Wellness tourism is about as wide-ranging as the travel industry itself and there’s a vast spectrum of the types of trips that travelers take to improve their well-being.

As more airports add spas and hotels create or acquire brands designed to help travelers maintain healthy lifestyles, most global travelers aren’t taking trips specifically for wellness purposes, according to research from the Global Wellness Institute, an organization that educates the public and private sectors about preventative health and wellness.

Only seven percent (691 million trips) of all global leisure trips in 2015 were wellness related, Global Wellness Institute found, and of that, about 89 percent of trips were for secondary wellness experiences and 11 percent (78 million trips) were primary wellness trips.

Secondary wellness trips include visits to spas, hot springs or yoga classes, for example, but these aren’t primary reasons for secondary wellness trips. Primary wellness trips — when travelers go somewhere specifically for their well-being — include stays at ashrams or yoga retreats, for example.

Most wellness-minded travelers include activities such as spa visits, one of the most popular wellness activities for travelers, with sightseeing, shopping, dining or business meetings they do on trips.

Secondary wellness travelers spent $482 billion on trips in 2015, Global Wellness Institute found, and primary wellness travelers spent $81 billion.

Wellness tourism is defined as travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal well-being. Health-conscious travel is increasing and places like hotel gyms have become full-blown operations at many properties compared to dingy basements they once occupied.

Hyatt, for example, announced last month that it’s acquiring wellness resort and spa company Miraval Group. InterContinental Hotels Group has its EVEN Hotels brand and Etihad, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are among airlines with spa services in their lounges.

Based on receipts and expenditures, most wellness travel is done domestically (67 percent), such as someone in the U.S. or UK taking a short-haul or weekend trip within their region or country for wellness purposes.

The U.S. is the largest wellness tourism market by expenditure with $202.2 billion spent on wellness travel in 2015. European travelers took the most wellness trips in 2015 (nearly 250 million) while Asia-Pacific, led by China, is the fastest-growing market for wellness travel with 193.9 million trips and $111.2 billion spent on wellness travel in 2015 for 27.8 and 32.2 percent growth, respectively.

The Secondary Wellness Traveler

The recently rebranded Carillon Miami Wellness Resort in North Miami Beach, Florida, previously operated by destination spa company Canyon Ranch, considers most guests as secondary wellness travelers.

While it offers a list of fitness classes, programs and beauty services, the resort’s 70,000 square foot spa is the heart of the property and one of its most popular features, said Taylor Cinalli, a spokesperson for the resort.

In 2015, global travelers spent $25.6 billion at hotel and resort spas and $7.7 billion at destination spas and health resorts. Hotel and resort spas are also the fastest-growing spa category with 30,180 facilities in 2015 (36.7 percent increase from 2013).

The 110-room, six-acre resort launched the rebrand in December and added wellness to its name to help convey its range of offerings.

Miami, however, is known for its parties rather than its wellness destinations, said Cinalli, despite its year-round warm weather that’s ideal for many wellness experiences.

Perceptions of wellness tourism have shifted across the travel industry, said Cinalli, which helps cities like Miami build a reputation in the sector. “Wellness used to be so hard and fast and now so many people have their own interpretations of what wellness is,” she said.

With this shift, the resort has seen more demand for secondary wellness travel and feels this makes more sense for its guests. “People aren’t necessarily coming here with the notion that ‘I’m coming here to completely cut myself off from anything I would indulge in at home,'” said Cinalli. “We find that’s not really a sustainable way to make a change or better yourself.”

A Shift in Wellness Tourism

Cinalli said Carillon Miami has a balanced approach to wellness. “We offer you every end of the spectrum,” she said. “You can have a Coke now and have French Fries if you want to.”

“But we try to do all organic food that’s sourced ethically and locally so people feel good about what they’re eating. We have a wellness cocktail program where we use all natural herbs and that sort of thing. You can really do whatever you want while you’re here.”

Global secondary wellness tourism had 20 percent growth in trips and 16 percent growth in expenditures from 2013 to 2015, compared to two and five percent, respectively, for primary wellness tourism, Global Wellness Institute data show.

Carillon Miami’s average year-round stay is three nights but it’s seeing that increase to four nights, said Cinalli. Its largest domestic market is the northeast U.S. and top international markets include the UK and Brazil.

The resort represents only one shade of the wellness tourism spectrum and many wellness resorts aren’t located in urban areas with less space and seclusion.

Still, as more brands design properties with the health-conscious traveler in mind, they should remember that most guests want wellness to be only one aspect of their stay rather than the main attraction.

Below are the world’s top 20 wellness tourism markets as of 2015.

Top 20 Wellness Tourism Markets in 2015

Rank Country Number of Trip (millions) Direct Employement (millions) Expenditures (U.S. $ billions)
1 U.S. 161.2 1.87 $202.20
2 Germany 58.5 1.11 $60.20
3 France 30.6 0.32 $30.20
4 China 48.2 2.37 $29.50
5 Japan 37.8 0.18 $19.80
6 Austria 14.6 0.16 $15.40
7 Canada 25.3 0.25 $13.50
8 UK 20.6 0.18 $13.00
9 Italy 6.6 0.15 $12.70
10 Mexico 15.3 0.48 $12.60
11 Switzerland 9.2 0.1 $12.20
12 India 38.6 5.32 $11.80
13 Thailand 9.7 0.5 $9.40
14 Australia 8.5 0.1 $8.20
15 Spain 13.6 0.08 $7.70
16 South Korea 18 0.13 $6.80
17 Indonesia 5.6 0.52 $5.30
18 Turkey 9.3 0.06 $4.80
19 Russia 13.5 0.15 $3.50
20 Brazil 8.6 0.12 $3.30

 

Source: Global Wellness Institute

Photo Credit: The Carillon Miami Wellness Resort was rebranded with a flexible kind of wellness tourism in mind. Pictured is a guest at one of the resort's yoga classes. Carillon Miami Wellness Resort