An increasing number of people want to participate in outdoor activities while traveling, according to MMGY Global’s 2014 “Portrait of American Travelers.” // © 2014 Thinkstock
Feature image (above): Bicycle Adventures caters to family travelers by designing itineraries that consider all skills levels. // © 2014 Bicycle Adventures
In 2013, the Global Wellness Institute released data that valued the wellness tourism market at $439 billion. A mere 12 months later, that value jumped to $494 billion. And according to a recent Signature Travel Network survey, the only niche making similar strides is the family market. Signature survey participants ranked family travel as the fastest-growing market segment, outpacing active travel, celebration travel and destination weddings.
As these two lucrative niches shine in the industry spotlight, travel agents and other professionals are watching to see where they overlap — a logical expectation, according to Betsy Isroelit, senior director of global media relations for Spafinder Wellness 365.
“I can’t think of anyone who cares more about health than moms and dads,” Isroelit said. “If parents are trying to get their kids to eat healthier at home, they want to continue that while traveling. If they’re encouraging exercise at home, they want to go places where there are opportunities to be active.”
While both wellness and family travel are booming, it can be challenging to quantify the percentage of families who are vacationing with health in mind, according to Nanci Browning, a travel agent for TravelStore in Los Angeles.
First, travelers’ understanding of the term “wellness” can range — even the industry’s definition fluctuates. Wellness Tourism Worldwide (WTW) states that “wellness tourism is purpose-driven travel with the intent to improve one’s well-being in mind, body or spirit.” Discovery, connectivity and promoting engagement between people, cultures and nature are also key elements of the market, according to WTW.
The second challenge of tracking patterns in family wellness travel is that parents aren’t likely to articulate that they want a wellness vacation. But a skilled travel agent who listens carefully to clients’ requests will note their interest in the niche.
Camille Hoheb, founder and CEO of WTW, said families seeking wellness travel might inquire about farm tours, cooking classes and excursions that educate children on local culture.
For Browning’s clients, it’s also about letting go of the worries that build up when families are at home.
“For some parents, wellness travel simply means a trip that’s low-stress but also active and able to bring the family together,” Browning said. “If parents are less stressed, they are better parents and better partners, and that contributes to the wellness of the family. But they’re not calling it a ‘wellness vacation’ — I’m figuring that out in the qualifying process.”
Once an agent has recognized that a client is taking a family vacation that incorporates wellness ideas, the agent should be prepared to suggest destinations or properties offering a balance of relaxation and activity.
Among Browning’s favorites is Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, Calif., where families can hike, play golf and spot sea life in nearby tide pools. In Sedona, Ariz., Enchantment Resort offers a number of spiritual, active and art-centered family programs, including hikes that showcase the beauty of red rock country. Plus, a stay at Enchantment is easily combined with a trip to the Grand Canyon.
“Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, is also doing a fabulous job with families, offering a kids’ spa and cultural activities,” Browning said. “And Adventures by Disney has shorter itineraries that clients may not know about, such as the San Francisco Long Weekend trip that also goes to Napa, Calif., and the Winter in Wyoming Long Weekend tour.”
On each of these tours, standard sightseeing in each location is combined with activities unique to the region, such as wine-blending and olive-oil tasting at a vineyard in Napa Valley or soaking in Granite Hot Springs near Jackson Hole, Wyo.
When travelers really want to get their hearts going, there are a number of tour operators that cater specifically to the active set, such as Bicycle Adventures. Based out of Issaquah, Wash., the adventure company is helmed by Todd Starnes, who is also an exercise physiologist. In his seven years with the company, Starnes has seen a few significant patterns emerge among families, including the fact that the “children” traveling with their parents are actually well into their 20s.
“I think we’re seeing this because parents and grandparents are staying fit into their 50s, 60s and 70s,” Starnes said. “Chances are they grew up active themselves, and they’re trying to continue that tradition with the help of active vacations.”
Starnes said that parents’ primary concern on a bike-centric vacation is safety, and the company makes this its top priority as well. Since younger riders might not have the skills needed to ride safely on roads, the company sticks to trails and paths that are free of motorized vehicles.
While Starnes does hope that a trip with Bicycle Adventures will motivate kids to make biking a part of their life-long fitness program, he also wants to inspire riders to think differently about travel and life — like any good wellness vacation might do.
“We’re aiming to create experiences that aren’t about driving to sights and excursions,” Starnes said. “It’s more holistic. It’s about accomplishing things from the seat of a bike. It’s about enjoying the ride.”