Wellness tourism is growing twice as fast as the tourism sector overall, accounting for around 830 million trips a year and is worth an estimated $639 billion, according to figures released at World Travel Market London. It can encourage people to travel beyond over-crowded destinations, spend more and enjoy new experiences.
According to a report by the Global Wellness Institute, tourism expenditure grew 3.2% in the two years to 2017, but wellness tourism was up 6.5%, which was more than global GDP and it’s growing in every region of the world. Europe accounts for the highest number of wellness trips, but spend is highest in North America, which accounts for over a third of the world’s total. Asia is the fastest growing market, due largely to the expanding middle class and explosion of tourism in the region.
Speaking during an hour-long Wellness and Wellbeing Hour at WTM, the authors of the Global Wellness Tourism Economy report, senior research fellows Ophelia Yeung and Katherine Johnston, said the sector had already generated more than 17 million jobs worldwide.
As wellness tourists are generally better educated, well-travelled and willing to try new experiences, they typically spend 53% more than the typical international traveller and 178% more than the average domestic tourist, they said. However, those who aren’t necessarily travelling for wellness but want to maintain their health while travelling, or simply want to take part in wellness activities during their trip, typically spend eight times more than those travelling primarily for wellness.
Wellness tourism is defined by the Institute as travel to maintain or improve health, and Ms Yeung warned the travel industry not to conflate this with medical tourism, which is travelling specifically to seek treatment. “There are some grey areas between the two, such as travelling for a medical check-up, but talking about them together can confuse potential customers and that might dilute the appeal of either segment, so we don’t recommend destinations talk about them together because it might damage their efforts to reach the market,” she said.
Examples of wellness tourism range from boot camps in the UK to spiritual ceremonies in India to medical check-ups in Malaysia and Thailand. Many travel brands are starting to integrate wellness products, such as Hyatt which has acquired the fitness brand exhale. Next year, fitness brand Equinox will open a hotel in New York’s new Husdon Yard district, and it has 75 more in the pipeline. Delta Air Lines has also partnered with Equinox to create inflight exercises, and Singapore Airlines has partnered with wellness brand Canyon Ranch to create onboard exercises and healthy menus. Other collaborations include cruise line Seabourn’s tie-up with Dr Andrew Weil, Holland America with Oprah, MSC with Technogym and Weight Watchers – now rebranded as WW.
“These partnerships help people to bring their fitness brands with them when they travel,” said Ms Johnston. “You are going to be seeing more of these collaborations going forward. Westin was an early mover in adopting wellness products and I predict every hotel is going to start paying attention to wellness because that is what the consumer wants. They might not always use them but they want those options.”
To capture this expanding, lucrative market, some destinations, such as Bhutan in Asia and Costa Rica in central America have chosen to focus heavily on wellness tourism, while others are creating wellness products, such as in China, where hot springs are adding traditional Chinese medicine treatments. “We believe that wellness tourism can offer relief to destinations that suffer from overcrowding and the problems this brings,” added Ms Johnston. “It has the potential to attract people off season and take them away from the most well-known, overcrowded destinations and into less well-known areas.”