Operators see growing demand for fitness-oriented excursions
By Michelle Baran
In the packaged-travel space, operators say the trend toward wellness trips centered on fitness and nutrition more than on spa treatments and pampering is gaining traction with a growing number of travelers.
Erica Gragg, co-founder of the Metairie, La.-based Escape to Shape, said, "When we first started Escape to Shape in 2008, we were one of the few, if not only, wellness travel companies that offered experience-based wellness holidays. At that time, we mainly attracted women who had been on traditional yoga retreats before but had never quite experienced the benefits of a culturally immersive wellness retreat."
Gragg said she has seen her business shift from more yoga-based retreats, which appeal predominantly to women, to getaways that go "far beyond yoga" and include meditation, circuit training, boot camps, Pilates, barre classes and dance cardio classes, with a growing number of men signing up.
"Itineraries that offer a wide range of activities that allow guests to not only connect with another culture and its people but to reconnect with themselves in the process, are in increasing demand," said Gragg, whose trips sell out months in advance, sometimes within hours of announcing them.
Through Red Savannah’s Zen program, travelers can book a wellness-focused retreat at Rosa Alpina in the Dolomites of northern Italy.
Last month, upscale packaged-travel company Red Savannah launched Zen, a health and well-being division. Twenty-two health retreats throughout Europe, Asia and Africa were selected to create the portfolio of products focusing on detox, nutrition, weight loss, yoga, mindfulness, fitness, beauty and youth.
"This is not about vague pampering in hotel spas," said Red Savannah's founder and CEO, George Morgan-Grenville, a former Abercrombie & Kent executive. "It is about understanding and healing your body so it can best cope with whatever the future has in store."
Morgan-Grenville said that prior to launching Zen, Red Savannah had seen a 20% increase in the number of well-being trip inquiries each year for the past several years. With the launch of Zen, "we expect this to grow significantly," he said, adding, "We are all in danger of living a very miserable old age unless we get our health sorted well before retirement. People are increasingly waking up to this health time bomb and realizing that now is the time to act."
Robin Brooks, marketing and PR manager for the British tour operator Exodus Travels, said her company is seeing rapid growth, as well. Two years ago, Exodus opened an office in Toronto to more actively court the North American travel market, which appeared to be hungry for the fitness- and wellness-focused trips that Exodus offers, including hundreds of cycling, hiking and trekking trips.
"Where we're seeing the most growth in the North American market are these active tours," Brooks said.
What companies such as Red Savannah, Escape to Shape and Exodus Travels are noticing is that travelers want to be more physically engaged when traveling, but they are also more keenly aware of what they are putting into their bodies when on the road.
"Locally sourced foods are definitely in demand," Gragg said. "Additionally, being able to accommodate gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free while not being taste-free is always on the rise."
She added that while it can be a challenge to accommodate those needs while on the road, it is much less so now than it was even five years ago. Escape to Shape takes its wellness-minded clients to destinations as diverse as Cambodia, Chile, Botswana, Iceland, Morocco, Bhutan and New York.
"Thankfully, anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables as well as healthy fats such as raw nuts, coconuts and olive oil and avocados are indigenous to many of the locations we travel to, so with a little creativity and good-quality local ingredients, a little goes a long way," she said.
While fitness and nutrition appear to be redefining the travel experience for many, spa treatments and pampering haven't completely fallen out of fashion with the wellness-minded set.
"The two go hand in hand," Gragg said. "But I would say that an authentic, healthy travel experience is what most people are seeking nowadays. It's much more than spa treatments. It's having a fitness instructor who helps you meet your goals, a chef who understands your nutritional needs and a guide who provides you the opportunity to travel deeper and experience a culture in an authentic, nontouristy way."