With spring on the horizon and Christmas indulgence guilt on people’s minds, this time of year always brings about a new surge of enthusiasm for wellness. The sector has been growing fast so savvy agents should make tapping into it their own resolution.

More than a massage

According to the Mental Health Foundation the wellness market worldwide has expanded 12.8% in the last two years. Hotel group Accor - which already has initiatives like Feng Shui and sleep rituals at Raffles Hotels & Resorts and Cicadian lighting technology at Swissotels - has just released a ‘White Paper’ on the subject. In it Anne Dimon, CEO & President of the Wellness Tourism Association says: “The mindset of wellness has evolved beyond spas and workout spaces, challenging the hospitality industry to consider how it integrates other health considerations such mindfulness and time spent in nature, along with environmental concerns.”

Elegant Resorts agrees that the market is widening. “Wellness is about much more than just a hotel with a good spa and some yoga classes these days, says Product Manager Tara Taylor. “Expeditions, active holidays and walking tours with a chance to meet locals are all part of a wellness experience and are being offered more all over the world.”

The operator, which has expanded its wellbeing offering this year, recommends Six Senses’ properties, which go beyond the basics, tailoring wellness programmes for guests that can be continued at home.

Holidays that heal

Caribtours' Head of Product Jenny Peart says: “Wellness travel has recently been a big focus for us; we work closely with all-inclusive resort, BodyHoliday in Saint Lucia, and they offer themed months throughout the year, focused on everything from dancing to solo travel.

“Mindfulness and digital detoxes are also in demand, no doubt a result of the hectic lifestyles we all lead. At Pine Cliffs Resort in the Algarve you can sign up for a three-day digital detox – they’ll even take your phone away so you’re not tempted to check emails! It includes a nutritional consultation, yoga, meditation, Pilates and massage, so it’s about more than just switching off.”

Stella Photi, Founder and Managing Director of Wellbeing Escapes recognises that her operator’s specialism is now less niche. “It’s more fashionable to be healthy and people are also looking for experiential and goal-orientated holidays,” she says.

She highlights several core trends in the market: Ayurveda (an ancient Indian health system) becoming more mainstream; the rise of spiritual retreats; a greater emphasis on nutrition (continuing the vegan, gluten-free boom at home); sustainability entwined with wellbeing; greater demand for healthy family holidays and a focus on healing through nature – including the concept of ‘forest bathing’.

Of all the trends, Photi believes family and nature are the strongest. “We’re launching a new family wellness concept in the new year,” she says. “For those Millennials with kids who as have been asking us for solutions.” She adds: “I’m seeing more and more studies coming out about the healing power of nature. We’ve become over-digitalised, over-urbanised, we’re looking for places where we can get peace from it.”

While 'forest bathing' is a well-established Japanese concept (being at one with nature in the forest), Elegant Resorts notes that the similar ethos of 'Swiss Revitalization' is also attracting interest. “It’s taking you away from the stresses of every day life to the fresh alpine air and therapeutic springs with hiking and climbing trails to complement the benefits of staying at altitude,” explains Taylor.

Closer to home

Not only is wellness becoming a wider, more accessible concept, it geographically within easier reach. Often perceived as requiring a trip to Asia – home to Ayurveda, yoga and other popular therapies – now, many of the hot new spas are in Europe.

Ibiza, Turkey and the UK are trending in wellness for Inspiring Travel Company. “In Ibiza new resorts opening with great spas include 7 Pines Resort and W Ibiza. Six Senses is also due to open in 2021. In the UK, staycations as with spa breaks and yoga retreats are more popular as they are closer to home,” explains European Product and Marketing Manager Gabrielle Cowley.

Particularly popular for the operator are the recently refurbished spa at Vila Vita Parc in the Algarve and Marbella Club in Spain, where personalised lifestyle programmes are on offer and there are plenty of wellness activities planned for 2020. Another favourite is Amilla Fushi in the Maldives, which now incorporates Sensora light and colour therapy and uses the latest hip ingredient CBD oil (a legal cannabis extract) in some treatments.

Longer haul, new openings this year include Nobu Hotel Los Cabos in Baja California – the first Nobu in Mexico. The large spa boasts an outdoor hydrotherapy garden and the hotel has a different wellness focus every day from Detox to Awakening, as well as serving healthy food.

Agent advice

With wellness becoming more mainstream and short-haul options increasing, barriers to sales are eroding.

Wellbeing Escapes doubled its trade sales in 2019 but believes agents are missing a trick on wellness – a sector where breaks have high satisfaction and repeater rates.

“I think the agents making real inroads are not shying away from promoting healthy holidays, ” Photi says. “The market has grown but travel agents’ share of it hasn’t grown proportionately and I think it’s the fear of not knowing as much as your client,” she says. “So I say reach out to a specialist like us or do some homework.”

She advises putting healthy holiday suggestions in a newsletter and thinking seasonally – January for detox, pre-summer for ramping up fitness. Photi concludes: “The people who are really into it, they know where to go, but the idea is to inspire the people in your database to do something new.”