Feel good, travel better

THE wellness sector of the travel industry is booming, writes Kristie Kellahan.

Do you know your shaman ritual from your myofascial therapy? How about the ins and outs of organic bedding? Wellness travellers are seeking new and better experiences for their health and wellbeing on the road, and travel agents are advised to keep up with the trends.

Wellness travel is defined as that which allows the traveller to maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one’s sense of well-being. It’s a very personal concept, and travellers are looking for many, varied things. The definition comes from the president of the Wellness Tourism Association, Anne Dimon, who says the sector has grown substantially in both supply and demand.

“A decade ago, the term ‘wellness travel’ was primarily associated with the spa experience,” Dimon says. “While a spa visit, especially those associated with stress reduction, can certainly enhance any type of travel, it is not now considered mandatory for wellness travel.”

Dimon says agents need to educate themselves on the growing sector, preferably by joining industry associations and having first-hand experiences at retreats and healing hotels. They should have a portfolio of suppliers that offer what clients are looking for, whether that is yoga and meditation, healthy cooking classes or spiritual adventure. She says agents should be helping clients find the right fit by listening carefully to their needs.

“Wellness travel and tourism mean different things to different people, but one thing is clear: everybody wants it,” says Rona Berg, spa and wellness expert and the editor-in-chief of Organic Spa Magazine.

According to the Global Wellness Summit research, consumers around the world spend US$3.7 trillion annually on their wellness, including yoga and fitness classes, meditation classes and downloads, sleep apps, vitamin supplements, and organic food. The ability to access that when we travel is a growing part of what consumers want. So it’s not surprising, Berg says, that wellness tourism is now valued at US$494 billion globally.

“We are living in a state of what’s been called “permanxiety”, a constant state of anxiety, with a constant low hum of stress and sleep-deprivation that leaves many people feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious,” Berg says. “Travellers are looking for help, and many spas and resorts are going beyond traditional experiences to create programs with a more holistic wellness experience.”

It used to be that hotels only had to offer massages and facials at the in-house spa as a way to attract wellness travellers. They are now going beyond that to find ways to help travellers sleep better, clean up their diets, become more mindful and learn to be happier. That could mean anything from yoga mats supplied in guestrooms, to plentiful vegan and gluten-free options at the breakfast buffet, to dedicated “spiritual wellness” managers to help curate memorable family experiences. Inns of Aurora in upstate New York has even employed a director of serenity.

Wellness rooms in hotels including the Four Seasons Beverly Hills offer air purification systems, meditation videos by Deepak Chopra, circadian lighting, dechlorinated showers and sleep therapy sound machines. Holland America Line has teamed up with O, The Oprah Magazine to create cruise itineraries that feature educational and inspirational sessions with the magazine’s experts. And in the spa world, ‘healing’ is the word on everyone’s lips, including energy healing and programs that promise to change lives through the healing and reprogramming of poor sleep habits.

Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, located on Queensland’s Gold Coast hinterland, is one of Australia’s most awarded eco-tourism wellness retreats. With its organic food, natural setting and high-calibre practitioners, the retreat attracts guests who seek to improve their health and wellness.

Operating for the past 12 years, the retreat has just opened a $1.7 million custom-built Wellness Education Complex to enhance the guest experience.

“There is an increased awareness of the importance of lifestyle in our overall health and so people look for travel opportunities to help them feel better,” says Sharon Kolkka, general manager and wellness director. “Guests are looking for a break that can help provide quietness for their mind, support for their body and soul and the chance to slow down.”

Kolkka says the wellness travel sector grew more than 10% from 2013 to 2015. The Global Wellness Tourism Economy report predicts a growth rate of 9.9% on average per year for the next several years, which is almost twice the rate of global tourism overall.

Many Australian travellers are choosing wellness retreats and hotels domestically to reduce the time and stress of international travel, and for the follow-up access they can more readily have with practitioners in the same time zone.

Travel agents booking guests at Gwinganna receive a 10% commission on fully inclusive packages. Kolkka says guests are choosing longer stays of a week or more, which in turn increases the commissionable amount.

“A key benefit would be the guest returning home happy, relaxed and more likely to go back to the agent for other travel requirements, especially if the agent has introduced them to Gwinganna,” Kolkka says.