. Think: blue-and-white Greek island villages fragrant with wild thyme and oregano, or high-colour sights and jasmine-perfumed smells of Morocco.
Even Tui , one of the world’s largest holiday companies, is getting in on the act. It launched curated wellness breaks last year, a programme that partnered with television personality Davina McCall as a spokesperson for its ‘find your happy’ campaign. And in some ways, that’s what travel has always been about: getting away from it all, recharging, taking a break from the norm. But as travel and wellness become ever-more inexorably linked, our choices on exactly how we find our happy have become more nuanced and focused, immersing us in the outside world to soothe our inner one. Whether it’s working with a goat farmer in Morzine or running a marathon in a desert.
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The Rise of Wellness Tourism
How do you vacation? While some prefer relaxation over adventure, or partying over being pampered, there’s a growing demand for wellness-focused travel.
Going beyond a weekend of self-care at the spa, wellness tourism now informs our choice of destination, airline, and lodging, as well as what’s on the menu and itinerary. What’s driving this trend and how is it playing out? Let’s take a look.
Worlds collide: The convergence of wellness with travel and hospitality has created the fast-growing category of wellness tourism.
- The wellness tourism industry is expected to reach $919B by 2022.
- In 2017, travelers took 830M trips that included a wellness component.
- Also in 2017, domestic wellness travelers spent 178% more per trip than the average tourist, while international wellness travelers spent 58% more than the average.
What it is: According to the Global Wellness Institute , wellness tourism is travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal well-being. This definition is worth highlighting and examining further.
The emergence and growth of wellness travel signal a transition from vacation as escapism to vacation as an extension of our healthy habits. Instead of using travel as an excuse to let loose, we’re taking time off to jumpstart, restart, or strengthen our wellness routine.
Going deeper still, wellness travel signifies a broader shift from the experience economy to the transformation economy.
Transformation > Experience
In 1998, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore penned a Harvard Business Review article in which they introduced the “ Experience Economy ”. In short, the pair used the progression of economic value to explain distinct economic offerings ranging from commodities to goods, services, and experiences.
“Commodities are fungible, goods tangible, services intangible, and experiences memorable.”
Flash-forward to the present day and we’ve arrived at the fifth and final economic offering: transformation. According to Pine and Gilmore , consumers want more than a memorable experience — we’re hungry for transformative experiences powerful enough to change us.
“Transformative experiences are those that foster self-actualization and change the customer in a qualitative way.”
Zooming Out. Altogether, the rise of wellness , the prevalence of burnout , and the desire for life-altering or -enhancing experiences have fueled the growth of wellness tourism. But, while these underlying factors propel the industry forward, they’re also redefining it. As a result, hospitality companies, startups, and fitness brands are seeking to capitalize on this trend.
From SoulCycle to Equinox and Goop to Well+Good, it seems like everyone is getting into wellness retreats. For brands, it’s the perfect way to connect with their cultish following while extracting additional dollars from its most devoted customers.
This approach is proving to be a hit with younger consumers. One survey of 5,000 millennials found that 40% of respondents would rather go on a fitness retreat with their favorite instructor than attend a five-star resort. More telling, though, 91% of respondents said they’d never been to a high-end resort.
Spas & Resorts
Millennials might be abandoning spas, but spas and resorts aren’t willing to give up on wellness-focused travelers of any age. In fact, they’re actively courting them.
Miraval is going to great lengths to help guests disconnect. From floating meditation and “intuitive massage” to tightroping and beekeeping, there’s plenty to do. And, while the resort isn’t confiscating phones, they’re banned in public spaces. Similarly, Canyon Ranch is seeking to reaffirm its place among wellness destinations by focusing on a personalized, immersive experience. This fall, the 40-year-old hospitality group introduced its newest location in Woodside, California.
The shifting travel landscape is further complicating matters for spas, while also creating new forms of wellness tourism. Earlier this year, new numbers from Airbnb spoke to this trend. The hospitality company reported a surge in bookings for wellness-related Experiences, citing a 500% increase from 2017 to 2018. Of note, growth was strong among seniors (ages 60+), as well as with Gen Z and millennials, where more than 800% growth was reported in both age groups.
The Whole Trip
Destination aside, the entire journey is getting the wellness treatment. Healthy hotels like Sanctuary or Equinox Hotel embody the wellness lifestyle. Now, airlines are rushing to offer midair wellness solutions — Turkish Airlines unveiled its Fly Good, Feel Good program and Les Mills, a pioneer in group fitness, partnered with Air New Zealand to bring on-demand, in-flight workout videos for long-haul flights.
Mindfulness is also a popular in-flight perk, with Calm and Headspace both striking airline partnerships. There are even apps, like Timeshifter , aimed at combating jet lag. Plus, concepts like ROAM Fitness are hoping to put more gyms in airports.
All signs point to us wanting more wellness, not less. As a result, expect the convergence of wellness, hospitality, and travel to continue. The outcome will give rise to ever-more-inventive wellness destinations, activities, and businesses geared toward helping consumers achieve self-actualization through transformative experiences.
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The rise of wellness tourism
A s the world starts to open up again, a lot of people are thinking about travel. After a fairly miserable two years, it’s possible that you may fancy a holiday that enhances your wellbeing, and you wouldn’t be alone – hence the growing popularity of wellness tourism. According to the US-based non-profit Global Wellness Institute (GWI), wellness tourism is defined as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal well-being”.  It’s about specifically heading to a place or taking part in activities there linked to health, mindfulness or enlightenment, and it’s proving the latest thing in travel.
That would mean over a billion individual wellness trips around the globe, with these tourists typically spending 130% more than the average traveller
The sector is certainly looking to be on the rise economically. From 2015 to 2017, the wellness tourist market grew from $563bn to $639bn – more than twice as fast as the growth of tourism overall, according to the GWI. Even as Covid was sweeping the globe (or perhaps because of it), it was still being predicted that the market would reach $919bn by 2022, which would have represented 18% of all global tourism (in truth, it actually declined to around $436bn, still a formidable total). That would mean over a billion individual wellness trips around the globe, with these tourists typically spending 130% more than the average traveller, making the sector an obvious profit spinner. 
Although Covid has shaken the whole travel sector, all industry forecasts agree that it’s wellness tourism that’ll really roar to life in 2022. The new GWI forecast anticipates growth of 21% every year through 2025 until the sector is worth $1.1tn. It also predicts that the spa and thermal/mineral springs markets, the other two wellness sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, will see respective growth of 17% and 15%. Demand for wellness experiences rose as 2021 unfolded, with luxury travel expert Tom Bartholomew noting that demand right before Omicron was so high that “securing spa and wellness treatments at hotels [at the time could] be as challenging as the exclusive dinner reservation”. GWI research director Beth McGroarty suggests that people need holidays that actually help them relax: “People can’t afford, given the levels of stress, to take a vacation that is not in some ways restorative or rejuvenating.” 
The goal of wellness trips, according to Equinox Explore senior director Leah Howe, is that members return home feeling better than when they left
As we enter an era of new traveller values, as well as a period of rapid recovery from seriously pent-up demand for both travel and healing, it’s clear how these two things can go hand in hand.  Of course, it’s not only the travel sector focusing on wellness – the indoor cycling chain SoulCycle and the sports clothing retailer Lululemon have both angled their marketing this way –, but it’s increasingly featuring in trips. Hikes in Morocco or a trip to the Italian Riviera may now feature strictly curated meals, supervised workouts, and meditation sessions, to give a few examples. The goal of wellness trips, according to Equinox Explore senior director Leah Howe, is that members return home feeling better than when they left. 
As the sector expands, it has become clear that some destinations aren’t equipped to handle the influx
These trips are designed to be relaxing for the tourists, and they are also proving lucrative for the venues. Tourism can be the lifeblood of a country’s economy, and the wellness boom is much appreciated – in India, for example, more than five million jobs are linked to the industry.  Wellness travel helps mitigate the damage done by overtourism, according to McGroarty: “Wellness travel brings people to the country but not to the same old places. One of the trends of wellness travel is more off-the-grid, deep in nature, so you’re getting people out of the old tourist traps.”
As with any new trend, wellness tourism has faced some criticism (other than the obvious question about whether it actually works). Often, these trips are quite expensive, suggesting wellness is the preserve of the well-off – so although wellness tourists can be anyone, Wellness Tourism Association president Anne Dimon notes that the majority tend to be higher-educated women between 30 and 60. There are also issues on the safety front, as the sector is largely unregulated – training and qualifications vary widely depending on the country, and one study found that over 60% of retreat managers didn’t go beyond basic accommodation or health and safety issues.  As the sector expands, it has become clear that some destinations aren’t equipped to handle the influx – in some sites, there’s such a lack of basic infrastructure, sewage is just thrown into nearby rivers. 
Equinox research director Gabrielle Lieberman notes that wellness is featuring more in people’s everyday lives, but the trips offer something more: “While for most people this may mean incremental changes in how they manage their health, luxury experiences like these allow us to see what all is possible in pushing the limits. You’ll see these wellness retreats become even less of a novelty and integrated more naturally into everyday experiences. Accessibility is key here, in that managing your health shouldn’t feel out of reach.”  So, if you fancy trying some wellness tourism in 2022, go for it – it may help you discover a new you.
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Global Wellness Institute
Wellness tourism, wellness tourism.
Wellness tourism is the powerful intersection of two large and growing multi-trillion-dollar industries: tourism and wellness. Holistic health and prevention are increasingly at the center of consumer decision-making, and people now expect to continue their healthy lifestyles and wellness routines when they are away from home.
In 2013, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) unveiled the inaugural edition of the Global Wellness Tourism Economy report—a landmark study that defined the parameters and characteristics of the emerging wellness tourism sector, estimated its global size, and highlighted its far-reaching economic impacts. In that report, GWI first measured wellness tourism at $439 billion 2012. Since that time, wellness has become a major force in the global tourism market, with wellness tourism expenditures reaching $720 billion in 2019 (followed by a downturn in 2020 due to the pandemic). Prior to the pandemic, wellness tourism had consistently grown much faster than regular tourism. Wellness tourism growth is expected to accelerate in the coming years with the post-pandemic resurgence of tourism activities. [Note that GWI’s most recent wellness tourism data can be found at: Wellness Economy Data Series .]
Five Key Things to Know About Wellness Tourism
1. what is wellness tourism.
The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness tourism as travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing . With so much unwellness embedded in today’s travel, wellness tourism brings the promise of combating those negative qualities and turning travel into an opportunity to maintain and improve our holistic health.
2. Wellness tourism is not medical tourism.
Wellness tourism is often conflated with medical tourism—not only by consumers but in destination marketing. This confusion is caused by an incomplete understanding of these markets and inconsistent usage of terminologies by destinations, government organizations and promotion agencies. Sometimes the term “health tourism” is also used as a catch-all to describe many types of medical and wellness services and activities—from open heart surgery and dental care to destination spas and yoga retreats—causing further confusion. In fact, these two sectors operate largely in separate domains and meet different consumer needs.
A good way to understand the difference is to look at our health and wellbeing on a continuum:
- On the left are poor health, injury and illness. The medical paradigm treats these conditions. Medical tourism falls on this side—for example traveling to another place to receive surgery or a dental treatment because it is more affordable, higher quality, or unavailable at home.
- On the right side of the continuum is wellness—these are the proactive things we do to maintain a healthy lifestyle, reduce stress, prevent disease, and enhance our wellbeing. This is what motivates wellness tourism.
There is some overlap between medical tourism and wellness tourism—for example, DNA testing or executive checkups. But in general, the types of visitors, activities, services, businesses and regulations involved are very different between medical tourism and wellness tourism, even though they may share a dependence on a region’s basic tourism and hospitality infrastructure and amenities.
3. Who are the wellness travelers?
There is a common misconception that wellness travelers are a small, elite and wealthy group of leisure tourists who visit destination spas, health resorts, or yoga and meditation retreats. In fact, wellness travelers comprise a much broader and more diverse group of consumers with many motivations, interests and values.
GWI identifies two types of wellness travelers:
- Primary wellness traveler: A traveler whose trip or destination choice is primarily motivated by wellness.
- Secondary wellness traveler: A traveler who seeks to maintain wellness while traveling or participates in wellness experiences while taking any type of trip for leisure or business.
Importantly, primary and secondary wellness travel can be done by the same person on different trips, and these two types of wellness travel reinforce one another. Over time, some secondary wellness travelers will decide to take a primary wellness trip, as their interest in and experience with wellness grows. For example, a person who visits a day-use hot spring during a family vacation (secondary wellness travel) may later be motivated to plan a weekend getaway staying at a hot spring resort (primary wellness travel).
4. Every destination has something unique to offer to wellness travelers.
Like other forms of specialty travel, wellness travel is not a cookie-cutter experience. Every destination has its own distinct flavors in relation to wellness, linked with its local culture, natural assets, foods, etc. Some travelers may be satisfied with a generic massage, exercise class or smoothie. The more discerning and sophisticated wellness travelers—especially those in the millennial generation—are interested in what the destination offers that is different from someplace else. These unique and authentic experiences can be built upon indigenous healing practices; ancient/spiritual traditions; native plants and forests; special muds, minerals and waters; vernacular architecture; street vibes; local ingredients and culinary traditions; history and culture; etc. Because each destination is different, there is always something unique to offer wellness travelers.
5. Wellness tourism brings benefits to businesses and stakeholders beyond the wellness sectors.
The wellness tourism economy is much larger than a narrowly defined set of typical wellness businesses, such as spas, wellness retreats, thermal/mineral springs and boot camps. Wellness travelers (especially secondary wellness travelers) are looking to continue their wellness lifestyle during travel, and this lifestyle may encompass healthy eating, exercise/fitness routines, mind-body practices, nature experiences, connections with local people and culture, etc., thereby creating opportunities for businesses such as yoga studios, gyms and fitness centers, healthy food stores/markets, events, arts and crafts, museums and many others.
In addition to wellness experiences, all wellness tourists need transportation, food and lodging, and they will likely seek out shopping or entertainment. All of these businesses—whether they are wellness-specific or not—benefit from wellness tourism and are part of the wellness tourism economy. There are numerous opportunities to infuse wellness into all kinds of amenities and services, which can help businesses differentiate, provide more value, and capture higher spending by wellness travelers. Examples include airport spas that target wellness travelers in transit; wellness-centered hotels for those who want better sleep and regular fitness routines; specialty restaurants serving healthy, organic or local cuisine; transportation companies that use clean fuels or low-/zero-emission vehicles; or gift shops that sell products that are connected to unique local wellness traditions.
Wellness tourism may help destinations mitigate the negative impacts of mass tourism or over-tourism. Because wellness travelers tend to be high-spenders and favor experiences that are authentic and unique, there is less pressure for destinations to engage in a “race to the bottom” strategy that competes on price and quantity.
Wellness tourism also provides destinations with an opportunity to reduce the seasonality of visitor flows. For example, ski destinations can attract wellness travelers interested in hiking and other outdoor activities in the summertime, while beach destinations can appeal to travelers looking for a more tranquil environment to de-stress or take a retreat in the wintertime.
Measuring Wellness Tourism:
GWI defines wellness tourism as travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing . We measure wellness tourism by aggregating the trip expenditures of people who are defined as wellness tourists. These expenditures include lodging, food and beverage, activities and excursions, shopping, in-country transportation (travel within the country), and other services (e.g., concierge, telecommunications, travel agent services, travel insurance, etc.). We include expenditures made by both international and domestic travelers:
- International wellness tourism expenditures: All receipts earned by a country from inbound wellness tourists visiting from abroad, with an overnight stay.
- Domestic wellness tourism expenditures: All expenditures in a country made by wellness tourists traveling within their own country, with an overnight stay.
Within each of the international and domestic tourism segments, we estimate the portion of trips and expenditures that are represented by wellness tourists, including both the primary and secondary wellness tourism segments (as defined above). We aggregate the spending of primary and secondary wellness tourists, both international/inbound and domestic, across 212 countries, to arrive at the size of the global wellness tourism industry.
For more information :
- In 2018, GWI released an updated Global Wellness Tourism Economy report, which provides in-depth analysis and data for the sector.
- GWI’s 2020 white paper Resetting the World With Wellness: Travel and Wonder explores why the rapid growth of travel has resulted in an unhealthy industry and how wonder, awe and connection can be wellness-enhancing and help us reconnect with our purpose for travel in a post-COVID-19 future.
- GWI’s wellness tourism figures are also updated and released every few years in the Global Wellness Economy Monitor . For the most recent wellness tourism research, see Wellness Economy Data Series .
- Additional information and resources are available through GWI’s Wellness Tourism Initiative .
Travel as Healing
Wellness vacations now go far beyond massages and diet advice, instead offering a respite from physical and mental stress. Here’s what to expect.
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By Concepción de León
Before the pandemic, when Mary Calliste, 32, traveled, she would try to hit as many tourist attractions as she could. But in early December, Ms. Calliste, who works in the financial services industry out of Plainfield, N.J., went to Guatemala and stayed at an eco-friendly hotel called Lush Atitlán . There, she ate vegan meals, walked around the natural reserve and listened to music.
And loved it.
From now on, she said, “I see myself incorporating a lot more of my needs into my travel instead of what I can see.”
As the pandemic lingers into its third calendar year, it’s probably not surprising that travelers are increasingly looking to their vacations to work on their mental and physical wellness. In a recent American Express survey , 76 percent of respondents said they wanted to spend more on travel that improves their well-being, and 55 percent said they would be willing to pay extra for these services or activities.
That has hotels ramping up their wellness offerings, from outfitting rooms with Peloton exercise bikes to adding programs that address mental health. Hilton has created a program called Five Feet to Fitness , which includes an interactive kiosk with fitness tutorials and a gym’s worth of equipment in some rooms.
At Miraval Resorts & Spas locations, guests over the past year have come in “having experienced symptoms of stress that they, quite frankly, were unfamiliar with,” said Simon Marxer, the hotel group’s associate vice president for wellness offerings.
In April, Miraval partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to create Sensory Journeys , a meditation and soundscape series available for free on the Miraval website. It also introduced Journeys With Intention , a customizable wellness program that allows guests to choose from a selection of “journeys” according to their health goals. Among the offerings: self-connection, grief and loss, and mental well-being, as well as more standard spa, adventure and fitness programs.
“What we’re seeing, certainly in hospitality, is the need to serve really the whole person,” Mr. Marxer said.
Spas took a hit
Spas, with their focus on high-touch, one-on-one services like massages and facials, were hit hard last year. Hotel and resort spas experienced a 42 percent dip in revenues, while destination spas, which offer an immersive experience, were down 37 percent, according to a report by the Global Wellness Institute published in December. But the wellness industry has since begun a rapid recovery, the report said, projecting that the spa sector will grow 17 percent annually through 2025.
Still, the downturn forced hotels and resorts — and their guests — to expand their notions of wellness and what activities fall under that umbrella. Before the pandemic, a wellness trip was probably centered on a spa’s traditional services, said Caroline Klein, the chief communications officer of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, a luxury hotel group. Now, hotels may offer nature walks, meditation, yoga or any number of creative offerings.
In some ways, hotels are responding to the lifestyles that many people adopted at the height of lockdowns, including making home-cooked meals and taking virtual fitness classes.
“Hotels are really seeing people bring those new mind-sets, routines and preferences with them as they start to travel again,” Ms. Klein said. “What that creates is a definite shift in expectations and experiences that hotels need to cater to, because they’re not catering to the traveler from 2019.”
Emily Rossin, a spokeswoman for a hospitality group that includes the Ryder, a boutique hotel in Charleston, S.C., said that after seeing the surge in popularity of Peloton bikes during the pandemic, the hotel decided to make them an in-room option for guests.
“We noticed that people were still stuck in their habitual routines from when we were in lockdown,” Ms. Rossin said. “When they’re coming to stay with us, it’s within their same routine and they really don’t have to break that.”
Established wellness hotels are also benefiting from the boom. Alex Glasscock, a co-founder of the Ranch wellness retreat in Malibu, Calif., which offers hours of daily hiking and a vegan menu, has seen an increase in bookings, he said, notably from teenagers and young adults. It’s a significant shift from when he and his wife, Sue, started the company in 2010 and people were confused by the concept of a “luxury boot camp.”
“This is truly a mega-trend,” he said, adding that at the Ranch, “what we’ve noticed from the pandemic is that where people used to book two and three months in advance, now we’re full six months in advance.”
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Changing travel styles
What people want out of a vacation is shifting said Chris Kam, the president and chief operating officer of Omnitrak, a Hawaii-based research company that conducts regular national travel surveys. While travel has always been a reset, during the pandemic, “the travel experience transformed and became a place to heal — from mental, physical, spiritual stress,” he said in an email. “People travel for answers now about how to feel better.”
Shasha Du, 33, a founder and the creative director of Wild Awake , which organizes retreats for young people of color, said her travel style had changed. “I used to love traveling to cities a lot more,” she said. But looking back at that travel, which she said included a lot of shopping, Ms. Du realized that it “was enjoyable, but it was also not that fulfilling. It didn’t nurture my soul.”
In 2020, she designed two nature retreats for herself and her friends. And in November, she rented a barn north of Sacramento through Airbnb and, for the first time, signed up for an Airbnb experience: a tea-foraging event where she learned about the ancestral medicinal uses of many plants, some of which she’d been seeing all her life.
“It was just a different form of self-care, but I felt that it was really, really rejuvenating,” she said.
Feeling depleted by the pandemic, Ann Chen, 58, an English composition instructor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., recently booked a wellness retreat with a friend for June 2022 “as a way to keep going — find something positive,” she said. They plan to stay at Ojo Santa Fe in New Mexico, a wellness resort with thermal pools, meals sourced from local farms and a spa. They planned ahead for personal scheduling reasons, but also to give them time to research the area and understand its “culture, attitudes and beliefs,” Ms. Chen said. The idea, she added, was “to be soothed, to work on being calm, to work on eating good food.”
“This kind of resort is getting us back to more of a normal feeling in our lives, where we’re just not so stressed out by worrying about whether we’re going to live another day,” Ms. Chen said.
Industry experts say the wellness travel trend is here to stay. The United States accounted for nearly 30 percent of the global wellness tourism market in 2020, and the sector is expected to grow to $919 billion by 2022 from $735.8 billion in 2020, according to the Global Wellness Institute .
“This is where we were headed,” Mr. Marxer of Miraval Resorts & Spas said. “The pandemic has brought the future forward in an accelerated way.”
Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram , Twitter and Facebook . And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places list for 2021 .
An earlier version of this article misidentified a program that Miraval Resorts & Spas partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to create. It was Sensory Journeys , a meditation and soundscape series available for free on the Miraval website; it was not Journeys With Intention , which is a separate program created by Miraval.
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Concepción de León is a travel reporter based in New York. More about Concepción de León
The Rise of Wellness Tourism
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The rise of wellness tourism: what it means for fitness brands.
Wellness Tourism is a flourishing industry that shows every indicator of continued growth and prosperity. The gap between wellness tourist experiences and accessibility for consumers has opened the door for fitness brands to fill and benefit immensely from. Read all about how fitness brands can leverage their resources and expertise to thrive in the wellness tourism industry!
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Modern definitions of fit and healthy lifestyles have evolved over the last decade. Instead of just regularly going to the gym, pursuing wellness now means anything from leisure activities to mental exercise, and even traveling.
In fact, As tourism worldwide has soared doubled to reach 1.19 billion international travelers in the last decade , so have a wide variety of options now available to travelers.
As a result, travel trends have diversified: individuals are moving away from conventional vacations for relaxation and recreation to embrace trips to improve the mind and body. This has resulted in the explosion of Wellness Tourism .
While wellness tourism is nothing new, its exponential growth has positioned it as a $639 billion dollar industry as of 2018 . Its growth similarly has opened more opportunities for fitness companies to take part in this rapidly growing sector to the benefit of their brands. Whether it’s partnering with travel-based companies, offering wellness excursions, or even launching their own hotels, many fitness enterprises have begun to crossover into the world of tourism.
The rise in wellness tourism has created new business opportunities for fitness brands to reach new consumer groups that can further establish their brand and push their reputation to new territories.
Traditional Concept of Wellness Tourism
Traveling to pursue health initiatives is not a new concept. With vacation often perceived as a time to “recharge”, wellness tourism attracts those looking for an opportunity to revitalize their health with a fresh start commonly associated with vacation.
For years, different countries have lured visitors from all over the world to experience the diverse ways their unique culture approaches health and wellness. Especially in the east, trips focused on meditation and yoga in sacred locations across Asia have been very attractive to many travelers. Similarly, regional sports and athletics have also drawn visitors from all over the world, like Muay Thai or Jiu Jitsu camps and surfing retreats.
Alternatively, other types of wellness tourism use the remote location of a destination to create a wellness agenda. Famed hiking, trekking, and climbing trips are popular in every continent, ranging from jungle routes to Machu Picchu to mountaining the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro.
These experiences thrived off their geographical and cultural nuance, offering authentic experiences to travelers led by local guides and experts. However, this authenticity that allured many adventurous travelers in the first place also deterred many others.
Without the familiarity of verified travel companies, many individuals did not feel as comfortable partaking in such an experience. Since accessing these remote places came at higher cost and complicated planning logistics, many travelers opted for simpler travel options .
Why Wellness Tourism is Growing
More people are traveling than ever before due to how modern technology has eliminated many stressful and costly aspects of traveling. The diversification of the tourism industry has sparked new travel preferences, one being more individuals seeking health and wellness-based vacations as opposed to travel for recreation, partying, or over-indulging on “holiday diets”.
Furthermore, heightened consumer awareness about health and fitness has also fueled public interest in wellness tourism. The boom of digital fitness technology and its widespread adoption by consumers has nurtured proactive, health-oriented attitudes. This has sparked a generational emphasis on self-care in which individuals value their health as their currency.
A natural byproduct of this value is for individuals to seek more elaborate and sophisticated experiences to pursue their fitness goals, whether they be as small as attending a new fitness class or embarking on an international adventure.
The Revitalized Definition of Wellness Tourism
Whether it is an international retreat or a weekend getaway in a neighboring town, travel fitness-experiences are now incredibly common.
Many new travel companies and programs have emerged to make these trips more accessible and travel-friendly. They take care of the stressful side of coordinating trips and create agendas that will outmatch their competitors. Consequently, consumer expectations for wellness tourism have risen to match these services compared to traditional wellness trips organized by local guides.
Why Fitness Brands are Primed to Disrupt Wellness Tourism
Following the successful initiatives of wellness travel companies, fitness brands have also seized the opportunity to break into this thriving industry. According to Equinox Executive Leah Howe, “The demand for fitness and high-performance living – both inside and outside our clubs – has never been greater .”
Now, consumers expect health-conscious consideration in all aspects of these trips, like meal plans, accommodations, and organized activities. These rising expectations advantage fitness brands to utilize their expertise to create elite and all-encompassing wellness experiences that traditional travel or excursion companies could not.
Using their own in-house experts, industry resources, and professional partnerships, they have the upper hand to staff wellness retreats with the best fitness instructors, food and drink options, and professional services available.
Furthermore, fitness brands can leverage their reputation and pre-existing member base for their wellness tourism clientele. With loyal customers that already identify with your brand, they are more likely to opt for a name they know and trust compared to foreign companies. New clients will also be drawn to a fitness brand’s reputation to create a superior wellness excursion.
Use Case: Equinox, Wellness Tourism Pioneer
With Equinox’s status as the premier fitness chain in North America, they are one of the first fitness brands to transfer their luxury brand image and devout customer loyalty into the wellness tourism space. Their program is predicated off Equinox’s elite status and loyal community of members and fitness professionals alike.
After earning rave reviews for its initial wellness retreats mountaineering in Morocco last year, Equinox is expanding its wellness retreat packages for 2020 to several different continents. Led by in-house instructors and local guides, wellness destination packages will include 4-6 day trips for:
- Running in Florence
- Hiking in Morocco
- Surfing in Costa Rica
- Cycling in the Hudson Valley, New York
Each trip boasts lavish full-day agendas packed with professional led fitness activities, gourmet meals from local chefs and winemakers, and elite spa and relaxation services. Trip costs per person match the expected level of experiences and amenities provided on the excursions.
Additionally, Equinox is pursuing an even more unprecedented wellness tourism initiative by launching the Equinox Hotel in New York, with plans to open two more in Los Angeles and Chicago. Eventually, Equinox intends to open 50 hotels worldwide.To date, no other fitness brand has entered the hospitality industry to its own signature hotels. Hotel offerings include every prospect of wellness: fitness, nutrition, regeneration, and mental clarity.
From lobby to roofdeck, the Equinox Hotel meets every expectation of grandeur. The New York location boasts a 60,000-square-foot gym, a huge spa complete with cryotherapy chambers, and an indoor saltwater lap pool. In addition, there’s a large outdoor pool on the expansive rooftop sun deck with direct views of the famed Vessel, one of the most well-known public art pieces of the Hudson Yards.
In addition to the highest quality amenities and lavish decor, many rooms also offer equipment like treadmills or stairmasters or functional pieces like pull-up bars in the bathrooms. The on-site gourmet restaurant under renowned chef Stephen Starr only offers nutrient-dense delicious meals that can be altered to any dietary restriction.
While Equinox Explore packages are only available to its members, Equinox Hotels are open to anyone. In effect, opening Equinox Hotel services to the public is a brilliant customer acquisition strategy. Since the hotel’s clientele perfectly align with Equinox’s target member demographics, individuals can personally experience the whole “Equinox treatment” in a different way than they could from a one-day guest pass, leading to new loyal members.
The Benefits of Wellness Tourism for Fitness Brands
Equinox’s initial footprint in wellness tourism paves the way for other fitness brands to follow. Entering this new industry opens a wealth of opportunities that can dramatically enhance many aspects of their business.
Reach New Consumer Groups
By creating opportunities that fall outside the traditional confines of the fitness industry into tourism, fitness brands will inevitably extend their outreach to new consumers. These new services can appeal to different audiences that your traditional services may have never reached. Your business will benefit from diversifying its platform, which will contribute to increased customer acquisition channels.
Extend Your Brand on a Larger Scale
Fitness brands and facilities are often limited in ways to effectively showcase their brand to the public. Especially for smaller scale companies than the few titans of the fitness industry, fitness brands tend to lack opportunities to publicize their brand beyond their customers who directly interact with their services.
As detailed through Equinox’s example, wellness tourism offers a unique opportunity for fitness companies to present themselves as more than a traditional gym or brand. Consumers will recognize these brands as multi-faceted companies that are eager to provide special opportunities for their customers. For fitness clubs, members will perceive your business as more than just a gym and appreciate the effort to enhance and personalize their member experience creatively.
Furthermore, you have the freedom to create travel experiences that illustrate the core values or mission statement of your business to a broader platform. Just as Equinox has crafted its travel experiences to match its reputation for luxury, other brands can just as effectively emphasize their signature characteristics.
For example, leading exercise equipment manufacturing company, Technogym , partnered with SilverSea Cruises to help create their wellness tourism agenda. SilverSea launched wellness-focused cruises in which guests were treated to daily schedules of exercise classes, diverse lectures, spa services, and trainer-led gym sessions using exclusively Technogym equipment.
These cruises balance luxury travel with wellness activities to provide guests with a unique opportunity to jumpstart their fitness goals and develop lasting habits through education.
By association, Technogym brand benefits in multiple ways: it is publicly recognized for its top-quality equipment suitable for a luxury cruise as well associated with providing valuable fitness and health education to individuals to act on.
Opportunities for New Business Connections
Entering wellness tourism also opens your brand to a new world of business connections and partnerships. Traditional partnerships fitness brands tend to make, like with nutrition or equipment companies, can be taken to new heights by providing products or services in a completely new environment.
Additionally, fitness brands can venture into new industry partnerships to provide any range of services that can be required for a wellness based vacation, like hotels, spas, cosmetic, clothing, etc. Some examples of brands who have already successfully entered these partnerships are Westin Hotels with Peloton and Shangri-La with Lululemon .
A popular method of intersecting wellness tourism with partnerships is by providing free gifts as incentives for participation. You can create individual wellness packages catered to the trip or the clientele that include anything from merchandise to additional classes.
For example, when Tone It Up , a community-based fitness program tailored to empowering women, launched in fitness retreat to Miami, Florida, these business partnerships were crucial to the entire experience.
All 300 women who attended were gifted an extended goodie bag of fitness apparel, bathing suits, cosmetics, snacks, etc. This personal touch not only achieved volumes in pleasing the participants, but came at little expense to Tone It Up by partnering with compatible brands who wanted the exposure. The value of these packages also justified Tone It Up set higher prices per participant to attend their retreats while also providing upselling opportunities throughout.
The lasting mutual benefits of these partnerships are crucial for fitness brands. The fitness industry exhibits more convergence with sister industries, like nutrition, beauty, fashion, etc, every day. These partnerships are crucial for exposure, customer outreach, and branding as your business grows.
Ultimately, the outcome of all the previous benefits is, of course, the financial reward of wellness tourism. Entering the wellness tourism vertical has great promise for fitness brands with indefinite earning potential that is completely scalable to your individual business.
With your creative control, wellness tourism offers can be as elaborate or simple as you like. Accordingly, the resulting revenue can fall anywhere between helpful additional income or immense profitability. As fitness facilities are naturally vulnerable to inconsistent revenue streams from member churn and retention, diversifying income streams on any level can be crucial to your business model and sustainability.
Wellness Tourism is a thriving industry that shows every indicator of continued growth and prosperity. The gap between wellness tourist experiences and accessibility for consumers has opened the door for fitness brands to fill and benefit immensely from.
This vertical between tourism and physical wellness enables fitness brands to extend their brand name and services to new heights. With proper execution and strategy, consumers and fitness brands alike will enjoy the possibilities created by the merge of both industries.
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Texas: A Wellness Wonderland - Exploring the Lone Star State's Rise in Wellness Tourism
Posted: October 19, 2023 | Last updated: October 19, 2023
Texas, known for its sprawling landscapes and rich cultural heritage, has been steadily emerging as a popular destination for wellness tourism. The Lone Star State offers diverse experiences, from nature retreats in the Hill Country to urban wellness havens in cities like Austin and Houston. Keep reading to explore why Texas is becoming a top choice for those seeking rejuvenation and self-care.
Natural Beauty and Outdoor Escapes
One of the key reasons behind Texas’s appeal as a wellness tourism destination is its breathtaking natural beauty. The state boasts vast landscapes, from deserts to forests, making it ideal for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether hiking the rugged trails of Big Bend National Park or immersing yourself in the tranquility of the Texas Hill Country, the state offers many opportunities for relaxation and reconnection with nature.
Retreats in Willis, Texas
Nestled among the piney woods of the East is Willis, Texas – a hidden gem for wellness seekers. Its serene lakes and peaceful surroundings create the perfect setting for meditation, yoga, and wellness retreats. Visitors can partake in activities like paddleboarding, birdwatching, and nature walks, promoting mental and physical well-being.
Culinary Wellness and Farm-to-Table Dining
Texan cuisine is more than just barbecue and Tex-Mex. The state has embraced the farm-to-table movement, offering abundant fresh, locally sourced ingredients. From Austin’s vibrant food scene to the diverse culinary offerings in Dallas, health-conscious travelers can savor nutritious and delicious meals that cater to their dietary preferences.
Pioneering Substance Abuse Treatment in Houston
Texas is a pioneering treatment for substance abuse in many ways, and Houston stands out as a leading hub for addiction recovery services. The city’s reputation in this field is well-deserved, thanks to its commitment to providing state-of-the-art treatment centers that employ innovative approaches to addiction recovery. Houston’s treatment centers are known for their comprehensive and personalized care. They offer various services, from medically supervised detox programs to intensive outpatient therapy. What sets Houston apart is its emphasis on addressing the root causes of addiction, not just the symptoms. Therapists and counselors work closely with individuals, helping them understand the psychological and emotional triggers that lead to substance abuse.
Furthermore, Houston’s treatment centers are often at the forefront of research and development in addiction science. They regularly incorporate the latest evidence-based practices, ensuring patients receive the most effective treatments. This dedication to staying ahead in addiction medicine attracts individuals seeking the best possible chances of recovery. Deciding to detox in Houston, TX , is one of the best decisions you can make due to its effective treatment programs; Houston’s warm and welcoming atmosphere contributes to the healing process. The city’s diverse population fosters a sense of inclusivity, allowing individuals in recovery to feel understood and supported.
Cultural Exploration and Mindfulness
Wellness extends beyond physical health; it also encompasses mental and emotional well-being. Texas offers a wealth of cultural experiences, such as visiting the Alamo. Studies have shown that those who pursue learning new things, for example, history, enjoy better health. Engaging with the state’s history and culture can be a mindful and enriching experience for wellness tourists.
Spiritual Wellness and Mindful Retreats
Beyond its physical and mental wellness offerings, Texas also caters to those seeking spiritual and inner peace . The state’s diverse spiritual landscape provides mindful retreats and soulful exploration opportunities. Texas is home to meditation centers, yoga ashrams, and spiritual retreats where individuals can disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with their inner selves. Whether you’re looking to explore mindfulness meditation, delve into yoga practices, or simply immerse yourself in nature’s tranquility, Texas offers various retreat options.
Many of these retreats are nestled in the serene Hill Country, providing a serene backdrop for introspection and self-discovery. Participants can engage in guided meditation sessions, yoga classes, and spiritual workshops that promote a deeper understanding of oneself and a sense of inner calm. By incorporating spiritual wellness into its wellness tourism offerings, Texas ensures that visitors can leave physically revitalized and with a sense of inner harmony and balance. Whether you’re a seasoned practitioner or just beginning your spiritual journey, Texas welcomes you with open arms, ready to help you find your inner sanctuary.
As wellness tourism continues to grow in popularity, Texas has carved out a unique niche in this industry. With its diverse landscapes, wellness retreats, farm-to-table dining, cutting-edge treatment facilities, and cultural richness, the Lone Star State beckons travelers seeking holistic well-being. Texas is not just a destination for relaxation; it’s a place where individuals can embark on transformative journeys to rejuvenate their bodies and minds, making it a prime choice for those looking to invest in their wellness.
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The Evolution of Wellness Tourism: From Ancient Times to the Present
- August 17, 2023
- The concept of wellness tourism can be traced back to ancient times, where people would travel to natural hot springs, mineral-rich pools, and nature-based health resorts.
- However, the modern-day wellness tourism industry can be attributed to the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when people began to seek alternative forms of medicine and spiritual practices.
- In the 1980s, the term “wellness tourism” was coined, and the industry began to grow rapidly, with people seeking destinations and experiences that focused on physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
- The 1990s saw the emergence of luxury wellness retreats and spas, catering to the affluent market who were willing to spend large sums of money on wellness experiences.
- In recent years, wellness tourism has become more mainstream, with a greater focus on affordable and accessible wellness offerings , including yoga retreats, meditation centers, and healthy food options in hotels and resorts.
- Today, the wellness tourism industry is estimated to be worth over $639 billion worldwide and continues to grow as more people prioritize their health and well-being in their travel plans.
Table of Contents
The Origins of Wellness Tourism
The roots of wellness tourism can be traced back to ancient times. The Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all had a deep appreciation for the healing powers of natural springs and thermal baths. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, believed in the healing powers of seawater and sunlight.
The concept of wellness tourism also has roots in traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. These systems emphasize the importance of holistic healing, and the connection between mind, body, and spirit.
The Rise of Spa Culture
The modern-day spa can be traced back to the 1800s when Europeans began traveling to health resorts to soak in mineral-rich waters. The first “spa town” was in Belgium, where a thermal spring was discovered in the town of Spa. Soon after, other European countries followed suit, building their own health resorts .
In the early 1900s, spas became even more popular, as doctors began prescribing hydrotherapy and other treatments to their patients. The wealthy elite also began frequenting spas as a way to escape the stresses of everyday life.
Wellness Tourism in the 20th Century
With the rise of air travel in the mid-1900s, wellness tourism began to spread beyond Europe. Americans began traveling to hot springs and health resorts in the western US, and the Caribbean became a popular destination for those seeking sun, sand, and relaxation.
In the 1970s, a new type of wellness tourism emerged, focused on “ new age” health practices like meditation, yoga, and spiritual retreats. These practices were seen as a way to promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
As the world becomes more health-conscious, wellness tourism is growing into a billion-dollar industry. The roots of wellness tourism can be traced back to ancient times, where the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians appreciated the healing powers of natural springs and thermal baths. With the rise of air travel in the mid-1900s, wellness tourism began to spread beyond Europe, and Americans began traveling to hot springs and health resorts in the western US. Today, wellness retreats offer everything from yoga and meditation to Ayurvedic treatments and spa services. Travelers are seeking out destinations that offer a chance to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature and themselves. Wellness retreats are designed to help travelers relax, recharge, and rejuvenate, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of wellness travel. Wellness retreats and resorts that prioritize health and safety are likely to be the most popular in the coming years.
The Rise of Wellness Retreats
Today, wellness tourism has grown into a billion-dollar industry. Wellness retreats have popped up all over the world, offering everything from yoga and meditation to Ayurvedic treatments and spa services. Travelers are seeking out destinations that offer a chance to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature and themselves.
The Future of Wellness Tourism
As the world becomes more health-conscious, wellness tourism is only going to continue to grow. Travelers are looking for ways to maintain their physical and mental health while on the road, and hotels and resorts are responding by offering healthier menus, fitness classes, and other wellness amenities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the importance of wellness travel. As people begin to travel again, they are looking for destinations that offer safety, health, and wellness. Wellness retreats and resorts that prioritize health and safety are likely to be the most popular in the coming years.
Wellness retreats are designed to help travelers relax, recharge, and rejuvenate. Many of these retreats are located in remote, natural settings, where guests can disconnect from the stresses of modern life and focus on their health and well-being. Some wellness retreats offer personalized fitness and nutrition plans , while others focus on spiritual practices like meditation and mindfulness.
FAQs for When Did Wellness Tourism Began
What is wellness tourism.
Wellness tourism is a growing trend in the travel industry where individuals seek opportunities to improve their physical and mental health. This type of tourism can include activities such as yoga retreats, spa treatments, meditation sessions, healthy eating, and other forms of self-care.
When did wellness tourism begin?
The concept of wellness tourism dates back to ancient times, where people would travel to mineral-rich hot springs to soak and heal their injuries. However, the modern interpretation of wellness tourism began in the late 20th century . In 1992, the wellness industry created the term “wellness tourism,” which was officially recognized in 2004 when the Global Wellness Institute was established.
What factors have contributed to the growth of wellness tourism?
The rise of wellness tourism can be attributed to several factors, including the growing interest in personal health and self-care, the desire for unique and memorable travel experiences, and the increase in stress-related health issues in modern society. Additionally, advancements in technology and social media have made it easier for individuals to research and book wellness travel experiences.
What are popular wellness tourism destinations?
Wellness tourism can be found all over the world, from remote mountain retreats to bustling urban centers. Some of the most popular wellness tourism destinations include Bali, Thailand, Costa Rica, Italy, and India. These destinations offer a wide range of spa treatments, yoga retreats, healthy cuisine, and other wellness activities to help individuals rejuvenate their mind, body, and spirit.
How has wellness tourism impacted the travel industry?
Wellness tourism has become a major economic contributor to the travel industry, generating billions of dollars in revenue each year. This trend has also led to the development of new hotels, resorts, and other wellness-focused tourism offerings . In addition, wellness tourism has helped to shift the travel industry’s focus from traditional tourism to more experiential and transformative travel experiences .
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Healing journeys The rise of wellness tourism
Would you rather practice Kemetic yoga in Egypt with the pyramids as your backdrop or would you rather practice yoga on the beach in Lamu, Kenya? Would you rather go on a vegan food tour of India’s Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur) or a Napa Valley vacation that includes healthy cooking classes and a consultation with a nutritionist? How about a tour of the Western Cape Winelands in South Africa including spa treatments, exercise programmes and meal plans created by experts? These are the kinds of questions travelers are asking themselves more and more. In these scenarios travelers aren’t only interested in tourist sites; they’re considering how their travels can enhance their health and wellbeing.
The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) distinguishes between two types of wellness travellers. Primary wellness travellers are ones whose trip or destination is mainly motivated by wellness. Secondary wellness travellers seek to maintain wellness or participate in wellness activities on their trips but this is not their primary motivation for travel. These two types of travellers have been steadily increasing and wellness travel is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry.
The wellness tourism industry was valued at $639 billion in 2017 and projected to grow to $919 billion in 2022. Even as coronavirus has devastated the travel industry, it will ultimately help fuel wellness travel. If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has reminded people of, it’s to safeguard their health and wellbeing. And as the travel industry begins its slow recovery, wellness is predicted to continue being a major trend in travel. (And while people travel far and wide in pursuit of wellness, there has also been a noted increase in wellness staycations, i.e., domestic wellness tourism.)
Immunity booster holidays, complete with specialised meals, exercise programmes and wellness advisers, are becoming more popular. So too are holidays designed to address stress and anxiety, much of it brought on by the coronavirus. These holidays can include meditation classes, yoga, mindfulness training, spa treatments, musical therapy and sessions with in-house counsellors.
Wellness travel won’t be exclusively for when you have time off work. As remote working for extended periods becomes more normalised, some people are travelling to more scenic locations with lower coronavirus numbers. They can keep up with their work and incorporate wellness activities into their stay. The options available for those seeking to combine wellness and travel are many, far too many to list.
What about Africa?
Some of the top destinations for wellness travel include Costa Rica, Indonesia, Mexico, Italy, Thailand, Switzerland, France and the United States. Africa records fewer inbound and domestic wellness trips than other continents. For instance, according to a report by GWI, there were 7 million such trips in sub-Saharan Africa in 2017 compared with 292 million such trips in Europe in the same year. However, wellness tourism is growing in Africa and more African countries are making efforts to promote this form of tourism.
Top destinations for wellness travel in Africa include South Africa, Mauritius, Morocco, Tunisia, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles. Wellness tourism in Africa tends to be focused on spa treatments. For instance, beach holidays or safaris combined with specialist spa treatments promising to promote holistic wellness. The latter has spawned the hybrid term ‘spafari.’ Many spa treatments incorporate local ingredients, making the experience all the more unique to the particular country or region. This appeals to travellers more than generic treatments they can easily find at home. There are also a number of African countries looking to capitalise on their thermal or hot springs to attract visitors, which are believed to improve circulation, promote relaxation and reduce stress, among other things.
It is also increasingly common to incorporate yoga into safaris and other wilderness experiences. Even Zambia has gotten in on the action with some safari operators including yoga and other wellness activities as part of their offerings.
South Africa is regarded as the continent’s leading wellness destination. It has well-developed tourist infrastructure and a thriving wellness industry. Whether you seek a wellness retreat by the beach, in the wilderness, tucked in the mountains, in the middle of the city or in the Western Cape Winelands, there will likely be a South African facility that can deliver.
Further afield in Morocco and Tunisia, wellness tourism has been growing at an impressive pace. A major attraction for travellers is the traditional steam baths or hammams. Hammams are popular among Moroccans and Tunisians regardless of class and they have developed their own unique treatments using local ingredients. Additionally, Tunisia is the world’s second most popular destination for thalassotherapy (therapy using seawater, seaweed, algae, marine mud etc.) and visitors are also attracted by the country’s thermal springs.
Kenya and Tanzania, known for their wildlife, have an increasing number of yoga safari retreats. You not only get to experience some of the richest wildlife areas in Africa but get to do yoga in the wild with some of the two countries’ best yoga instructors, as well as experience guided meditation. You can do yoga anywhere but a yoga retreat in the Serengeti or Maasai Mara would certainly be an unforgettable experience. Beach yoga retreats are also becoming common. For instance, Lamu Island in Kenya has a number of offerings for those who want a yoga and meditation-centred getaway and the island hosts an annual yoga festival.
Wellness tourism could offer enormous economic benefits. This is partly because wellness travelers tend to spend more than other travelers. However, it’s important to craft experiences and products that stand out among the competition. Other markets have been specializing in wellness for much longer and African countries won’t attract a higher share of these travelers without focused, unique strategies.
Wellness travel is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry. There is an increasing desire from travelers for trips that are not only about ticking off tourist sites from a list but also revitalizing the traveler and adding to their overall wellbeing. African countries receive the lowest share of wellness travelers but they’re starting to pay attention to this niche sector of the travel industry.
About Author / Jolezya Adeyemo
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Syphilis and other STDs are on the rise. States lost millions of dollars to fight and treat them
Deneshun Graves, a disease intervention specialist with the Houston Health Department, fills out paperwork as she walks back to her pickup truck after trying to contact a client, who wasn’t home in Houston on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Disease intervention specialists often link infected mothers and their partners with care for syphilis to help prevent congenital syphilis in the baby. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Deneshun Graves, a disease intervention specialist with the Houston Health Department, walks to a client’s residence for a visit in Houston on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. “When you have a mother who didn’t know (she had syphilis), it can be very emotional trying to explain ... it could have been prevented if we could have caught it before,” says Graves. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Deneshun Graves, a disease intervention specialist with the Houston Health Department, gets her paperwork organized in the cab of her pickup truck before heading out to meet with clients in Houston on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. The Houston Health Department is in the midst of what it calls a “rapid community outreach response” because of syphilis cases increased by 128% among women from 2019 to 2022, and congenital syphilis cases went from 16 in 2019 to 151 in 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Deneshun Graves, a disease intervention specialist with the Houston Health Department, stands for a portrait outside the department office before she heads out to meet with clients in Houston on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. Disease intervention specialists often link infected mothers and their partners with care for syphilis to help prevent congenital syphilis in the baby. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
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State and local health departments across the U.S found out in June they’d be losing the final two years of a $1 billion investment to strengthen the ranks of people who track and try to prevent sexually transmitted diseases — especially the rapid increase of syphilis cases.
The fallout was quick: Nevada, which saw a 44 percentage-point jump in congenital syphilis from 2021 to 2022, was supposed to get more than $10 million to bolster its STD program budget . Instead, the state’s STD prevention budget went down by more than 75%, reducing its capacity to respond to syphilis, according to Dawn Cribb at the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.
Several states told The Associated Press that the biggest impact from having the program canceled in the national debt ceiling deal is that they’re struggling to expand their disease intervention specialist workforce. These people do contact tracing and outreach, and are a key piece of trying to stop the spread of syphilis, which reached a low point in the U.S. in 2000 but has increased almost every year since. In 2021, there were 176,713 cases — up 31% from the prior year.
“It was devastating, really, because we had worked so hard to shore up our workforce and also implement new activities,” said Sam Burgess, the STD/HIV program director for the Louisiana Department of Health. His state was slated to receive more than $14 million overall, but instead got $8.6 million that must be spent by January 2026. “And we’re still scrambling to try to figure out how we can plug some of those funding gaps.”
While men who have sex with men are disproportionately impacted by syphilis, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials across the country also point to the increase in pregnant women who are passing syphilis to their babies. It can cause serious health issues for infants, including blindness and bone damage, or lead to stillbirths. In 2021, there were 77.9 cases of congenital syphilis per 100,000 live births.
Disease intervention specialists often link infected mothers and their partners with care for syphilis, which has mild symptoms for adults, like fever and sores. Doing so in a timely manner can prevent congenital syphilis. The specialists also can help pregnant patients find prenatal care.
“When you have a mother who didn’t know (she had syphilis), it can be very emotional trying to explain ... it could have been prevented if we could have caught it before,” said Deneshun Graves, a public health investigator with the Houston Health Department.
Lupita Thornton, a public health investigator manager in the health department, said she is worried about being able to treat pregnant syphilis patients “before 30 days of delivery, for the baby’s sake.”
The Houston Health Department is in the midst of what it calls a “rapid community outreach response” because of syphilis cases increased by 128% among women from 2019 to 2022, and congenital syphilis cases went from 16 in 2019 to 151 in 2021.
Its STD/HIV bureau was set to receive a total of $10.7 million from the federal grant, but will end up with about 75% of that.
The department has used the money to hire disease intervention specialists and epidemiologists — including Graves. But Thornton said she could use “double of everything,” and had planned to bring down the caseload for her investigators by hiring even more people.
It would help Graves, who deals with more than 70 cases at a time.
“You got people that don’t want to go in and get treatment. You have people that don’t want to answer the phone, so you got to continue to call,” Graves said.
Mississippi is also seeing an uptick in congenital syphilis cases, which a recently published study showed rose tenfold between 2016 and 2022 . Health officials said a combination of funding shortages and poor access to prenatal care compounds their ability to stop the spread of syphilis.
The Mississippi State Department of Health was supposed to get more than $9 million in federal grant money over five years to expand its disease intervention workforce. Agency head Dr. Dan Edney said one of his top priorities now is finding money from other parts of the state’s health budget.
He said the state has been “challenged because of limited state funding” and will need to “cannibalize resources from every program we can so that we can increase our diagnostic rates or treatment rates, and then close the loop with our investigations.”
Arizona has the highest rate of congenital syphilis in the nation : 232.3 cases per 100,000 live births. The federal money helped the state Department of Health Services clear out a backlog of several thousands of non-syphilis STD investigations that had been stalled for years, said Rebecca Scranton, the deputy bureau chief of infectious disease and services.
“We were finally at the point where we were able to breathe again,” Scranton said, “and start really kind of tackling it.”
Scranton acknowledges syphilis will take awhile to fully address, and will look to preserve some of the unspent grant money for what lies ahead.
“You don’t know what challenges are going to come. You know they’re going to come, and you just keep getting creative because our job is really to get services to the folks,” she said. “And that doesn’t change just because you get a funding cut.”
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Europe’s Tourist ‘Visa’ Has Been Postponed—Here’s What to Know
By Jessica Poitevien
In 2016, the European Commission first introduced the idea of a new pre-entry requirement that many likened to a tourist visa . After years of delays and false starts, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) was set to launch in early 2024, but a recent statement revealed that implementation has been postponed yet again.
The timeline adjustment was announced by the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs Council on Oct. 19, citing the need for new technology to make the ETIAS rollout possible. “The new roadmap for the delivery of the new IT architecture foresees… that ETIAS will be ready to enter into operation in Spring 2025,” read a statement detailing the Council’s meeting . Before the latest set of delays, ETIAS was scheduled to go live in 2021—before being pushed back to November 2023.
So, what's the holdup? This postponement is due, in large part, to setbacks in the building of another new IT infrastructure in Europe: the Entry/Exit System (EES), which will replace manual passport stamping with electronic registration. According to European Commission Spokesperson Anitta Hipper, ETIAS cannot launch until EES is fully operational as the traveler authorization system will rely on EES data to identify potential risks.
The contractor in charge of creating these IT systems, eu-LISA, estimates that EES will launch in autumn 2024, with ETIAS following approximately six months later. “The revised timeline… is linked to several factors, which include delays in developing the system at the central level by the contractor, but also in [EU] Member States when it comes to delays in preparation for the necessary equipment to use the EES at the border crossing points,” Hippie explained to Condé Nast Traveler via email. “The Commission will continue working very closely with Member States and eu-LISA to minimize the impact of the delays and deliver interoperability under this mandate.”
When the new authorization system is eventually implemented, travelers with passports from visa-exempt countries will have to apply for ETIAS online prior to their arrival in Europe. This requirement will affect citizens from the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, among dozens of other countries. Unlike traditional visas, the application process for ETIAS is relatively quick and easy—it’s also inexpensive, costing only €7 (about $8) for a three-year approval.
Travelers will simply fill out an online form with their basic biographical data and travel history. They’ll also respond to several security questions, and if everything checks out, they’ll receive approval via email within an hour. This will be the case for most travelers, although some may require additional security checks that prolong the process to up to 96 hours.
“I do not see [ETIAS] as a big deal considering I am from the US and have a lot of passport privilege,” said Sojourner White , a remote social worker and travel content creator who once lived in Europe and plans to travel back there in the near future. “We are just not used to having travel restrictions, so people are freaking out, but honestly paying $8 is so much cheaper than what other people have to pay in order to travel in Europe.”
She does, however, believe that the delay is only going to further confuse travelers, especially when ETIAS is eventually implemented. “The constant rescheduling of the launch reminds me of the real ID issues in the US. When you put out information prematurely people make plans with that information,” White said. “I foresee some problems, at least in the beginning, with people being confused as to what they need to do, especially if they are not seasoned travelers or it’s their first trip to Europe.”
Her best advice for newer travelers so they don’t get caught off-guard?
“Be in tune with the US Department of State website. They have the Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP) that I recommend everybody sign up for, too, so that you can be notified of changes that may be happening as you are traveling.”
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