Through wellness travel, brief journeys offer lasting health benefits for both body and mind.
By Debra Bokur
The roots of wellness travel run deep. Many ancient civilizations recognized the benefits of thermal waters and mineral springs, trekking great distances to soak in the pursuit of better health. Even the Romans, while expanding their territory thousands of years ago, left paths lined with spa temples and rejuvenating water sanctuaries. Many of them, like the famed Aquae Sulis complex in Bath, England, remain astonishingly intact today and are enduring testaments to humanity’s quest for balance and well-being.
Today, the definition of wellness travel has grown to encompass a broad array of pursuits that range from spa getaways to long-distance, challenging treks through nature, along with journeys devoted specifically to healthy food or mind-body pursuits, such as yoga and meditation. These activities are rapidly gaining popularity: According to multiple sources, including industry expert Shanon Hoffman, publisher of Healing Lifestyles & Spas, wellness tourism ranks as one of the fastest developing sectors of the travel market.
“Wellness travelers are booking shorter stays and more active getaways,” Hoffman says. “And we’re seeing increasing numbers of men … engaged in this type of travel. These tourists are pursuing outdoor activities, boot camp-style fitness/nutrition retreats and more authenticity. Wellness travelers today are much more knowledgeable about health and wellness and expect authentic, evidence-based programs with proven benefits for their health and well-being.”
At Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, guests can indulge in a collection of getaways designed specifically to promote mind-body fitness. Offerings include reflection and breathing classes, complimentary sensory-rich walks, yoga and a host of restorative spa therapies in the property’s luxurious, nature-inspired 23,000-square-foot spa haven.
At the new Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, Florida, Spa Director Kimberly DeOrsey explains that the concept of peace of mind is paramount to the spa’s philosophy of balanced, holistic health. “Personal wellness is more than just a massage and facial,” DeOrsey says. “It’s a lifelong journey that invigorates our bodies and uplifts our spirits in multiple ways. It’s a powerful, life-affirming recipe for rediscovering your true self.”
Treatments and therapies include ancient techniques such as cupping, acupuncture and meditation, while modern pursuits are offered in the form of spin classes, beach boot camps and inspiring workouts. Cooking classes, nutrition counseling and plenty of opportunities to interact with nature round out the approach to holistic, whole-person wellness.
Henderson’s coastal locale is also ideal for wellness travelers. According to Spafinder’s 2015 State of Wellness Travel Report, the five most important elements desired by wellness travelers in a destination or property are beach access, pools or other swimming options, outdoor adventure classes, access to nature and fitness and yoga facilities and classes.
“Wellness travel is as much a mindset and intention towards your vacation, as it is the programming and amenities at the chosen destination,” says Susie Ellis, chairman and CEO of Global Wellness Institute and president of Spafinder Wellness, Inc.
To reap the biggest rewards from your escape, give some thought to what you’d like to achieve before you choose your destination. Things to consider include specific fitness or relaxation goals, the desire for educational programs or classes, access to on-site or nearby entertainment and cuisine expectations.
If you make sure the property you choose ticks all the boxes on your wish list, you’re more likely to come away from your experience with useful tools or insight for moving forward with your own health goals. Remember that the pursuit of wellness doesn’t necessarily have to incorporate brutal early-morning workout schedules or food deprivation. In fact, embracing a mix of experiences is easier than ever, as in the Zip & Zen getaway at Salamander’s Middleburg property, where an active two-hour Tree Top Zip Tour is complemented by a relaxing poolside lunch at the spa and a 50-minute Well-Being Massage.
A wellness vacation, Ellis says, can simply be a time that allows for extra sleep, the opportunity to make healthier food choices or the chance to get moving in some way. “Whether it’s just lovely walks in nature or more intensive fitness, get out of your zone, and experiment and learn,” she says. “These are often the transformative experiences that shake up lifestyle change and get people excited.”
With these statistics from the Global Wellness Institute in mind, wellness travel looks like a trend that’s here to stay.
- Across 211 countries studied, approximately 586.5 million wellness trips are taken annually.
- North America and Europe rank first and second in market size for wellness travelers. The U.S. ranks at the top of national wellness tourism markets with $181 billion in annual expenditures (Germany is second at $42.2 billion).
- Wellness tourism now represents 14.6 percent of all global tourism expenditures.
- Wellness tourists are high spenders, spending 137 percent more per trip than the average tourist.
- Recent data shows that the wellness travel industry is growing almost twice as fast as non-wellness focused tourism.