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How about waking up in a wellness resort with a nutrient dense acai bowl for breakfast, before taking a hike in the mountains alongside a fitness expert? How about a few days of meditation and yoga along a beach resort with a detox diet? How about a whole-body cleansing experience at a holistic healing resort indulging in full body and head massages to get rid of all the toxins and stress? How about spending time in the tranquility of a forest sipping hot tea by the campfire? Welcome to the world of wellness tourism, the latest frontier in living our best lives.

What is wellness tourism?

Wellness tourism is defined by the US-based non-profit Global Wellness Institute (GWI) as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal well-being”. Wellness tourism is the powerful intersection of two large and growing industries: the $2.6 trillion tourism industry and the $4.2 trillion wellness industry. According to a report by the GWI, wellness tourism that reached a $639 billion global market in 2017, growing more than twice as fast as general tourism, and is slated to further grow at an average annual rate of 7.5 per cent by 2022.

Despite its new visibility, the idea of travelling with the intention of enhancing well-being is by no means novel. According to GWI, wellness tourism today is about much more than the destination or activities – it is an extension of the very values and lifestyle of the traveller. “All around the world, more people are incorporating elements of health, prevention, self-actualisation, experience and mindfulness into their daily lives,” states the 2018 GWI report. “It is not a surprise that people now expect to continue their healthy lifestyles and wellness routines when they are away from home.” These values have translated into a new line of holistic, luxurious wellness trips aimed at the bodies, minds, souls and stomachs of those interested.

There is a common misconception that wellness travellers are a small, elite and super-rich group of tourists who visit destination spas, wellness resorts or yoga and meditation retreats. In fact, wellness travellers comprise a broader and more diverse group of consumers with different motivations, interests and values. GWI identifies two types of wellness travellers: 

  • Primary wellness traveller: A traveller whose trip or destination choice is primarily motivated by wellness, whereas
  • Secondary wellness traveller: A traveller who seeks to maintain wellness while traveling or who participates in wellness experiences while taking any type of trip for leisure or business.

Beth McGroarty, director of research at GWI reports that, the primary wellness traveller group only makes up 14% of wellness tourism spending – the other 86% comes from ‘secondary’ travellers who incorporate wellness activities into otherwise standard business or leisure trips – their average trip cost is much, much higher. Primary travellers at the domestic level spend about 178% more than your average traveller, McGroarty says. And at the international level, they spend 53% more.

Every destination has its own distinct flavors in relation to wellness, linked with its local culture, natural beauty, foods, etc. and there is always something unique to offer wellness travellers. Some travellers may be satisfied with a high-end spa experience, yoga class or a delicious and nutritious smoothie, while others look out for healing experiences and culinary traditions. Wellness tourism also provides destinations with an opportunity to reduce the seasonality of tourists. For example, ski resorts can attract wellness travellers to other outdoor activities such as hiking and trekking in the summertime, while beach destinations can offer de-stressing packages in a tranquil environment during the wintertime. Wellness tourism continues to be a flourishing industry that shows every indicator of continued growth and prosperity. 

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