Like many segments of the tourism industry, wellness travel is working to return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. While health and safety are still top priorities, wellness travelers are shifting their focus back to vacations and other forms of travel where they can improve and enhance their overall wellbeing.


Prior to the pandemic, the Global Wellness Institute estimated that wellness tourism was a $639 billion dollar market, growing at more than twice the rate of overall tourism between 2015 and 2017. This includes not only destination-specific wellness trips but also alternatives to the unwellness and negative qualities of travel in general. Instead of simply safeguarding their health away from home, wellness travelers are looking for ways that travel can help them maintain or enhance their personal wellbeing.


Although the two are often conflated, it’s important to understand the differences between medical tourism and wellness tourism. Medical tourists are traveling for a specific treatment that is either cheaper, better or simply not available where they live. While medical tourism is reactive, necessary and carried out under the supervision of a doctor, wellness tourism is proactive, voluntary and does not take place in a medical setting.


Another misconception is that wellness travelers represent a wealthy, elite and relatively small segment of the population who visit health spas and yoga retreats. In fact, wellness travelers are a highly diverse group of consumers who have a variety of interests, motivations and values. Some may visit a destination specifically designed for wellness while others are simply looking for healthy options and wellness experiences that are secondary to a leisure or business trip.


The economic benefits of wellness travel extend far beyond the wellness industry itself. Wellness travelers tend to adopt a holistic approach to their lifestyles, which opens opportunities for restaurants, fitness facilities, nature centers and cultural attractions as well as local residents. Seasonal business, such as ski resorts, can also attract wellness-minded travelers during the slower months by offering hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities.


Because wellness tourism is a diverse, multifaceted segment of the market that encompasses a wide array of businesses and services, it has the potential to expand even further beyond pre-pandemic levels. Expect wellness travel to grow exponentially in the coming years as the tourism industry not only gets back to normal but continues to develop and evolve.


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