Travel agents report that the main type of wellness vacation they offer focuses on mindfulness and stress reduction. // © 2014 Thinkstock
As wellness tourism takes off, travel agents no longer ask, “What is wellness travel?” Instead, the question is, “How do I start selling it?”
That’s what Camille Hoheb, founder of Wellness Tourism Worldwide (WTW) and editor of the Wellness Travel Journal, has observed in her conversations with hundreds of travel professionals. Hoping to meet the demand from travel agents, WTW has conducted research to fill this information gap and will release its second annual industry forecast, “Top 10 Wellness Travel Trends for 2014” later this year.
“Our data shows that consumers view vacations as an important way to improve health, happiness and productivity,” Hoheb said. “Vacation trips are often a catalyst for transformation, and consumers view wellness travel as a personal investment.”
“The multi-dimensionality of wellness opens the door to a whole new world,” Hoheb said. “The 2014 forecast will encourage consumers and businesses to think of vacation travel in new ways.”
WTW’s list of anticipated trends in 2014 focuses on helping businesses fine-tune their marketing strategies. Here is a preview of WTW’s wellness travel trends to look for in the coming year.
Rise of Wellness Travel Agents
A growing niche in the industry, wellness tourism has taken off as agents report a surge in bookings for trips that enhance the mind, body and spirit. The relatively new terms “wellness travel agent” and “wellness travel specialist” indicate the increasing acceptance, credibility and value of wellness travel among consumers and industry professionals, Hoheb said.
One of WTW’s latest travel agent surveys found that some of the wellness trips that travel agents book most often focus on mindfulness and stress reduction. Clients seek mental restoration on vacations where they can learn practices such as meditation, yoga, qigong and journaling in order to manage stress, improve cognitive capacity and maintain emotional equilibrium.
Shying away from typical tourist behavior, clients have expressed an interest in authentic experiences and community-based exploration on vacations that allow them to get to know locals in a meaningful way.
A big trend that intersects with wellness travel, food tourism gives clients the opportunity to attend cooking classes, learn about local agriculture and experience food on its way from the farm to their table — all of which emphasizes emotional, social, intellectual and sustainable aspects of well-being.
It’s not unusual now for clients to take trips on their “doctor’s orders,” as physicians increasingly prescribe vacations as antidotes to stress and recommend various kinds of physical activity to combat obesity and diabetes.
Viewing wellness as more than fitness and nutrition, many clients choose trips that feature or focus solely on personal enrichment as a means to fulfillment and a catalyst for change in their lives.
Instead of rushing through vacations to check off as many sites and experiences as possible, clients are opting to change the pace of their trips in order to sip, savor and revel in their travel experiences.
Affluent & Altruistic
With research that indicates a link between altruism and well-being, “voluntourism” has become an increasingly popular travel option. Affluent travelers looking for personal growth and discovery are turning to experiences that connect them to charitable causes and local communities while on vacation.
Apart from specifically booking tours and retreats that focus on wellness, many clients wish to maintain their healthy lifestyles while on the road. In order to attract these travelers, air transit and hotels have been investing in amenities that promote a healthy lifestyle.
Hoping to tap into the wellness tourism market, the spa industry is working to dispel the notion that spas only pamper the wealthy by rebranding spas as wellness providers.
WTW’s research efforts included site visits, literary review, conducting surveys and interviews and gathering feedback from consumers, travel agents, healthcare professionals, wellness experts and academics.
WTW has also developed “The Guide to Selling Wellness Travel,” which provides recommendations based on survey responses collected from travel agents. More than 100 copies of the guide were sold in the first few months after its release, which demonstrates the need for specific recommendations that help agents capitalize on the growing market for wellness travel, Hoheb said.