Wellness tourism has been a part of the travel industry for decades now, but its popularity has boomed over the last few years, with more destinations, resorts, hotels and others offering experiences promoting physical, psychological and spiritual health.

The effect of COVID-19 on the tourism industry poses the question of not only when and if travel will resume to pre-Covid-19 levels, but also what experiences will be popular, with more travelers interested in safe, healthy trips.

We spoke with Anne Dimon, president/CEO of the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) and founder/editor of TraveltoWellness.com to discuss wellness tourism and its impact during and post COVID-19.

Q. How has wellness tourism altered since its rise in popularity?

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact timing when “wellness tourism” as a term and identifiable concept began to emerge, I believe “wellness tourism,” as we know it today, began within the spa industry and the launch of the “destination spa” concept, and emerged from there. While the term was once synonymous with the spa experience, it has evolved to encompass so much more including healthy food options, outdoor activities, spending mindful time in nature, sleep, stress management and mental health programs as well as learning opportunities around health, wellness and wellbeing.

Q. Are the terms “wellness tourism” and “wellness travel” the same?

While the terms are often interchanged, they are not synonyms. The WTA defines wellness tourism as “a specific division of global tourism industry that is defined by the common goal of marketing natural assets and activities primarily focused on serving the wellness-minded consumer and those who want to be.” Wellness travel is “travel that allows the traveler to maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one’s sense of wellbeing.”

Anne Dimon, president/CEO of the Wellness Tourism Association
Credit: Courtesy of Anne Dimon

Q. How has and how will COVID-19 affect wellness tourism in the United States and Canada?

COVID-19 has pretty much devastated the tourism industry and the wellness sector has suffered right along with all other sectors. But at the WTA, we are optimistic that as the industry slowly and smartly begins to recover, health and wellness — along with safety — will be top-of-mind.

Thanks, in no small part, to the pandemic, many more of us have become more mindful and proactive when it comes to our own health, and being proactive about striving to achieve and maintain good health will continue to be a new priority in our lives. This, in turn, will continue to drive the wellness tourism industry. More travelers will want to incorporate wellness habits and practices into their travels, while others will want their travels to take them to places where they can learn how to become healthier and remain healthier. They will want to learn, for instance, about ways to manage stress and anxiety, achieve a healthier weight, and balance and strengthen their immune systems. I am optimistic that as the tourism industry begins to recover, that overriding concern about personal health will continue to remain a focus.

Q. What are consumers indicating will be their top motivations for Wellness Vacations post-pandemic?

Our recent online survey that generate responses from close to 4,000 people across 48 countries and territories revealed that the top 8 Wellness Vacation Motivations post-pandemic are: to return to everyday life feeling rejuvenated; to escape the demands of everyday life; to experience activities outdoors; to look and feel better; to connect with nature; to find peace and quiet; to get a better night’s sleep; and to learn general ways to improve one’s health.

When compared to our 2019 Wellness Travel Consumer Survey, what we are seeing is an increasing demand for nature-based experiences. We plan to present a “deeper dive” into the survey during a WTA webinar scheduled for early September.

Q. What are some standards WTA looks for in DMOs, hotels/retreats/resorts, etc.?

The main standard for multi-purpose hotels/resorts and retreats are that they must offer significant support programs/options for the guest who is a wellness traveler — defined as “an individual who makes wellness the primary purpose of a trip.” These programs/options should include but not be limited to:

  1. A menu of healthy food options available in one or more food outlets on a regular basis
  2. Year-round fitness options (beyond just a gym) in the form of yoga classes or other wellness or fitness focused sessions. They may or may not be complimentary to guests.
  3. Some accommodations that are deemed wellness focused, for instance — a quiet floor.
  4. If the hotel/resort offers meeting spaced, there be a program in place to offer delegates wellness options.
  5. Multi-day wellness-themed packages/programs offered several times a year. This should be beyond a simple spa package.

For DMOs they must have a destination-wide wellness initiative in place that supports the pillars of wellness travel. Plus, there are assets and attributes they should offer in order to refer to themselves as a Wellness Destination.

Q. What wellness resorts/retreats have you personally visited in North America?

As a travel and industry journalist for close to 25 years, I have been fortunate to travel the world on assignment visiting many true “wellness retreats” and “wellness resorts” along the way, and I plan to continue to do so in order to bring unbiased editorial information to the consumers who need and demand it. In North America, the properties that I have visited, can personally recommend and that may be amenable to small groups include: Spa Eastman and Le Monastère des Augustines in Quebec; Grail Springs Wellness Retreat and St. Anne’s Spa in Ontario; Sparkling Hill Resort in British Columbia; Art of Retreat Center in North Carolina; Canyon Ranch in Tucson; Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami; and Red Rock Mountain Resort in Utah.

All of the above except Le Monastère des Augustines and Pritikin are surrounded by and provide easy access to nature and would appeal to the growing numbers — according to our survey — looking for “nature-focused experiences.”

The Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) is a global network for qualifying DMOs, hotels/resorts/retreats, tour operators, travel advisors, wellness practitioners, media, partners and others in the global wellness tourism industry. To find more stories on what others are offering in the wellness tourism space, visit traveltowellness.com