Times have changed. So has wellness travel.

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Sahara Rose De Vore is a wellness travel coach and consultant and the founder of the Travel Coach Network. She specializes in helping tourism and hospitality companies incorporate the wellness and transformative benefits of travel to improve their marketing and services. She is also a speaker and an author.

The trend toward wellness and transformative experiences is a popular one in the tourism and hospitality industries, but many companies are missing the point.

In a pre-pandemic world, travel companies were promoting wellness experiences that were traditional, focusing on spas, gyms, healthier meal options, meditation sessions and yoga retreats. Granted, wellness tourism has long been focused on the spa industry, but times have changed; what wellness means has shifted, and what travelers are looking for has changed, as well.

Today, hotels, cruises, travel agencies and other travel companies are jumping on the "wellness" bandwagon by offering Peloton bikes, spas that offer the latest treatments or an app of some sort. But wellness is far more than that, especially when it comes to travel.

The term "transformative travel" has gained tremendous momentum since the pandemic entered our lives and impacted our businesses.  What people have realized is that travel has a lot more value on our well-being and overall life, which is why more meaning and purpose is being placed on travel experiences. Companies are picking up on this, albeit on a subsurface level.

What can travel companies do to incorporate transformative travel and well-being into their marketing in a more current and effective way?

First, companies must assess their core values.  Don't sell wellness and transformative experiences if that isn't a core part of your brand. Slapping a label on wellness experiences can come off as inauthentic or lackluster to consumers, who can see through it. Remember, you want to build a brand that inspires consumers to spread a positive word-of-mouth about their time with you.

You will also want to establish what travel means to your company in the first place.  Since travel is the foundation of your company's mission, what type of travel are you selling to consumers? Is it a transformation, an experience, a journey, memories, skills, worldly education?  Something else? Or all of the above? The same goes for your company's definition of well-being.

After a year and a half like we've had, people are faced with more hardships, roadblocks, stresses, worries and anxieties than ever before.  Speak to that.  Get to know your ideal consumers on a very personal level.  What is it that they care about and want?  People are valuing their well-being, freedom, relationships and goals now more than ever, and they want brands that align with them.

Travel is about storytelling. Tell stories

Think outside of the box from your competitors and use powerful storytelling that touches people emotionally and personally.  Travel is about storytelling, so make your marketing personal.  People seek transformative experiences that build bonds, spark creativity, rejuvenate, create memories and improve their well-being in various ways.  They want transformative journeys rich in stories that inspire them, take them out of their daily routines and help them to heal, feel and deal.

People want to soul-search, find their purpose in life, feel fulfilled, find ways to give back to others, make an impact in the world, be challenged and face their fears.  People want soulful experiences and a self-reflective journey that is less about consuming and more about engaging.
It's time to tap into the decades' worth of research behind the wellness benefits of travel that supports the true foundation of travel.

Of course, travel is no concrete cure for anything, nor can the proven research be applied to every person's outcome or experiences, but the point is that travel is proven to be healing in a wide range of ways, and this information may help travel companies attract ideal consumers in a more effective way than old-school marketing did.  Marketing a destination or an experience that involves nature may appeal to people looking to lower stress and anxiety. It's one thing to show a client a photo of a beautiful body of water; it's something else entirely to talk to them about how spending time near or in that "blue space" can help them relax, ease tense muscles, get inspired or improve their mental well-being.

Lately, we have lacked human connection, which is something that travel can provide us with.  Marketing experiences that focus on meeting new people and building new relationships or even on strengthening bonds with loved ones can draw in consumers.

One of the many things that travel does is expose us to new ways of living and different cultures around the world.  Cultural experiences deepen our understanding of others, exposes us to new ways of thinking and can expand our spirituality through rituals and ceremonies.  There are many historic, spiritual stories in countries around the world that people are interested in and are beginning to integrate into their own life.

Travel's physical and emotional benefits

Travel offers us the opportunity of intrinsic motivation, personal growth and self-discovery, which could result in mental well-being benefits. Travelers can get a mood boost while improving their happiness by seeing new and exciting places and learning new things.  A travel company should assess what the destinations have to offer in a holistic and natural sense that would appeal to the needs and wants of their consumers.

Travel is a great way to keep physically fit, as well.  Incorporating outdoors activities like kayaking, hiking or even walking around a new city can help keep people active.  Trying new local cuisines not only can expand one's sense of culture and place but also can inspire healthier eating.  Shopping in local food markets or eating from street vendors is an experience that can leave lasting impressions on a traveler.

Explore the healing properties of a destination.  For example, promote the mineral-rich hot springs in Turkey or Costa Rica or the rejuvenating places where the Earth's powers converge to heal and uplift, like Stonehenge, the pyramids of Egypt or the vortexes in Arizona.  Tap into a destination's traditional experiences that are perhaps not as accessible or affordable in the traveler's own country, such as massages in Southeast Asia, Chinese medicines or visits to spiritual places like temples.  People want to dance under a star-lit sky on a remote island with new friends, kayak through a dark cave in Thailand to reach a peacefully quiet lagoon or trek through the Sahara Desert on a camel at sunrise.

What does this mean for travel companies?  Hotels can offer cultural or walking programs that incorporate the destination and the people who live there. Cruises could focus on experiences that go off the beaten path and create long-lasting memories. Travel agencies should focus more on what the individual traveler needs on a more personal level.

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