I have just read a report titled The Global Wellness Tourism Economy 2013, and it has made me optimistic for the potential growth of responsible tourism. It has made me see that there are many more travellers out there for responsible tourism companies to connect to. And it has given me some insight into how we might go about reaching them.
The wellness tourist is anyone who travels with the desire to improve their physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. In other words, it is about much more than just people who go to spas. For example, the report defines what wellness tourists look for as “Healthy Living”. “Rejuvenation and Relaxation” and “Meaning and Connection”. “Authentic Experiences” Which responsible tourism operator doesn’t aspire to offer these?
The report also gives examples of the sort activities these tourists enjoy: hiking, biking, walking along nature trails, volunteering, connecting to arts, culinary experiences. All the same sorts of activities that many – if not most – responsible tourism companies offer. Now consider that Wellness Tourism is already reckoned to be a $439bn market, worth one in seven of every tourist dollars. And it is forecast to grow to $678bn by 2017. Meanwhile, your typical wellness tourist spends 130 per cent more than the average global tourist while on a trip.
Although the two sectors are in no way synonymous, the one key difference that I see is that responsible tourism talks primarily about the impacts of travel upon those outside of us – the community and the environment, while Wellness focusses on the impacts upon the traveller. The issues that cause these impacts – pollution, overcrowded cities, industrialised agriculture, economic disparities etc – are the same. The report even spells out how interwoven our two sectors are, when it describes “core wellness consumers [are those] who embrace holistic and integrated approaches to health, as well as environmental and sustainability issues, recognising that personal, social and planetary wellbeing are all interconnected.”
Although the main focus of each sector may be different, the fact that these core consumers are seeking an ‘integrated approach’ suggests there is merit in looking to learn from what one another does well. And where I really think Responsible Tourism can really learn from Wellness Tourism is by studying the way it connects the stories of what it offers with consumers. Because by talking to people where they are – connecting what we offer to their needs, desires and worries about their own lives – we stand the best chance of exciting them about our trips.
At its simplest, compare the way the two sectors might talk to a tourist in their bathroom. Responsible Tourism puts a little card on the basin that asks the traveller to help saving the planet by not washing their towel. Wellness Tourism offers them a natural bath soap created by local artisans using traditional herbs known in the region for their curative properties.
Both of these approaches can impact positively on the world outside the bathroom. But I believe the latter resonates far more richly with most travellers – whether it is deeper meaning they seek, or a deeper bath.