Wellness travel on the rise: From reconnection to yoga and spiritual journeys

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Wellness Travel

This feature is brought to you by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, a surge of individuals has begun prioritizing their health and wellbeing. Data reveals that, as per Public Health England’s survey in 2020, a significant 80% of respondents intended to adopt healthier lifestyles in 2021. Meanwhile, a 2021 Ipsos study indicated that 62% of Americans felt health has gained precedence post-pandemic, influencing the way we travel.

The 2022 Travel Trends research by Virtuoso, in partnership with YouGov, disclosed that currently 21% of international travellers embark on journeys with health and wellness at the forefront. It predicts this number is likely to escalate in 2023, with 29% of worldwide travellers expressing their interest in wellness-oriented travel. Emerging trends highlight the importance of reconnection — with family, friends, and partners — and emphasize the need for sleep wellness. Innovations such as in-flight meditation apps and sleep retreats designed for insomniacs are gaining traction.

Emlyn Brown, the vice president of wellbeing at Accor, Europe’s largest hotel and hospitality corporation, reveals the rapid advancement of health and wellness technology is creating exhilarating opportunities. From guided meditation and sleep therapy to dynamic bathing, cryotherapy, and infrared saunas, these new offerings are being explored. With the popularity of smartwatches and fitness apps, guests bring their health data with them, prompting companies to create tailored wellness experiences across spa, nutrition, fitness, and sleep sectors.

Wellness travel has evolved beyond the hotel and spa setting. Paul Joseph, the founder of Health and Fitness Travel, explains that wellness travel now includes a range of experiences that enhance the physical and mental health of travellers. Instead of conventional wellness vacations, customers are offered bespoke retreats with tailored wellness programs.

Expedia has termed this shift as a ‘no-normal’ era of wellness travel. Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands, states that the demand for wellness breaks has increased by 30% from 2021 to 2022, with almost half (46%) of global travellers more inclined towards wellness breaks. The popularity of unconventional activities such as forest bathing, food bootcamps, chakra sessions, puppy yoga, and laughter therapy has surpassed traditional spa services.

The definition of ‘wellness’ today is multi-dimensional, according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI). Fitness vacations and adventure travel designed to enhance wellbeing and life balance, alongside mental and physical retreats, fall under its umbrella. The wellness economy is set to grow annually at an average rate of 9.9% until 2025, reaching almost $7 trillion (£5.5 trillion), according to GWI predictions.

“Wellness holidays allow you to rest and revive in your own way, mentally and physically,” suggests Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel. The surge in demand for nature-based vacations has prompted the company to offer a range of such holidays, including river kayaking.

Active relaxation is an emerging trend. Wellness has integrated into conventional holiday breaks as well. On the Beach, a package tour operator, has put together a list of ‘dopamine-inducing’ destinations, stimulating our senses. One of the world’s largest holiday companies, Tui, has also started curated wellness breaks in a bid to help travellers ‘find their happy.’

As travel and wellness merge, our choices on how to rejuvenate have become more specific and engaging, submerging us in the external world to comfort our internal one. Whether we’re assisting a goat herder in Morzine or running a desert marathon, the goal is clear: finding our unique form of wellness.

Featured in the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Click here to subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine. (Available in select countries only).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wellness Travel

What is wellness travel and how has it grown in popularity since the pandemic?

Wellness travel caters to individuals who want to maintain, enhance or initiate a healthy lifestyle and support their overall sense of wellbeing while they travel. The popularity of wellness travel has surged since the pandemic, as people have become more health-conscious and are seeking ways to improve both their physical and mental health. Trends include reconnection trips, sleep wellness, and the use of wellness apps. Moreover, hotels are integrating wellness technologies to offer personalized wellness experiences for guests.

What is the ‘no-normal’ era of wellness travel, as termed by Expedia?

The ‘no-normal’ era of wellness travel is a new phase where wellness retreats and outdoor destinations beyond the usual are seeing a surge in demand. This term denotes the shift from traditional norms to diverse activities such as forest bathing, food bootcamps, chakra sessions, puppy yoga, and laughter therapy.

How are technology and personal data being used in wellness travel?

Health and wellness technology is advancing rapidly, creating exciting possibilities for travelers. Guests are now carrying their health data through smartwatches and fitness apps. Hotels and wellness establishments are using this data to create bespoke wellness experiences, including personalized spa, nutrition, fitness, and sleep regimes.

How are traditional holiday companies responding to the trend of wellness travel?

Traditional holiday companies have started to integrate wellness aspects into their offerings. For example, tour operator ‘On the Beach’ has curated ‘dopamine-inducing’ destinations that stimulate all senses. Similarly, Tui, one of the world’s largest holiday companies, launched curated wellness breaks partnering with TV personality Davina McCall for a ‘find your happy’ campaign.

What types of active wellness travel are seeing a rise in popularity?

Active wellness travel that gives participants a natural high, often called ‘endorphin tourism’, is gaining popularity. This includes activities such as desert marathons, trail running in the mountains, cycling holidays, and surfing. These activities are becoming increasingly popular as people seek to improve their mental and physical health through nature and outdoor activities.

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RobertDeNiro78 July 28, 2023 - 8:40 pm

Brilliant piece! never knew wellness travel was such a thing. Might give it a try…

Adventurer001 July 29, 2023 - 6:17 am

this is such a fresh perspective on travel, really like it. might try cycling hols next summer.

Mike_J July 29, 2023 - 7:07 am

The fact that the wellness economy is gonna hit nearly $7 trillion is mind-blowing! This article was a real eye opener. Cheers!

NomadicMum July 29, 2023 - 8:09 am

I love the concept of dopamine-inducing destinations… definitely gonna consider this for our next family vacation!

YogaEnthusiast July 29, 2023 - 12:10 pm

Wow, this is fantastic. I’ve been looking for a way to mix my love of travel and wellness, this could be the answer. Thank u so much for sharing!

StressRelief4Life July 29, 2023 - 1:24 pm

Fascinating read. Wellness tech is a game changer. Bring on sleep retreats for insomniacs, need that in my life.


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