Wellness travel continues its upward trajectory

Global Wellness Institute senior research fellows Ophelia Yeung, left, and Katherine Johnston flank CEO Susie Ellis, presenting the Global Wellness Tourism Economy report at WTM.
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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

Wellness tourism has been steadily transforming the travel industry, particularly the luxury sector. And the latest report from the Global Wellness Institute shows that healthy, active travel has not only kept up with all the rosy predictions for its expansion but also holds promise for even faster future growth.

According to the 2018 Global Wellness Tourism Economy report released this week at the World Travel Market in London, wellness tourism grew from a $563 billion market in 2015 to $639 billion in 2017, or 6.5% annually. That's more than more than twice as fast as tourism overall, which grew 3.2% a year.

That growth is expected to accelerate to 7.5% annually through 2022, compared to the 6.4% growth forecast for overall tourism. By 2022, wellness tourism spend will hit $919 billion, with 1.2 billion wellness trips taken annually, according to the report, which is the fifth annual measurement of the global wellness tourism economy.

The Global Wellness Institute says its first report in 2013 "put wellness tourism on the world's radar, defining it as 'travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one's personal wellbeing.'"

And in just a few short years, the group says, "wellness tourism burst into the consumer consciousness. Wellness, hospitality and travel are now converging in unprecedented ways, from the 'healthy hotel' concept going utterly mainstream, to airports, airlines, and cruises injecting so much wellness programming, to the profusion of ever-more-creative wellness destinations, retreats and tours."

Indeed, as the report documents, the wellness concept is transforming almost every aspect of the travel industry. The trend years ago pushed luxury hotels to take their spas far beyond a few massage and facial treatment rooms to begin offering medical and local holistic treatment options, healthier menus and wellness-focused activities for meetings groups.

Big hotel chains have developed brands dedicated to wellness, and last year Hyatt bought Miraval, the Arizona destination wellness resort as it was beginning an early stage of expansion, and the Exhale spa brand.

The Global Wellness Institute said this growth will only accelerate in years ahead, as wellness tourism "lies at the powerful intersection of two massive, booming industries: the $2.6 trillion tourism industry and the $4.2 trillion wellness market."

That's especially good news for luxury travel companies tapping into this hot and still very much evolving trend, and the report notes that "wellness travelers are very high-spending, high-yield tourists."

In 2017, international wellness tourists on average spent $1,528 per trip. That's 53% more than the typical international tourist. The premium is even higher for domestic wellness tourists, who at an average of $609 per trip spent 178% more than the average domestic tourist.

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