Inside the Mind of the Wellness Traveler

Wellness Traveler

In November, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) released its annual report on the wellness tourism economy. GWI’s fifth report on the subject revealed a large, growing, affluent, and educated market of wellness-minded travelers. GWI estimated the global market for wellness tourism at $639.4 billion in 2017 with an annual growth rate of 6.5 percent. GWI estimated the North American market to be worth $241.7 billion, with travelers taking an estimated 204 million trips in 2017. An expanding middle class, a growing consumer desire to adopt a wellness lifestyle, and a rising interest in experiential travel, among other factors, continue to drive this trend.

Wellness is in demand across all types of travel. According to the GWI report, 86 percent of the expenditures reported come from travelers who seek to maintain wellness or engage in wellness activities during any type of travel. The “every day” or any type of travel by the wellness-minded individual represents a market segment the lodging industry cannot overlook or take lightly, but also a segment that can be challenging to define and even more challenging to service fully.

To better understand how the industry should service this important market segment, hoteliers need to explore the mind of the wellness traveler.

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Wellness-minded travelers make self-improvement a priority in their lives, and they seek activities and experiences that promote their self-improvement. Wellness-minded travelers will spend more—178 percent more by some measures—on their travel if it furthers their wellness lifestyle. In its 2017 report, GWI identifies six core values that drive the wellness traveler: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, environmental, and social. Hoteliers can promote each one of these core values through the services and amenities a property offers. For example, a wellness-minded traveler who places a high value on “physical” will find satisfaction in visits to a fitness center or participation in hiking or biking activities. A wellness-minded traveler who places a high value on “mental” may find peace of mind by staying in a hypoallergenic room that offers purified air.

How do we know which value a wellness-minded traveler ranks as a high priority at any given time? What if the wellness-minded traveler places two or more core values at a high priority? In fact, we do not know, nor can we easily ascertain the wellness-minded travelers’ values at any given time. This challenge becomes particularly acute when travelers’ values change over time or change with each visit to a hotel.

The hotel industry can go a long way toward serving the wellness-minded traveler by pursuing two paths. First, hotels should continue to enhance fitness centers, offer healthy food options, provide guestrooms that promote wellbeing, and create tours and activities that align well with the mindset of the wellness traveler. Many properties and brands have announced services and amenities that target several core values. These programs go a long way toward servicing the wellness-minded traveler.

Second, hotels need to train their staffs to better understand the mindset of the wellness traveler. This training should include an understanding that the wellness-minded travel seeks self-improvement, which ties back to core values, and that the priority a wellness-minded traveler places on a core value will change. The wellness-minded traveler may seek an activity outside the property that addresses the physical value one day and the spiritual value a second day. Very few hotels have the means to offer a comprehensive set of services and amenities that address all six values. In the absence of a comprehensive offering, a property’s staff becomes an invaluable resource to relate to their wellness-minded guests and guide them accordingly.

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