In this year’s Global Spa and Wellness Economy Monitor, prepared by SRI International on behalf of the Global Wellness Institute, wellness tourism has surpassed its former annual growth rate of 9% and has expanded at 12.7% for the 2013 calendar year.
Wellness tourism has been identified as not only the fastest growing travel segment, but also the most lucrative and dozens of international lodging brands have scrambled to capture market share.
The driver behind the boom in wellness tourism is understood to be a heightened awareness among consumers of the need to take a proactive approach to their health when travelling as well as at home. This trend is supported by a combination of increases in chronic illnesses and greying developed populations.
According to the latest findings, the supply of wellness tourism has itself also stimulated demand, offering further rationale behind not only incidence, but the unprecedented growth rates being observed.
However, a common misconception among the accommodation industry is that wellness tourism is based on travel solely for the purpose of health or wellness.
Once again, the research has confirmed that secondary wellness trips, as defined by those who seek wellness experiences as part of their trips and not as the sole purpose, constitute the largest segment. These account for 87% of wellness tourism trips and 84% of the $494b expenditure.
As well as being the fastest growing wellness tourism traveller category, domestic secondary wellness travellers spend 59% more than regular or non-wellness travellers, whilst their international equivalents spend 159% more.
To provide added perspective in relation to the $494b global wellness tourism market, the healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss market is valued at $574.2b, the beauty and anti-aging market $1,025.6b and the preventative and personalised health market $432.7b.
High profile hotel and resort brands which have updated product offerings for the wellness market include Crowne Plaza, Marriott, Four Seasons, Four Points by Sheraton, Radisson Blu, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Movenpick, Novotel, Shangri-la, Sheraton, Pullman, Westin, Le Meridien and Intercontinental.
Typical responses have included the introduction of healthier menus and fresher, locally sourced food offerings. Other responses have seen improvements to gym equipment offerings and equipment accessibility, whilst the addition of auxiliary wellness offerings such as running shoes, yoga classes and in-room instructional videos have also become popular initiatives.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts have taken an aggressive approach to cornering the wellness market by releasing a dedicated wellness brand called Element by Westin. This began in 2008 and expanded beyond North America via Germany earlier in 2014.
InterContinental Hotels Group has also been quick to recognise the booming market, opening the first property under their dedicated wellness brand, Even Hotels, in June 2014 with a plan to open one hundred more within five years.
Aspects typically missing from wellness tourism offerings include indoor air quality, responsible chemical use and healthy cleaning practises, the management of indoor contaminants and overall indoor environmental quality.
It is not to suggest that wellness tourists do not need or demand wellness beyond the superficial, however perhaps unlike any prior trend on an equivalent scale, wellness tourism has become a market dominator whilst still in its infancy.
The Healthy Hotels Program provides indoor environmental quality based certifications to the accommodation industry and its suppliers. The purpose of each certification is to protect occupants and travellers from commonly known health threats, found in the indoor environment.
Outside of the growth figures, the latest research has found that providing scientific evidence in conjunction with wellness offerings is crucial. Citing the growth in wellness consumer experience, the findings concluded that wellness travellers were found to demand quality, value and results, within the wellness offering.
It is clear that wellness tourism will continue to redefine the way people view travel and those that stand to gain the most from the booming wellness tourism industry are accommodation operators who offer wellness initiatives which are supported with scientific evidence.