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What is Wellness Tourism and How Can You Harness it for Your Events?

31 Oct, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Call it a side effect of sports tourism – or perhaps a grown-up variation on it. Maybe even call it a realization of too much time in the stands and not enough 'me' time. But whatever you call it, wellness tourism, which includes spa visits, yoga retreats and travels that center on healthy eating, is on the grow, and a lot of sports parents are taking advantage of it – including while they’re traveling to tournaments with their kids.

And it’s lucrative. Wellness tourism is, in fact, the fastest-growing sector of tourism, according to an article in The Lonely Planet. Its biggest market is right here in the U.S.

As a note: This does not include trips outside the U.S. to seek medical treatment that is not available int he U.S. or approved by the FDA; nor does it include marijuana tourism, which is a rapidly growing economy in its own right.

The U.S., says the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), is the largest national wellness tourism market by far (with an annual $200 billion-plus when last counted. Globally, most trips are domestic (83 percent) but international/inbound wellness travel has been growing at a much faster rate. The last figures from the GWI showed growth of 22 percent in trips and 20 percent in revenues for international, compared to 17percent and 11percent for domestic.

Need more proof? The GWI just released a new report, The Global Wellness Monitor, in which it discusses the growing phenom that is wellness tourism. That report clocks the tourism sector as a $639.4 billion economy (2017 figure).

For example, the report notes,

Wellness travelers made 830 million international and domestic wellness trips in 2017, which is 139 million more than in 2015. Wellness trips account for 6.6 percent of all tourism trips but represent 16.8 percent of total tourism expenditures. This is because wellness travelers tend to spend much more per trip than the average traveler.

So there you have it. A growing market with money to spend. Why is this? Blame it on two groups: the Baby Boomers (who want not just wellness but memorable bucket-list experiences and who are spending money for events like bicycle tourism) and Millennials (who are not only health-conscious but who want to fit in some time for themselves on travel, even when they’re traveling to sports events for their kids).

So with this in mind, what’s a good strategy for sports event owners to capitalize on the burgeoning wellness market – without creating whole new events? Here are some ideas from around the web:

Tapping into Hotels’ Offerings: If you have a hotel (or even more than one) selected for the sports event, those hotels may (and likely do) already offer something for this market. PhocusWright says to explore specific treatments hotels may offer; detox services are mentioned quite a bit on social media, for example. By publicizing them to parents, friends or other family members – or even older siblings – you can ride the wave and create an additional amenity. You also create an additional revenue stream for your hotel partner and that never hurts when you create historical financial data to use in years to come.

One example of hotels already offering services for athletes and their families – though there are many – is the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa Valley, which has unveiled its new Stay & Play package for golfers, which includes time on the links (it just hosted the Safeway Open) and spa treatments.

Creating Wellness Experiences in a New Destination: There are plenty of ideas available on the Internet to create wellness experiences and incentives in the workplace; all it takes is the know-how to personalize those for the city you’re going to be visiting for your tournament. Compile a list of providers, such as massage therapists, day spas and yoga studios and post it on your website in a “grown-ups only” section. You may be able to work with providers to offer discounts on services for your attendees. The sports commission or convention and visitors bureau may also have information on services and vendors.

Getting Active with What’s Available: According to the Virtuoso travel site, all it takes is a little research and – voila! – a wellness afternoon for parents, particularly those who are already active (since not everyone is into mindfulness and massage): “Water activities, including surfing, white water rafting and SCUBA diving, are riding a wave of popularity. Other adventures, such as zip-lining, also fuel adrenaline, which sets the stage for deep relaxation afterwards. Physical activities aren’t just for adults. Families love the combination of movement and the outdoors. Biking is one favorite for young and old alike.”

Dip a Toe into the Waters: Want to know if the crowd is receptive? Set up a special group warm-up for the kids with a personal trainer – and at the same time, host a yoga or stretching session for parents – something that lasts only a few minutes. Then ask them whether they’d like to see more offerings like that. The worst thig they can say is no.

Make sure you don’t dismiss it outright: Wellness tourism is not a transient fad indulged in by new-agers, nor is it just for the rich and elite traveler. Data collected has shown it to be a market that is growing and one that savvy planners can tap into as an additional revenue stream.

“Wellness is not just a trend. There has been a collective shift in consciousness toward things … [that is] progressive and encompasses all sectors and demographics,” says Rohit Verma, executive director at Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures in the PhocusWright article. “Nowhere is this more noticeable than the hospitality industry where operators have been forced to rethink their entire business strategies through a wellness lens.”

And destinations have capitalized on it. Several years back, Kutsher's Resort in the Catskills (famed as being the inspiration for Kellerman's, the setting of the movie, "Dirty Dancing,") announced it was reinventing itself as a haven for yoga travelers. And an article in none other than the New York Times noted the upstate area as a whole is "shifting its focus to wellness, as opposed to shuffleboard and stand-up comedy." 

Beginning in the 1830s, the county was a refuge for city dwellers seeking a healthier environment, especially to rebound from tuberculosis, according to an area historian. Those visitors stayed in rustic retreats and engaged in activities like fishing, he added.

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