Meditation on the water's edge

Wellness tourism: An emerging trend in travel

Wellness tourism is growing in popularity, as an increasing number of people are seeking destinations that not only provide great views, beaches and relaxation, but also healthy options and treatments for rejuvenating the body and mind.

“As more people embrace overall healthier lifestyles at home, we are now seeing those behaviors translate and be integrated into their travel and vacation habits,” says Susie Ellis, chairman and CEO of the Global Spa & Wellness Summit.

“For others, vacation provides an escape from the non-stop activities of their daily lives. As these two trends converge, we are seeing many people commit their vacation time and dollars to wellness travel.”

It’s estimated that wellness-based tourism will grow more than 9% annually through 2017, and currently, it’s a $494‑billion industry worldwide.

Wellness-based travel has evolved to include much more than just exclusive spa resorts. In fact, non–spa-related healthy travel represents 59% of the wellness tourism industry. People are looking for:

  • Health-conscious hotels that provide healthy meal options, fitness centres and spas
  • Hospitals and medical centres that provide wellness programs, health screenings and health procedures
  • Resorts and retreats that offer programs for specific health concerns to reduce stress and increase overall well-being

Wellness tourists are looking for social, physical, mental, spiritual and emotional experiences. “They want an opportunity to stay fit, eat well and also incorporate spa and wellness into their regular travel experiences, not because they think it’s a luxury, but because they have evolved to a place where it’s part of their health and wellness regime,” says Mia Kyricos, chief brand officer of Spafinder Wellness, Inc., in Travelweek.

The growth of the industry has also created niches within the market. For example, cannabis tourism is gaining popularity in regions where it has been decriminalized, and unique activities such as forest bathing and “spa-on-arrival” features are an emerging trend.

With the population aging, and as people are becoming more open to alternative forms of medical treatments and ways of taking care of themselves, the wellness travel movement is occurring at the perfect time.

Wellness tourism statistics

The following statistics provide a glimpse into just how large the industry is becoming:

  • The spa industry alone represented $94 billion of tourism revenue in 2013
  • 586.5 million wellness trips were taken worldwide in 2013
  • Wellness tourists in the US spent $688 per trip in 2013, 159% higher than the average US tourist spends
  • International wellness tourists spent $1,639 per trip in 2013, 59% more than the average international tourist

Where are people travelling on wellness trips?

The top wellness tourism countries are:

  • United States
  • Germany
  • France
  • Japan
  • Austria

It is anticipated that more than half of the projected growth in the industry will take place in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East in the coming years.

“This is an important time for wellness tourism, as it represents the intersection of a powerful lifestyle trend and the growing global tourism industry,” says Ophelia Yeung, a senior consultant at SRI International. “The positive effects of wellness tourism, from both the economic and sustainability perspectives, are sure to be increasingly felt by every region around the world in the future.”