Hotel Spas Profit From the Wellness Trend

For a rapidly growing segment of leisure travelers, the days of overeating and lying around doing nothing while vacationing are over. As more and more people are seeking better ways to take care of themselves at home, they’re adopting healthier habits on the road. “With travelers embracing overall healthier lifestyles at home, we are now seeing those behaviors translate and be integrated into their travel and vacation habits,” says Susie Ellis, chairwoman and CEO of the Global Spa and Wellness Summit (GSWS) and president of Spafinder Wellness. “We are seeing many people commit their vacation time and dollars to wellness travel.”

Wellness tourism has become a $438.6 billion global market, representing about 14 percent of all global tourism expenditures, according to a report from SRI International in conjunction with the GSWS. And it’s projected to increase by more than 9 percent per year through 2017—nearly 50 percent faster than overall global tourism. The spa industry is also in growth mode, International Spa Association statistics show. In 2012, U.S. spa revenue reached a record high of $14 billion and the total number of spa visits in the country increased to 160 million. Wellness-oriented experiences have become more vital to the growth of the spa industry now that many consumers view spas as a place to nourish their minds and bodies rather than indulge in extravagant pampering.

“Pampering is definitely more of a dated word in the spa industry,” says Karen Ray, director of spa at Solage Calistoga, a hip resort in northern Napa Valley. “Ten years ago we used pampering a lot more and now the shift is definitely to wellness. Guests are definitely interested in adopting wellness as a lifestyle.”


Wellness travel involves enhancing personal well-being through healthy eating, mind and body activities, spa and beauty treatments, fitness classes, and outdoor activities. At Solage Calistoga, for example, guests can maintain their daily fitness routines—or try something completely new—in the resort’s yoga studio and state-of-the-art gym, which offers free fitness classes like TRX and spinning. They can even explore the trails at the nearby state park area on a complimentary bicycle. Post-workout, guests can then head to the bathhouse for a mudslide treatment—which involves applying a body mask made with mineral-enriched clay and volcanic ash and soaking in a geothermal pool—to recover and detoxify their bodies.
While some of these travelers may take a trip entirely for well-being purposes, most plan to engage in healthy activities, such as spa treatments and fitness classes, as part of their vacation. The primary market is more likely to choose destination health resorts—think Cal-a-Vie, Canyon Ranch, and Miraval—which is why hotels and resorts with spas benefit from concentrating on the secondary market, says Anna Bjurstam, vice president of spa and wellness for Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, which will be adding nine new resorts and four spa and wellness clubs over the next three years.

“In hotels, it’s more about keeping well while you travel,” says Bjurstam, who is also owner and managing director of the Swedish-based spa consultancy group, Raison d’Etre. “What we’ve seen from hotels is they have tried too much to go into serious wellness, but then no one really wants to buy it because you don’t go to the Four Seasons to detox or lose weight, in general you go there to relax.” Properties promote healthy lifestyle choices by integrating multifaceted food, fitness, spa, and sleep programs that touch on all aspects of the guest experience.

One of Six Senses’ latest wellness initiatives is to install new lighting technology in its gyms and exercise rooms to enhance the body’s natural alertness. In its spa nap rooms, the company will install light bulbs that use a technology developed with NASA to enable astronauts to naturally manage their circadian rhythms. “While we’ll continue to always be on a holistic, rejuvenating, and spiritual path, we’re also looking at what is scientifically proven when it comes to results and how can we work with that,” Bjurstam says.

At 41 percent of the market, spa is a core component of wellness tourism, the SRI International report shows. No longer a place for mere pampering, hotel and resort spas continue to expand their focus on health, wellness, and prevention to woo this emerging segment of high-yield wellness travelers, who spend 130 percent more than the average tourist. Rather than relying on massages, facials, and body wraps alone, hotel spas are adding specialized holistic treatments (e.g., reflexology and acupuncture), fitness and nutrition consultations, and guest lectures on everything from stress management to the health benefits of running. Spas are also weaving mindfulness techniques into their treatments, such as integrative breathing, meditation, and visualization.

“Spas can really help with education on lifestyle, personal training, and stress management,” says Susan Harmsworth, founder of ESPA, which has approximately 400 spas in 60 countries. “The data coming through on the medical benefits of massage, lowering heart rate and really helping recovery circulation, all of that sort of stuff is very strong.”


  1. Hello, I am the Wellness Director for We create, implement and instruct enrichment programs for resorts, wellness centers and corporations. Thank you for your informative article.
    I am interested in contributing to Lodging Magazine via articles and information regarding health and wellness.
    All the best,
    Suzanne Barber
    Holistic Nutritionist

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