Despite financial concerns, half of consumers plan to maintain or increase spending on leisure travel in the months ahead, regardless of income level, according to a recent Accenture study.
Some are looking to not only get away, but to also focus on their well-being: Among high-income consumers, 39% say they already have a luxury trip or wellness retreat booked through early 2023. Among millennials, 21% say they have booked a wellness retreat for the same time frame, the report shows.
Accenture’s survey of more than 11,000 consumers in 16 countries finds that health and well-being are considered “essential,” with 33% saying they’re more focused on self-care than they were a year ago.
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As consumers reframe their mindset, “There is a huge opportunity here for travel and consumer-facing companies to tap into ecosystem partnerships and the local communities to offer differentiated experiences,” says Emily Weiss, a senior managing director at Accenture who leads its travel industry practice globally.
She says personal well-being has become “less an indulgence and more of a non-negotiable essential for today’s consumers, even at a time when many are feeling financial pressures.”
According to Weiss, wellness travel today is “an extension of the values and lifestyle of the traveler.”
With wellness tourism predicted to grow an average of 21% annually through 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, travel startups and properties are ramping up services to accommodate wellness-focused consumers.
At Vacayou, a PhocusWire Hot 25 Startup for 2022 that links travelers with wellness getaways and active vacations, organic traffic is up 300% from a year ago, says founder and CEO Muirgheal Montecalvo. Website traffic has been on the rise since January for mental health escapes in particular.
“People are starting to travel again, and they’re looking for healthier ways to travel,” Montecalvo says. “They are really starting to invest more in their self-care and their health. I think that is reflected in travel.”
Montecalvo created Vacayou in late 2019 but the site only launched in June 2021 due to the pandemic. Vacayou says it will launch a booking engine in October.
According to Montecalvo, wellness travel means different things to different people: Some consider it hiking and biking; others see it as a spa weekend or a yoga retreat. Many are looking to “get out into the open into the national parks,” she says. “They want the fresh-air vacations.”
Pre-pandemic, she had to correct the misconception that wellness travel meant weight-loss trips. COVID-19 “helped bring wellness and the importance of taking a healthier vacation to light,” she says. People “were starting to get more physically active, they were taking better care of themselves.”
But as interest in wellness rises, Montecalvo warns against “wellness washing” in the hospitality industry.
“Throwing a yoga class into a hotel doesn’t make you a wellness hotel,” she says. “It’s really important to us that we vet the resorts [to ascertain] that they truly are wellness properties.
“I’m not going to mention any hotel chains. But there are a few that were out there saying they’re a wellness chain, and they’re really not.”
Concern for health and wellness is even extending to airport layovers.
People are looking for “a positive distraction” for their three or four hours spent waiting for a flight, says Sanctifly founder and CEO Karl Llewellyn.
Founded in 2016, Sanctifly is a membership app that directs business and leisure travelers to “anything that’s good for you within five miles of any international airport,” including gym, pool and spa facilities. Sixty percent of Sanctifly customers are businesses that buy a membership for their employees, and 40% are individuals.
August and September 2022 have been Sanctifly’s busiest months ever, up 500% on last year and 150% on 2019, says Llewellyn.
“Our attitude toward travel is moving away from beers and burgers at the airport, to, ‘I’m going to take better care of myself in my airport downtime,’” he says. Pre-pandemic, Llewellyn says, 60% of people opted to pass the time in the airport lounge, compared to only 35% now.
The Sanctifly app asks: Where are you going? How long are you going to be there? And what do you want to do? The user picks one of six “moods”: relaxation, replenish, energize, wellness, fitness/gym or sanctuary.
The sanctuary category was born out the pandemic.
“People started to ask us, ‘Where can I go to have space, because I don’t want to be in a crowded space?’” The app tells you where you can “leave your luggage, go for your run, come back, go for a shower – all at the airport.”
The United States is Sanctifly’s busiest market globally, which Llewellyn attributes partly to flight delays.
“Travel disruption is our bread and butter,” he says. “If you’ve got six hours at an airport, we are the go-to product for you. Nothing else will tell you what to do with six hours at LAX, JFK, Atlanta.
“We think of it as changing the mindset to, ‘I have a six-hour layover. Great! I’m going to make the most of my six hours in New York or wherever it is.’”
As soon as COVID travel restrictions lifted, “travelers were eager to immerse themselves in positive, healthy and enriching experiences,” says Diana Stobo, founder and owner of The Retreat Costa Rica. “We saw many guests book our more results-driven programs [focused on fitness and healing],” she says – a trend other properties have noted, as well.
The Retreat Costa Rica has seen a rise in bookings among 28- to 35-year-old women, as well an increase in male guest bookings. Stobo says most of the property’s bookings are direct through the website, with word of mouth and organic searches playing a big role in growth.
“During the pandemic we all began to look at the quality of our lives and evaluate our various lifestyles,” Stobo says. “Many of us realized the benefits of self-care and living a healthier lifestyle.”
With the pandemic, Stobo has also observed a rising demand for non-touch options such as reiki and meditation, she says.
“From our perspective, we are happily on track to grow our brand, awareness and business. However, with the current economic climate, we step forward with eyes wide open and continue to flex as needed.”
Sonu Shivdasani, co-founder and CEO of Soneva, says Soneva Soul, the company’s expansive wellness concept that offers a “lifestyle evolution,” has been “very well received since its launch in late 2021, and that reinforces our belief that guests are singularly prioritizing personal well-being like never before.”
The pandemic gave many people the opportunity to pause and rethink their values and priorities, says Shivdasani.
In addition to programs focused on exercise, rest, relationships and eating well, Soneva Soul also offers guests the ability to meet with “expert international doctors and healers [with] the latest innovative treatments and equipment.”
Shivdasani says the Maldives had very few travel restrictions in place during the pandemic, so Soneva Soul was able to welcome a high number of international guests over the past two years. Growth from short-haul markets, such as India, has been exponential.
“We have also witnessed a dynamic shift toward family travel to the Maldives versus only honeymoons that were symbolic of the destination in the past,” says Shivdasani.
“Reunions with family and friends have also become very popular, and we are already witnessing this emerging trend at our resorts through an increase in multi-generational travelers coming to stay at Soneva.”
Palmaïa, The House of AïA, a luxury wellness resort in Mexico that opened in 2019, has also seen more families traveling for a wellness getaway, says Kelly Whitehead, Palmaia’s senior wellness manager, U.S. East.
The Mexican resort is seeing particularly strong demand from vegetarian and vegan guests who are drawn to the plant-based “gastronomic experience,” as well as from families looking to enroll their kids in Palmaïa’s wellness program for children.
To accommodate traveler and family needs, “Technology is helping to customize and curate the overall experience for the guest,” says Whitehead.
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