Global Wellness Tourism Congress (GWTC), a division of the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), chose the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, to launch new data on the Middle East and African wellness tourism markets.
Wellness tourism is defined as “all travel associated with enhancing one’s personal well-being,” and is very different to medical tourism. According to the “Global Wellness Tourism Economy” report, the sector is worth $439bn worldwide and is growing roughly 50% faster than the tourism sector overall.
The study included two types of wellness travellers:
those whose primary purpose was to focus on their health – say, at a destination spa or a yoga retreat or a weight-loss boot camp – and secondary, those who engaged in some form of wellness activity or took advantage of healthier options while on vacation – anything from taking exercise classes on a cruise, to dining at vegetarian restaurants or booking an allergy-free room in a hotel. These days, ever greater numbers of us are making lifestyle changes that include choosing to live a more healthy lifestyle. Failing medical systems, the rising cost of health care, the stress of modern multitasking lives, have led people to take on more responsibility for maintaining their own health and, of course, the western population is ageing. Consumers have caught on to vacations that offer mental restoration. Practices learned on a trip such as meditation, yoga, qi gong and journaling can be incorporated at home to help manage stress, improve cognitive capacity and maintain emotional equilibrium. Consumers are developing a deeper appreciation for locally relevant and authentic experiences with an emphasis on living the local life. Mindsets have shifted away from tourist behaviour to a keen interest in community- based exploration where getting to know the locals in a meaningful way sweetens the experience.
The Middle East/North Africa currently ranks first in the world for wellness tourism growth at 16.2% annually expected to expand the local market from $5.3bn in 2012 to $16.6bn in 2017. The region currently accounts for 4.8 million wellness-focused trips (in- bound and domestic). The top four countries are the UAE with 800,000 trip generating $1.4bn in revenue, Israel with 600,000 trips generating $1bn, followed by Morocco with 800,000 trips generating $800m and Egypt with 900,00 trips generating $700m revenue. In the Middle East/North Africa, international tourists make up 63% of wellness related trips and 75% of related receipts.
Morocco ranks among the top 10 nations worldwide for wellness tourism growth through till 2017 and is expected to have an annual growth rate of 14.7%, 60 % faster than the global average.
Food tourism is also a big trend intersecting with wellness travel. In addition to the physical aspect of sustenance, food tours, cooking classes, agriculture and farm-to-table experiences speak to the emotional, social, intellectual and sustainable aspects of well-being.
With the understanding that wellness is more than fitness and nutrition, many consumers are viewing vacations, weekend getaways and retreats as a catalyst for change. Slow travel advocates changing the pace in order to sip, savour and revel in the vacation experience. Spurred on by personal growth and discovery, affluent travellers value experiences connecting them to charitable causes and local communities. Volunteering on vacation has become increasingly popular and research shows altruism can improve well-being.
There is also a large segment of travellers who may not opt for wellness retreats or tours but are committed to maintaining their healthy lifestyle on the road. Air transit and hotels are investing resources to attract these guests that are both business and leisure travellers.
Sleep is at the forefront when it comes to wellness. With spas, hotels, airplanes and airports, sleep has risen from the ignored to the significant. Micro naps in urban spas create a quick respite from the frantic pace of cities. Private napping cabins offer a reprieve for weary inter continental travellers. Hotel designs have evolved to combat jet lag and to help both business and leisure travellers sleep well and prepare for the day ahead. Vitamin C-infused showers, dawn simulating alarm clocks and melatonin-producing lighting are other notable features. Guests can access in-room fitness equipment and healthy lifestyle education as well as take-home tips, programmes and wellness apps. Airlines are catching on, with many redesigned planes for peaceful sleep providing fine linens on a full size bed and turn-down service in first class and business class private cabins.
Digital detox is also on the up: The World Travel Market Global Trends Report listed digital detox as one of the next big trends to hit the hospitality industry in 2014. A survey showed that 80% of smartphone users almost never leave their home without their device, while another found almost 50% of mobile owners use their phone during vacations to snap photos and trip planning. Surrendering laptops, tablets and smartphones at check- in are a part of several hotels “Un-plug” programmes. Some destinations are also creating technology free vacation campaigns as a way to market their rustic settings.
Anni Hood, tourism & government liaison executive for the GWTC, noted, “Wellness-focused travel is grow- ing fast across the Middle East; this is a vast and very diverse region: In the Middle East/North Africa we have the luxury/spa hotel building boom across GCC nations, and the revitalisation of indigenous practices, such as historic hammams and baths.”
Although Spa tourism is a core component of wellness tourism (41% of market), non spa-related wellness tour- ism (whether “healthy hotels” and cruises; baths/springs; fitness, yoga or lifestyle retreats; travel to nature parks/ preserves; organic/natural restaurant expenditures; and other “healthy” lodging and retail) represents the other 59% of the market.