Seasoned execs form new wellness association

DENVER—According to the Global Wellness Institute’s 2017 Global Wellness Economy Monitor, the wellness tourism segment is a $563-billion industry. And now that industry has a new organization dedicated to its specific needs—the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA). 

The not-for-profit, privately held organization was formed by a group of seasoned wellness executives, including Chairman Andrew Gibson, VP, well-being, luxury division, AccorHotels; Thomas Klein, president/COO, Canyon Ranch; and President Anne Dimon, founder/CEO, Travel to Wellness, the first online wellness travel magazine and resource. 

There were three main drivers behind the decision to form the organization: the desire to create a networking platform for anyone working in, or interested in, the wellness tourism industry; the desire to bring standards to the travel sector for credibility and legitimacy; and to raise the level of understanding and awareness of the growing sector for the benefit of all concerned, including consumers.   

“Wellness tourism has been identified as a $500-billion-plus global industry,” Dimon said. “Companies and individuals are using the term ‘wellness tourism’ and ‘wellness travel’ liberally, and jumping on board for the value proposition. But not all are using the term legitimately. We felt the industry would benefit from a nonprofit organization that could and would define and set standards to qualify members, and help shape the development and sustainability of the industry.”

Gibson added, “There was not a clear definition or description of the elements of wellness tourism. Without this, the consumer and the market would be vulnerable to many misleading and vague definitions. Through an association focused on wellness tourism, the members have an obligation to create a clear understanding of wellness tourism and how this differs from similar aspects of tourism, such as medical tourism.”

In addition to creating definitions for the terminology associated with the industry, other objectives will be to unite members of the industry and increase general awareness. 

The WTA already has several strategies in the works. “We are creating a database of all members for members,” Dimon said, noting that the WTA is planning its first members’ event in September of this year.  

It is also looking at education, targeting three main groups: consumers, travel advisors and the travel industry itself. “Our first educational initiative is participation at the Travel & Adventure Show in four cities to reach all three of our target markets with the dissemination of print materials and a panel presentation,” Dimon said. “We are also conducting our own survey of consumers on the subject of wellness vacations for the education of all members; plus, we are working with the Hospitality & Tourism Division of Fort Hays State University on a Delphi Study to identify the needs of the industry to better prepare students for entry level positions.” The WTA is also collaborating with the Global Wellness Summit on its Wellness Tourism Initiative to collect and share information for the education of the global wellness industry, which includes the wellness tourism sector.

Wellness travel certainly isn’t new—the Roman Baths are proof of that—but it certainly has exploded in recent years, creating challenges for consumers and travel managers. “Wellness is a phenomenal trend at present that spans everything from lifestyle choices to workplace wellness,” Gibson said. “Many of our members are fortunate to have worked in the spa industry, which faced challenges as the spa industry expanded and the word spa meant so many things around the world.

“The biggest single challenge is to help to educate consumers and industry players on what constitutes wellness tourism,” he continued. “The next challenge is to ensure that the identification and categorization of wellness tourism is credible and reliable so that participants know how they fit in and what they can do.”

And the demand is out there, he noted. “There will be many competitors and businesses that develop as a need to satisfy the demand for more wellness in travel plans,” he continued. “The WTA has already attracted tremendous interest for membership and for collaboration with associations that want to ensure stability and clarification of the differences between spa, health, wellness and medical tourism.”

To ensure its membership base also fits the legitimate definition of wellness, Dimon said, “We evaluate legitimate ‘wellness travel’ based on whether the hotel, resort, retreat, tour operator, etc., offers regular, all-inclusive, multiday programs that feature elements of wellness, including healthy food options, fitness activities and at least one other wellness-related activity or service—the operative word here is ‘regular.’” 

Looking toward the future, Dimon said that this industry will only continue to grow. “As more and more people acknowledge that they can be proactive in their own health and wellness, and move toward self-care and wellness living, these same people will want to incorporate elements of wellness into their travels,” she said. 

Gibson added, “Our hope is that the WTA becomes the voice of the wellness tourism industry and works alongside other sectors of tourism to help provide the consumer with a clear guide and recognized standards… Wellness travel is expanding as wellness impacts every aspect of living. We do not expect this to diminish as each generation takes more interest in their health and is more prepared to ensure that wellness features in their work, rest and play.” HB