Wellness Tourism Takes Off in Luxury Markets

Think of luxury travel and thoughts of fancy yachts, exotic island hideaways or posh resorts immediately come to mind. Continue to follow the truly affluent, who only desire to eat, drink, and be merry while pampering in lavish surroundings. While this may be accurate perception of some in this rarified camp, painting all well-to-do with the same gilded brush is inaccurate. That’s because a growing number of luxury travelers opt for holistic-based travel experiences that cater to mind, body and spirit.

Picturing The Donald meditating among Buddhist monks in Kathmandu or Paris Hilton making body pretzels on a straw mat in Thailand may be difficult to imagine. But, the reality is the travel industry is becoming much more niche-focused and the luxury market is no exception. From wellness cruises in the Caribbean to volunteer tourism in Latin America and culinary excursions in the South of France, luxury travelers are increasingly seeking tourism experiences that promote health and wellness, personal growth, or simply allow them to give back to local communities.

Wellness tourism is defined as travel for the purpose of health and well-being through physical, psychological, or spiritual activities. While the increasing popularity among luxury travelers is relatively recent, wellness tourism, in general, has experienced a vertiginous rise in the last decade. Wellness tourism accounts for approximately 14 percent ($438.6 billion) of all domestic and international tourism expenditures and is projected to grow on average 9.9 percent annually in the next five years, nearly twice the rate of global tourism.[1]

Typical wellness experiences are categorized by healthy hotels and resorts, day-spas, Ayurveda clinics, thermal baths, yoga retreats and wellness cruises. And while baby boomers and Generation Xers may still form the bulk of luxury wellness travelers, the trend is also trickling down to younger folk. According to a recent article based on a tracking survey by the Futures Company, the author Vera Kiss said “health and wellness, and personal responsibility for these” are increasingly important to millennials who have grown up in a time where lifestyle diseases and rising healthcare costs are a growing public concern. Kiss also suggests a certain segment of millennials who want to be “collectors of experiences rather than simply accumulating possessions.”[2]

The news and trends in wellness travel show an increasing focus on the luxury market. TravelAge West magazine included “Affluent & Altruistic” travel among its “Top 10 Wellness Tourism Trends for 2014.”

These trends bode well for companies interested the wellness tourism market regardless of whether their target is luxury travelers or other niches.  However, the wellness tourism industry is highly competitive, and an increasing number of sophisticated entrepreneurs are positioning themselves among existing and new markets. To thrive in the long-term, companies are finding innovative new ways to attract customers and retain current bases; this is especially true when targeting affluent audiences.

Hotels, spas and other hospitality providers seeking to attract wellness travelers or luxury markets, in particular, are networking and collaborating with others in related industries. Connecting and exchanging ideas with wellness business owners or even competitors serves as a catalyst for developing innovative business models.

A prime venue for networking and education is the Global Wellness Conference & Expo, sponsored by the Medical Tourism Association®, Sept. 22-24, 2014, in Washington, D.C.  The event convenes international health and wellness leaders to network with buyers and sellers and access educational sessions, where trends and leveraging opportunities in this exploding market are offered. It is collocated with the World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress www.medicaltourismcongress.com and the International Luxury Hotel Association: Fast Forward 2020 Conference https://luxuryhotelassociation.org/events/.

The Medical Tourism Association® recently launched the WellHotel™ Training & Certification for Hotels & Resorts, which consists of a comprehensive training curriculum and certification standards for facilities and (Certified WellHotel™ Guest Liaison and Certified WellHotel™ Guest Manager) personnel in the hospitality industry. WellHotel™ training and standards promote specific improvements in the protocols and services that impact the experiences of medical travelers and wellness guests. Curriculum provides a framework for good practice, including situations that hospitality providers may face when managing medical or wellness services for traveling guests. Certification validates access and the quality of services that hotels, resorts and spas offer wellness and medical travelers.

To attract affluent travelers, wellness providers differentiate their services by offering a greater level of personalization, privacy and attention to detail. Whether it’s a yoga retreat on the outskirts of Bangkok or thermal baths in the Australian outback, affluent travelers have high expectations for both personal recognition and service. One thing is certain: as wellness tourism continues to appeal, luxury travelers will be willing to pay a premium for off-the-grid experiences that enhance well-being.

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[1] The Global Wellness Tourism Economy 2012; Stanford Research Institute; Accessed Aug. 14, 2014.

[2] Kiss, V.; “Meet the Millennials”; Health Club Management Magazine; http://www.healthclubmanagement.co.uk/digital/index1.cfm?mag=Health%20Club%20Management&codeid=28804&linktype=story; Accessed Aug. 7, 2014.