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Human nature

Post-lockdown, safety and nature are ranked as extremely important by consumers. Anne Dimon reports on the latest findings from the Wellness Tourism Association

Consumer interest in regenertive travel is driving demand Denis Moskvinov/shutterstock
Consumers mentioned Bali as an aspirational destination for wellness photo: shutterstock/Maridav
Bali is one of the top desinations cited by consumers interested in wellness travel photo: shutterstock/fokke baarssen

As travel resumes, personal health is set to be a priority. More people have come to realise its true value and want to be more pro-active, and this is being reflected in spa visits.

The key question for the WTA’s 2021 Wellness Travel Consumer Survey was what wellness-minded consumers consider their top priorities?

The third survey since the WTA launched in 2018, the aim was to give spa and wellness operators and the hospitality industry a clearer understanding of consumers’ priorities as they plan their travels.

Business improving
Happily, members of the WTA are reporting business is looking up. According to Kimberly Rossi, director of wellness and business development, at the Art of Living Retreat Center in North Carolina, says there has been a steady stream of visitors since reopening in April 2021: “People are ready – more than ever – to explore, be in community, and practice radical self-care.”

Some are running at higher capacity and charging more than pre-COVID. “In some segments, we’re running more than a 20 per cent increase in guest and room rates over 2020 and 2019,” says Denise Perkins, VP of marketing at Strata Wellness at The Garden of the Gods Resort and Club in Colorado.

Marina Oshchepkova at Bürgenstock Hotels says the Healthy by Nature wellness concept, launched in 2019 at the Waldhotel in Switzerland, welcomed three times as many guests between January and September of 2021.

Davina Bernard, director of wellness for Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Canada says enquiries for multi-day, wellness-focused retreats have significantly increased. “People are searching for holistic programmes now, which they would never have considered prior to the pandemic,” she says.

Cleanliness is a priority
A certified safe and clean hotel environment ranked number one across the Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers. WeTravel, which is on track to reach US$20m (€17.4m, £14.6m) in wellness-related bookings in 2021, reports retreat leaders are booking out entire retreat centres or boutique hotels for their trips, with groups of between six and 12 people.

Sustainability and green practices ranked number four in importance. Keri Pfeiffer, head of account management at WeTravel says: “Travellers booking with us are concerned about sustainable travel and giving back and are pushing retreat leaders to choose eco-friendly accommodation, donate a portion of sales to a cause or add a volunteer aspect to their trips.”

After polling with closed and open questions, three main themes emerged from the WTA research: safety: both in terms of physical safety plus exposure to covid; access to stillness and; quiet spaces, nature and the outdoors.

Desire for nature
“Access to fitness activities in nature” was included in the top five offerings rated “extremely important” by respondents and these consumers also overwhelmingly included references to “nature and the outdoors” in their responses to the open question.

The importance of nature has been an over-riding theme since the WTA surveys began, and there is every indication that demand for easily accessible natural assets and the opportunity to spend time in nature will continue.

When asked what will influence them most when it came to booking wellness-travel over the next two years, respondents cited price; flexibility with bookings and cancellation policies; trust in the supplier and destination management and how well local lawmakers are managing the pandemic.

Call of the ocean
Another question posed was which geographical region would consumers choose when they feel comfortable travelling. Reflecting the demographic of the respondents, the US was the most popular country mentioned, with Hawaii being the most preferred state.

Bali and Thailand were mentioned in South east Asia, while Italy was the most selected country in Europe. Costa Rica was favoured in Latin America, and the Caribbean was often-mentioned.

When asked why they wanted to travel to those destinations, the prominent theme was nature. The most frequently cited reasons for choosing a destination were its beauty, beaches, ocean, climate, outdoor adventures and tranquility. Others made their selections based on locations being safe, easy and close to home or being on their bucket list.

Overall, the takeaways from the WTA research are that demand for wellness travel is increasing, while consumers rank ‘safety’ and ‘nature as their top priorities and millennials are leading the way with respect to those consumers who are planning trips.

Finally, regenerative travel– which features sustainability, green practices, engaging and giving back to local communities – will continue to gain prominence as consumers increase their commitment to their overall wellbeing.

These five offerings were rated as extremely important

• A certified safe and clean hotel environment

• A purified water system throughout the hotel

• Access to fitness activities which take place in nature

• A hotel environment with sustainable and green practices in place

• Guestrooms with an air filtration system to guarantee purified air

About the WTa survey

The three-month online survey was carried out during April, May and June 2021.

The gathering of survey data was administered by the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) in collaboration with WTA research associate, Danny Kessler PhD, assistant professor at Dongseo University, while the International College in Busan, South Korea, collected responses from close to 2,500 consumers from 52 countries and territories.

About the respondents:

• 64% female

• 65% between the ages of 26 and 54

• 43% have an annual income of more than US$75,000 (€64,660, £55,000)e

• 60% have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

• 84% reported they participate in wellness activities when they travel

• 61% reported they’re planning a wellness vacation

• 50% of those planning a wellness vacation were Millennials

• 75% were from the US

Participants were asked to rank a collection of 16 assets, amenities, activities and other offerings that had been sourced from industry data and expertise.

The data collected revealed what offerings are most important to key consumers as they plan their future wellness travel.

WTA Wellness Travel Consumer Survey: Key findings

• To return feeling rejuvenated’ is the most highly-rated motivational statement

• Millennials are the most likely demographic to plan a wellness vacation within the next two years

• Baby boomers are driven by the desire for proactive self-care

• Desire to spend time in nature continues to be a prominent theme

• Mental health is an emerging theme, and so is the need for stress management seminars and digital detox

• A pro-active attitude prevails: people are boosting immunity to avoid getting sick

• Wellness travel is associated with meeting like-minded people

• Social connection is becoming more important

• Safety and trust are major concerns, suggesting established brands may have an advantage over individual properties

• Interest in nature suggests remote locations will increase in popularity.

• Baby boomers are attacted to places where they can learn new things about health and wellness

About the author:

Anne Dimon is a co-founder, president and CEO of the Wellness Tourism Association

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2022 issue 1
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