Luxury tour operators have incredible advantages over wellness industry competitors in crafting dynamic, immersive wellness-first travel experiences. However, they must adapt to this new market quickly to avoid stagnation in crafting luxury that is better-suited to past generations.
Luxury tour operators are introducing more wellness-inclusive tours to greet demand as well as attract a new demographic of conscious and health-first consumers.
Abercrombie & Kent earlier this year introduced its new wellness-inspired Luxury Small Group Journeys, which aims for a balance of its deeply cultural and luxurious itineraries alongside options built to engage the mind, body and spirit. There are currently tours in Southeast Asia, India, Kenya and Peru.
“I’ve been watching this trend growing significantly for the last year or two. There is an interest in wellness travel that is not going away any time soon. It also aligns really well with our current brands, which connect people to places through luxury accommodations, and, more importantly, actual connections with the local people and the opportunity to have an in-depth, insider experience in each of those destinations,” said Stefanie Schmudde, vice president of product development and operations at A&K.
“It is a way to stay true to what we do at our core, which is culturally immersive luxury travel, but also be able to introduce something new with the wellness focus.”
Although A&K has standard tours in these same destinations, the wellness-inspired itineraries are in part distinguished by the smaller, more niche hotels included. For example, these guests would stay in the Rosewood Hotel in Luang Prabang, Laos, where they can stay in a villa or tent (Is any one choosing the tent?), the Six Senses on Krabey Island, Cambodia, and the Amanbagh in rural Rajasthan where an Ayurvedic doctor assesses your diet before coordinating with the chef on your meals on property.
Outside of the wellness-designated tours, A&K is integrating wellness elements into all of the trips. In 2020, A&K will introduce a “Design Your Day” on luxury small group journeys. One of the three choices is an active component giving guests the opportunity to move more than that average itinerary. For customized travel, they are expanding what’s available in each destination to include more active or wellness-themed activities.
“It is an easy fit for the luxury tour sector because of the kind of hotels that you are able to work with. As more and more hotels try to get into this space, it is important to be able to identify those properties that can offer those kinds of experiences but still remain small and boutique. I believe that part of wellness is being able to slow down and have peace on vacation rather than be around other travelers,” said Schmudde.
These are A&K’s first wellness-branded itineraries since opening in 1962. Geoffrey Kent, the current chairman and CEO, and his friend and former owner of Silversea Cruises, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, last month bought the luxury tour operator from struggling Chinese property developer Zhonghong Holdings.
Other luxury tour operators such as Butterfield and Robinson and Lindblad Expeditions have placed wellness, or at least activity, at the forefront of their itineraries before it became such a big deal.
Lindblad has a wellness focus on all voyages with an exclusive partnership with Exhale for Base Camp Baja voyages including Exhale-led fitness classes, mindfulness hikes, paddle board yoga classes, and meditation sessions.
“We continue to look for more opportunities to expand this philosophy too, and have added stand up paddle boarding in Alaska, our first “cold water” destination; and…we are trialing sand dune bikes on our brand new Magdalena Bay expedition,” said a Lindblad representative.
Butterfield & Robinson goes beyond biking to integrate other wellness elements such as yoga, meditation, hiking, biking, spa and stand up paddle board to its itineraries.
Others such as Kensington Tours and Cox & Kings have yet to introduce a wellness-first component although they are integrating elements — largely around rest, relaxation and local cuisine — into their existing tours.
“Active is definitely something that is being asked quite a bit,” said Marc Sison, Kensington’s product director for Asia and Africa.
“The whole idea of farm-to-table is actually more and more prevalent especially on a safari lodge.”
Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of luxury travel agency Indagare, has developed wellness-first tours for many years and is watching as the market evolves. She believes there is still so much potential growth for luxury tour operators ready to integrate wellness in a meaningful way. In 2017, Indagare collaborated with Equinox to develop trips around three themes where travel and wellness intersect: adventure, transformation and renewal.
“Health and wellness and training are complex areas of expertise and those experts are not necessarily ones who understand the logistics of travel or how to deliver hospitality on the road,” Biggs Bradley told Skift.
She however believes the greatest outcomes come when travel companies link up with real experts in the wellness industry.
“The greatest successes that I have seen is when expertise is married so a fabulous trainer or teacher gets together with a travel company that really knows a destination and creates something that highlights the strength of each. At the high-end of the market particularly, you are dealing with very discerning consumers so offerings have to be very well conceived,” she said.
Hotel brands have diligently stepped up their wellness game, however, the opportunity to connect the dots between properties throughout an itinerary is a different matter. Six Senses was one of the prescient brands to introduce a wellness circuit that integrate multiple properties as opposed to a single destination, as Laura Powell highlights here.
Competition is not far behind. Luxury tour operators need to become conscious of evolving demand before losing market share to the rapidly growing market of travel experiences designed by popular fitness and wellness brands.
Fast Company published an article last month profiling the rise of wellness tourism led by brands and instructors with cult-like followings. The popular fitness class The Class recently expanded its multi-day retreats held at luxury resorts. Spots can cost up to $6,000.
Destinations are also increasingly using wellness as a hook for marketing.
The Global Wellness Institute estimates that wellness tourism is now a $639.4 billion global industry with travelers taking 830 million wellness trips in 2017. Luxury tour operators have multiple advantages over these wellness brands entering the travel game for the first time. Most obvious is access and expertise in multiple destinations which creates a richer, more integrative experience that prizes both culture and consciousness with equal importance.
Already established as high-end operators, these itineraries also provide access to more intimate and authentic wellness experiences. While fitness brands might have a cult following, these retreats are still only one part of their business giving them fewer resources and (in some cases) decades of expertise and connections.
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Photo credit: A guest and tour guide walk towards the Jhansi Lodge in India. Tour operators are incorporating wellness into their itineraries. Abercrombie and Kent