Skift Take

Wellness tourism has made huge leaps in the past few years, with more tourists wanting to maintain healthy habits as they travel. But it still has a long way to go before it becomes ubiquitous in parts of Africa and the Middle East, as well as outpacing traditional tourism.

Tourists increasingly factor wellness into their travel plans, from indulging at a farm-to-table restaurant to regenerating themselves at a spa or in a local exercise class.

Europe and North America continue to dominate wellness tourism, with 216 million trips in Europe and 172 million trip made to North America in 2013, based on new research from SRI International in the Global Spa and Wellness Monitor report.

Globally, the report finds wellness tourism is a $494 billion industry, based off domestic and international trips classified as either primary or secondary reasons for travel, as well as all travel expenditures. There were more than 586 million domestic and international wellness trips last year, up 12% from 2012.

North America saw $195 billion in revenue from these trips last year, the highest amount of wellness tourism revenue of any continent. Europe saw $178 billion in revenue, while Asia had the third highest revenue at $84 billion and 152 million trips.

The list of places wellness tourists go to fulfill these plans, though, has some new names that see the highest percentages of growth, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s fastest growing region for the amount of trips taken to the region. Last year, tourists spent $3.2 billion on wellness experiences in the region, a 57% increase from the previous year. Sub-Saharan African countries welcomed tourists on 4.2 million wellness trips in 2013, representing a 90% increase year-over-year.

The number of countries with spas in the region tripled since 2007, as there are now 42 countries with 1,544 spas, yielding $800 million in revenue.

For the region’s spa market, South Africa, Kenya and Seychelles lead the way in revenue, and South Africa, Kenya and Mauritius have the highest revenue for the region’s wellness tourist market.

The report adds that although modern concepts of wellness are still new for much of Africa, many cultures have long traditions of wellness and healing practices. Strong economic growth in countries such as South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria also helped position the region as an up-and-coming wellness player.

The Middle East and North Africa is the second fastest-growing wellness tourism market, even though it had more trips and higher revenue than Sub-Saharan Africa. There were 7 million wellness trips to the Middle East/North Africa in 2013, a 48% increase year-over-year, and $7.3 billion in revenue, up 39% from 2012.

Mature Markets

Wellness tourism began in the U.S., says Susie Ellis, chairman of the Global Spa and Wellness Summit and president of SpaFinder Wellness, Inc. She still feels that some of the hottest wellness destinations to watch for are in the U.S., even with all the growth occurring in Africa and the Middle East.

Colorado, along with Serenbe, a wellness-living community near Atlanta, are her picks for two of the top destinations to watch for promoting wellness to tourists.

“Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Canada are all fairly close in terms of how mature their wellness markets are,” she said. “The most important reason why tourists are looking for wellness experiences is prevention, and we’re seeing more destinations make a conscious effort to offer these experiences that focus on prevention.”

India is perhaps synonymous with wellness, and Ellis says the country’s Incredible India campaign increased wellness tourism by five times. Austria’s ski resorts and Morocco are also destinations increasing their promotion of wellness and launching initiatives to tap into the market.


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: spas, tourism, wellness

Photo credit: The Merlin Spa in Thailand. Merlin Phuket / Flickr

Up Next

Loading next stories