Nature Takes Prominent Role in Wellness Travel

DENVER—The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is changing the ways people interact, live and travel. A recent survey from the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) dove into the motivation behind wellness travel and how it’s shaping up for the future.

With responses from nearly 4,000 consumers across 48 countries and territories, WTA’s second consumer survey was conducted across a three-month period (April through June 2020) and administered in collaboration with WTA member Professor Danny Kessler Ph.D. from Youngsan University, Busan, South Korea. Some 54% of respondents identified as female and 73% were between the ages of 26 and 74. Close to 78% indicated they already include wellness activities when they travel.

Anne Dimon, president/CEO, WTA, noted that during the association,s first survey in 2018, which had more than 2,500 respondents, 44.93% identified the main goal of wellness travel as “a general, overall reboot.”

“This was followed by ‘reconnecting with self’ and a ‘mental health break,’” Dimon said.

In the 2020 survey, respondents were asked to rate a series of 28 statements about the motivations behind wellness travel on a scale of 1 to 7. Respondents were also given the opportunity to answer an open-ended question on the subject, which generated 17,000-plus words from almost 2,500 individual respondents.

The top eight most important motivations for booking a wellness vacation are as follows:

  • To return to everyday life feeling rejuvenated (38%)
  • To escape the demands of everyday life (26%)
  • To experience activities outdoors (25%)
  • To look and feel better (24%)
  • To connect with nature (24%)
  • To find peace and quiet (21%)
  • To get a better night’s sleep (17%)
  • To learn general ways to improve my health (17%)

“While it comes as no surprise, the number one standout was the continuing interest in nature and the desire to be in nature,” Dimon said. “With 49% of respondents selecting either ‘To Experience Activities Outdoors’ and ‘To Connect with Nature’ as their main motivators, the survey reinforces the importance of nature/the outdoors as a key pillar of wellness vacations. It also echoes the results of our 2018 survey, which indicated that nature was a ‘must have.’”

Dimon noted that nature was also a key theme in the open-ended questions. The top themes were social connection and the desire to be with like-minded people; the desire to be in nature; to improve mental health; and to learn to be proactive about their own health, wellness and well-being (wellness relating to health, well-being relating to happiness).

Other notable survey results were that more than 20% indicated they would be extremely likely to book a wellness vacation within the next two years, and more than 24% indicated that wellness “could” or “will” be the focus of their next trip.

“Another standout point was that even though more than 77% said they have never taken a wellness vacation, more than 77% also said they do include wellness activities when they travel,” Dimon said.

“We are still conducting a deeper dive into the data, but right off the top, the most surprising result was the number of men who responded to the survey,” she added. “Our 2018 survey respondents were overwhelmingly female, but in this most recent survey, just over half were female. What this tells us is that more men (predominantly millennials) are becoming more concerned and more interested in their personal health and looking to be more proactive on that front.”

With more interest in wellness travel—and nature in particular—Dimon noted that there’s a lot hotels can do to appeal to the wellness traveler.

“If you have easy access to nature, highlight that via communication programs,” she said. “If you do not have easy access to nature, consider partnering with local guides to offer out-in-nature activities as day trips and work these offerings into a package or added pay-to-play amenity.

“And, remember that even though 77% said they had never actually taken a wellness vacation, over 77% said they do include wellness activities when they travel—so hotel managers should be taking a look at what wellness-type amenities and activities are available for their hotel guests traveling on business or general leisure not specially focused on ‘wellness,’” she added. “Healthy food options for instance is a big ‘must have.’ So is an environment that is conducive to a good night’s sleep.”

How will the pandemic affect long-term trends in wellness travel?

“Under the heavy burden of this global pandemic, the concept of personal health through proactive self-care has become, and will continue to be, a new priority in our lives,” Dimon said. “As physical distancing restrictions continue to be relaxed and people become more confident that they can travel and return home safely, travel will resume, but personal health and safety will continue to top the list of priorities.”

She added, “At the Wellness Tourism Association, we are optimistic that as the tourism industry begins to recover, the overriding concern about personal health will continue to remain a focus. Industry research tells us that it is those who already live their lives with health as a core value who have been the main drivers behind the unprecedented growth of the wellness tourism industry over the last decade, so as an increasing number of people embrace the pursuit of good health as a lifestyle, the wellness sector of the industry will rebound and, in the coming years, continue to flourish.”