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Interest in wellness travel continues at a healthy pace

More people say they want to connect with nature, look and feel better, and return to everyday life feeling rejuvenated

More people are looking to connect with nature.
More people are looking to connect with nature.Pasko Maksim - stock.adobe.com

The Global Wellness Institute has predicted that by 2022, global wellness tourism will near the $1 trillion mark.

“That certainly may change post pandemic,” says Anne Dimon, president of Wellness Tourism Association and editor of TraveltoWellness.com. “But I strongly believe, as do many other industry experts, that the wellness tourism sector will recover stronger than ever.”

After the year-plus that we’ve had? Wellness travel, defined by WTA as “travel that allows the traveler to maintain, enhance, or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one’s sense of wellbeing” is predictably appealing.

In fact, in a recent WTA survey, 74 percent of respondents said they were already planning a wellness vacation.

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“Today’s world is full of unpredictable events that can make us feel uncertain and out of balance, contributing to stress,” says Simon Marxer, director of spa and wellbeing for the Miraval Group, a global leader in wellness resorts and spas. “People are looking for experiences that help them recenter themselves and elevate their spirits.

“As we move forward in 2021, we anticipate wellness travel to be even more popular as people look to better themselves, mind, body and spirit.”

In 2020, when WTA asked consumers their motivation for taking a post-pandemic wellness vacation, the top response was to return to everyday life feeling rejuvenated. Other top motivating factors were to escape the demands of everyday life, to look and feel better, and to connect with nature.

It’s more than spa treatments

Wellness travel, which began in the spa, used to be about pampering and luxury, focusing on body and beauty treatments. Or losing weight. Today, it’s much more comprehensive, encompassing physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being programs.

“Wellness travel has surpassed visiting a spa or attending a retreat,” says Teresa Flyger, director of global brand wellness for Hilton. “Today’s travelers desire more. They want full experiences that bring all their wellness goals — body and mind — together in one place.

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“It’s as much about transformational travel as it is about wellness travel.”

A Miraval Group wellness resort.
A Miraval Group wellness resort.Diane Bair for The Boston Globe

Casey Lavin, general manager at Montage Palmetto Bluff, which will be hosting its inaugural Well Living Weekend in July and is well-known for its variety of wellness rituals, agrees, “Wellness travel has become far more holistic in recent years than ever before. Whereas previously wellness travel may have simply meant a trip to a spa to enjoy a facial, massage. or body treatment, today those vacations are centered around one’s overall well-being,” she says. “Beyond those indulgent treatments, wellness travel today is designed to address mind, body, and soul through therapies such as yoga, meditation, spirituality, exercise that takes advantage of the natural surroundings, talks and consultations with industry experts, and other healing practices.”

Mainstream hotels have responded with a variety of programs and creative ways to refresh the mind and body, including expanded fitness programs, healthier restaurant and mini bar menus, on-demand fitness classes, and more.

“Most of our hotels across the country are offering creative ways to refresh the mind and body in 2021, beyond simply working out,” says Flyger. “Consumers have shown that they want unique, specialized, and safe experiences, like healthy eating, meditation, and digital detoxes.”

The spa programming at resorts worldwide has also expanded, with activities like forest bathing, soul detoxing, mindfulness sessions, self-awareness programs, equestrian therapy, sound baths, plant-based cooking classes, death doulas, and more. Some resorts are even offering classes on sex and finances!

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What appears to be a mother and daughter walking on the log while hiking in the forest
Being in nature, experts agree, is a natural mood booster and stress reliever.Adobe Stock

Nature takes center stage

A panel of experts at a recent Global Wellness Summit agreed that during the pandemic, many of us rediscovered the value and healing power of nature and wilderness settings. Being in nature, experts agree, is a natural mood booster and stress reliever.

“It’s proven that we feel more inspired and energized by the sensory elements of nature, so this is something we are seeing more of as part of wellness travel,” says Flyger.

Moving into the future, wellness travelers can expect more emphasis on outdoor activities, and nature-based programs.

“We’ve found that since the pandemic guests are looking to tap into the environment even more than before,” says Lavin. “There’s so much more appreciation for the outdoors and how it contributes to our mental well-being.”

Montage Palmetto Bluff, for example, has brought on a naturalist to help guests find ways to connect with the environment. The resort also offers early-morning Dawn Chorus tours to hear birds in its Southern Maritime Forest, and monthly stargazing with the resort’s Constellation Concierge.

Sustainability and health for the environment will also be important. “Wellness living also includes wellness for the planet, and that certainly carries over into wellness travel,” says Dimon. “With the increasing importance of nature as a must-have with wellness travelers, it makes sense to protect it.”

Plan your wellness escape

Ready to relax, recharge, and reenergize? Dimon recommends that you give some thought to what you really want and need. Ask yourself some serious questions. What is your specific goal and motivation for planning a wellness getaway? Is it simply rest and relaxation or do you want to kickstart a new wellness lifestyle? Are you looking for time to reconnect with yourself and nature?

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Define what you mean by relaxation. “Rest and relaxation look different to everyone,” says Marxer. “Some guests want to lay by the pool with a cold smoothie in hand, others want to fill their days with spa treatments and pampering, and others want to push their limits with activity and adventure.”

Consider what type of accommodation you’d like. Would you prefer an intimate country inn surrounded by nature or a bustling, vibrant city hotel? Or are you looking for a luxury resort or designated wellness retreat?

Dining is also an important consideration. For example, would you like to combine your wellness getaway with international gourmet dining? Or would you prefer lighter spa cuisine or menus geared toward weight loss?

How would you like to spend your evenings: quietly in your room, attending workshops and classes, or out on the town taking in the local sights?

Finally, consider budget and close-to-home alternatives.

“Remember you do not have to necessarily travel far to find the type of wellness vacation or wellness retreat you seek,” says Dimon. “In fact, we feel the new ‘wellness staycation,’ which focuses on closer-to-home travel by car or shorter, direct flights, will be kinder to the budget.”

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Even a family road trip can become a feel-good, wellness vacation. “If you’re a nature lover, plan a road trip that takes you through scenic routes and stop to do an outdoor meditation or yoga, amidst a healthy hike,” Flyger advises.

Above all, be open to new experiences. “I always advise guests to keep an open mind and go outside their comfort zone in order to have truly transformative experiences,” says Marxer.


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com