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Unhealthy Travel Habits Give Way to Growing Global Wellness Tourism Sector, Reports Global Spa & Wellness Summit

Lucrative Wellness-Focused Tourists Spend 130 Percent More Than Average Tourist; U.S. is Largest Wellness Tourism Market

a couple going mountain-biking in the forestGlobal Spa & Wellness Summit, New York, NY – November 7, 2013 – Travelers are growing weary of the strain of travel—often associated with poor sleeping, unhealthy eating, excessive drinking and disruption of fitness routines—which increasingly differ from wellness habits adopted during their everyday lives. This, combined with a desire to escape from daily stress and to improve personal well-being, is leading more consumers to consider wellness travel, according to a recent study from SRI International in conjunction with the Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS), the industry’s leading education and research organization.

The GSWS commissioned the study to analyze wellness tourism and understand its global and domestic impact. The findings of the study were presented at the inaugural Global Wellness Tourism Congress (GWTC) held in India in October as well as at a special press briefing held today in New York City.

“As more people embrace overall healthier lifestyles at home, we are now seeing those behaviors translate and be integrated into their travel and vacation habits,” said Susie Ellis, chairman and CEO, Global Spa & Wellness Summit. “For others, vacation provides an escape from the non-stop activities of their daily lives. As these two trends converge, we are seeing many people commit their vacation time and dollars to wellness travel, as evidenced by their increased spending and specific global destination choices.”

Wellness Tourism Trend

Wellness travelers fall into two categories: the primary wellness traveler, whose sole purpose or motivating factor for their trip and destination choice is wellness, and the secondary wellness traveler, who seeks to maintain wellness or participate in some wellness experiences while taking any type of trip. Secondary-purpose wellness tourists constitute the significant majority (87 percent) of total wellness tourism trips and expenditures (86 percent).

Wellness tourists overall also tend to be “high-yield” travelers, spending 130 percent more than the average tourist. Because of this, they are very attractive to many countries interested in the business of wellness tourism.

Wellness tourism targets travelers who seek physical, social, mental, spiritual, emotional and environmental experiences. Wellness tourists embrace a variety of activities including healthy eating, spa and beauty, eco and adventure, and fitness as well as more internal pursuits such as personal growth, mind-body and spiritual endeavors.

In addition, non spa-related, healthy travel represents the majority (59 percent) of the wellness tourism market, with spa tourism representing the remaining 41 percent:

  •     Healthy hotels
  •     Wellness cruises
  •     Baths / springs
  •     Fitness
  •     Yoga or lifestyle retreats
  •     Integrative medicine

Global Economic Impact of Wellness Tourism

According to the study, wellness tourism accounts for nearly $439 billion and will reach nearly $679 billion by 2017. More than half of the projected growth in wellness tourism trips through 2017 will take place in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East / North Africa.

Domestic wellness tourism is significantly larger than its international equivalent—representing 84 percent of wellness tourism trips and 68 percent (or $299 billion) of expenditures. International inbound wellness tourism represents a $139 billion market (32 percent of total).

In addition, wellness tourism is directly responsible for 11.7 million global jobs, which delivers $1.3 trillion in global economic impact—or 1.8 percent of the world’s GDP in 2012.

“This is an important time for wellness tourism, as it represents the intersection of a powerful lifestyle trend and the growing global tourism industry,” said Ophelia Yeung, lead author of the study and senior consultant, Center for Science, Technology and Economic Development at SRI International. “The positive effects of wellness tourism, from both the economic and sustainability perspectives, are sure to be increasingly felt by every region around the world in the future.”

Wellness Tourism in the United States

The U.S. is by far the largest wellness tourism market today, with $167.1 billion in combined international and domestic expenditures—roughly four times greater than the #2 nation, Germany, at $42.2 billion.

The U.S. also ranks #1 (by large margins) for total wellness tourism trips taken, at 141.4 million, followed by Germany at 49.3 million and Japan at 34.4 million. The U.S. (known for a populace with very low rates of passport ownership) also ranks #2 for outbound wellness travelers, at 8 million trips, trailing (much smaller) Germany at 19.4 million.

The U.S. is the top destination for inbound international wellness tourism travel, with 7.1 million international, inbound trips, with Europe and high-income Asian countries serving as key inbound source markets.

According to the study, for Americans and Canadians, the most accessible and attractive wellness tourism options are short, domestic trips, weekend trips, and “city breaks” (e.g., spa weekends, weekend yoga retreats, etc.). Weeklong trips to destination spas and long-haul overseas trips purely for wellness are largely limited to a small, predominantly wealthy segment of travelers.

And the United States will see the largest growth in wellness trips (adding 46.1 million more trips by 2017) but a slower 5.8% annual growth rate than the global average of 9.9%, and well below the double-digit growth rates for so many developing nations. Future growth in demand for wellness services—and travel for wellness—in the U.S. may be impacted by healthcare legislation and the extent to which insurers will pay for preventive and wellness‐related services. The Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect in 2014, requires U.S. insurers to cover (at no cost) a long list of preventive services; however, the impact of this change in terms of Americans traveling for such purposes remains to be seen.

Global Wellness Tourism and Other Niche Tourism Categories

Niche tourism or special interest tourism can be divided into several broad categories one of which is wellness tourism. The following represent other top niche tourism segments and their economic impact:

  •     Cultural Tourism: $800 billion to $1.1 trillion
  •     Culinary Tourism: $350 billion to $550 billion
  •     Eco / Sustainable Tourism: $325 billion to $480 billion
  •     Sports Tourism: $250 billion to $375 billion

Research Scope and Methodology: The analysis and data represented in The Global Wellness Tourism Economy report are based on extensive primary and secondary research conducted by SRI International from January to August 2013. Research included a review of recent literature and reports on wellness, wellness tourism, and the tourism industry in general, along with telephone interviews with spa, wellness and tourism stakeholders around the world.

*Figures include both international/inbound wellness tourism arrivals and domestic wellness tourism trips, as well both primary purpose and secondary purpose wellness tourism, and represent the overall increase from 2012 to 2017. Countries shown in this table were chosen by SRI based upon a combination of the country’s overall increase in the # of arrivals / trips and the growth rate. Estimates by SRI International, based on general travel and tourism growth projections from Euromonitor.

SRI’s executive summary of The Global Wellness Tourism Economy report, is available here.

The complete Report is also available for purchase ($895) here.

About the Summit

The Global Wellness Tourism Congress is presented by the Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS), an international organization representing senior executives and leaders from over 40 countries, joined by a common interest to drive economic development and understanding of the spa and wellness industries. Delegates from diverse sectors, including hospitality, tourism, health and wellness, beauty, finance, medical, real estate, manufacturing and technology, attend the organization’s annual Summit, which is held in a different host country each year. After just seven years, the GSWS is now considered the leading global research and educational resource for the $1.9 trillion spa and wellness industry.