Five Biggest Trends in Wellness Travel, According to WTA Members

Wellness travel is no passing trend. Case-in-point: The rapidly growing Wellness Tourism Association (WTA). The organization just celebrated its one-year anniversary and now has 60 members and partners from eight countries.

Following the release of its first survey on Wellness Vacations, the WTA polled its members to find out the top wellness travel trends for 2019. The Global Wellness Institute predicts the wellness tourism sector will reach close to $1 trillion U.S. on a global level by the year 2020 – the WTA predicts growth for the following five trends:

Going Solo:
When it comes to wellness travel, many people are going solo. The results of the WTA’s recent Wellness Vacation survey found that close to 25 per cent of respondents preferred travelling alone. At Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, 50 per cent of their wellness package guests are women traveling solo, a figure that increases to 75 per cent for three- and four-night retreats, according to Davina Bernard, Director of Wellness.

At the famed Canyon Ranch resorts in Lenox, Massachusetts and Tucson, Arizona, the integrative wellness brand historically skews higher with female guests, but has experienced an increase in solo male travelers desiring to regain a sense of purpose and focus on self-care. “Half of our guests are solo travelers, and many of them are seeking an immersive, self-reflective experience,” says President and COO Thomas Klein.

When it comes to solo wellness travel, the common goal is taking control of one’s health and a want for their journey to be private and personal. Tammy Petersen of Chicago-based Retreats Unlimited says, “Our retreats are mostly luxury, so while we thought that people would travel together to save money, we are seeing so many solo travelers – especially women. Even when they ask friends to join them, they never share rooms.”

Rise in Newcomers:
A growing number of people are curious about wellness travel. “In 2018, approximately 50 per cent of our guests were new to Pritikin,” says Jennifer Weinberg, Director of Marketing Communications at the Miami wellness retreat. She says that with the ease of spreading the word via social media, coupled with a rising interest in health and wellness travel, she believes that this trend is here to stay.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, 95 per cent of the people who attend all-inclusive retreats have never attended a wellness retreat before. Supporting this trend, over 60 per cent of WTA Survey respondents indicated that they had never taken a Wellness Vacation as they themselves described, but hoped to do so in the near future and wanted more information.

Greater Flexibility with Length of Stays:
Members are seeing demand for a wider range of durations for retreats and programs. Kathleen LeSage, co-owner of the 40-year-old New Life Hiking Spa in Killington, Vermont, says that over the past three years, the number of guests that have stayed longer than two weeks has increased by 90 per cent. “The trend to longer stays prompted us to add the 21-night wellness retreat launched in 2017,” she says.

Hilton Head Health’s senior VP of Sales and Marketing Jessica Brantley says that while “annual visits” have been popular for years, guests are now planning out shorter, more frequent trips (two to four times per year) to stay on track, while others are dedicating resources to commit to an 8- to 12-week stay to make a significant and efficient impact on their health. She has also observed that while such bookings might have once been considered impulsive trips to, perhaps, drop a few pounds, H3 has found guests to be more structured and intentional with their wellness travel plans of late. “Twenty per cent of guests at Hilton Head Health plan their next visits before they leave,” she says.

Mental Health Matters:
Mental health awareness is increasingly infused into all elements of life, and travel is no exception. Petersen of Retreats Unlimited says this might be the most “exciting trend for us,” as she sees more of her retreat participants totally shut down for a few days. “When this happens, there are often tears, deep conversations, and expressed feelings that they are not the only ones going through something.” She says they come for the yoga and fitness, but leave with a better sense of their own mental health. Bernard notices a similar situation with her wellness guests. “They have been searching for ‘yoga retreats’ online, but it is the content around ‘mindfulness’ and how to live your best life that they tell us is the best part of our retreats,” she says.

In response to demand from guests for more mindfulness education, Pritikin has added a licensed psychologist to its roster of medical experts which, according to Weinberg, will not only increase the availability of one-on-one mental health consultations, but add new lectures, including Mindset Maintenance covering strategies to stay on track and prevent reversion to unhealthy habits. And, at Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary in Koh Samui, Thailand, co-founder Karina Stewart is also seeing an increasing number of guests who desire to address their mental health and wellbeing, along with their physical health.

Demand for Specific Solutions and Increasing Awareness of Value Proposition:
Consumers are becoming more aware of the value associated with a true wellness vacation that is planned with a specific goal and carefully researched to ensure the right fit prior to booking.

At Kamalaya, Stewart has witnessed more guests coming from all over the world because they are dealing with stress and stress-related symptoms due to fast-paced lifestyles. She is seeing an increasing number of travelers looking for health solutions and a results-focused approach to such health concerns as stress management, insomnia, and achieving a healthy weight. “The vast majority of guests come to Kamalaya with a goal in mind, whether it’s clearly defined (e.g. stress, detox or fitness) or less defined such as a need to reset internally (e.g. to address difficult life changes back home, relationship breakup, change of job, or emotional imbalance due to the loss of a loved one, perhaps),” she says. “Some want to re-establish better lifestyle habits, eliminate some unhealthy habits, and fulfill the need to reset themselves.”

At Eupepsia Wellness Center in Bland, Virginia, co-founder Shivani Schneider says solution-based programs are most in demand, in particular the four-to-seven-day (and longer) De-stress & Relax retreats, closely followed by Customized Weight Management retreats. “Through personal assessments of each guest, we also became aware that many of them suffer from some type of sleep disorder, which is the direct result of imbalances in the body – and our programs are specifically tailored to help find solutions by addressing imbalances at their root cause,” she adds.

When Canyon Ranch opened 40 years ago, no one knew what wellness meant, says Klein. Now, he says, “consumers understand it, value it and, increasingly, expect and demand it at home, in the workplace and on vacation.”