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Despite
financial concerns, half of consumers plan to maintain or increase spending on leisure
travel in the months ahead, regardless of income level, according to a recent Accenture
study
.

Some are looking to not only get away, but to also focus on their well-being: Among high-income consumers, 39% say they already have
a luxury trip or wellness retreat booked through early 2023. Among millennials,
21% say they have booked a wellness retreat for the same time frame, the report shows.

Accenture’s
survey of more than 11,000 consumers in 16 countries finds that health and well-being
are considered “essential,” with 33% saying they’re more focused on self-care
than they were a year ago.

As
consumers reframe their mindset, “There is
a huge opportunity here for travel and consumer-facing companies to tap into
ecosystem partnerships and the local communities to offer differentiated
experiences,” says Emily Weiss, a senior managing director at Accenture who
leads its travel industry practice globally.

She says
personal well-being has become “less an indulgence and more of a non-negotiable
essential for today’s consumers, even at a time when many are feeling financial
pressures.”

According
to Weiss, wellness travel today is “an extension of the values and lifestyle of
the traveler.” 

Welcoming wellness

With wellness
tourism predicted to grow an average of 21% annually through 2025, according to
the Global Wellness Institute,
travel startups and properties are ramping up services to accommodate wellness-focused
consumers.

At Vacayou, a PhocusWire Hot 25 Startup for 2022 that links travelers with wellness getaways and active
vacations, organic traffic is up 300% from a year ago, says founder and CEO Muirgheal
Montecalvo. Website traffic has been on the rise since January for mental
health escapes in particular.

“People
are starting to travel again, and they’re looking for healthier ways to
travel,” Montecalvo says. “They are really starting to invest more in their
self-care and their health. I think that is reflected in travel.”

Montecalvo
created Vacayou in late 2019 but the site only launched in June 2021 due to the
pandemic. Vacayou says it will launch a booking engine in October.

According
to Montecalvo, wellness travel means different things to different people: Some
consider it hiking and biking; others see it as a spa weekend or a yoga
retreat. Many are looking to “get out into the
open into the national parks,” she says. “They want the fresh-air vacations.”

Pre-pandemic,
she had to correct the misconception that wellness travel meant weight-loss
trips. COVID-19 “helped bring wellness and the importance of taking a healthier
vacation to light,” she says. People
“were starting to get more physically active, they were taking better care of
themselves.”

But as
interest in wellness rises, Montecalvo warns against “wellness washing” in the
hospitality industry.

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People are starting to travel again, and they’re looking for healthier ways to travel.

Muirgheal Montecalvo – Vacayou

“Throwing a
yoga class into a hotel doesn’t make you a wellness hotel,” she says. “It’s
really important to us that we vet the resorts [to ascertain] that they truly
are wellness properties.

“I’m not
going to mention any hotel chains. But there are a few that were out there
saying they’re a wellness chain, and they’re really not.”

Seeking sanctuary

Concern for
health and wellness is even extending to airport layovers.

People are
looking for “a positive distraction” for their three or four hours spent waiting
for a flight, says Sanctifly founder and CEO
Karl Llewellyn.

Founded in
2016, Sanctifly is a membership app that directs business and leisure travelers
to “anything that’s good for you within five miles of any international airport,”
including gym, pool and spa facilities. Sixty
percent of Sanctifly customers are businesses that buy a membership for their
employees, and 40% are individuals.

August and
September 2022 have been Sanctifly’s busiest months ever, up 500% on last year
and 150% on 2019, says Llewellyn.

“Our
attitude toward travel is moving away from beers and burgers at the airport, to,
‘I’m going to take better care of myself in my airport downtime,’” he says. Pre-pandemic,
Llewellyn says, 60% of people opted to pass the time in the airport lounge,
compared to only 35% now.

The Sanctifly
app asks: Where are you going? How long are you going to be there? And what do
you want to do? The user picks one of six “moods”: relaxation, replenish,
energize, wellness, fitness/gym or sanctuary.

The sanctuary
category was born out the pandemic.

“People
started to ask us, ‘Where can I go to have space, because I don’t want to be in
a crowded space?’” The app tells you where you can “leave your luggage, go for
your run, come back, go for a shower – all at the airport.”

The United
States is Sanctifly’s busiest market globally, which Llewellyn attributes partly
to flight delays.

“Travel
disruption is our bread and butter,” he says. “If you’ve got six hours at an airport,
we are the go-to product for you. Nothing else will tell you what to do with
six hours at LAX, JFK, Atlanta.

“We think
of it as changing the mindset to, ‘I have a six-hour layover. Great! I’m going
to make the most of my six hours in New York or wherever it is.’”

Hotel havens

As soon as COVID travel
restrictions lifted, “travelers were eager to immerse themselves in positive,
healthy and enriching experiences,” says Diana Stobo, founder and owner of
The Retreat Costa Rica. “We saw many guests book our more results-driven programs [focused on fitness and healing],” she says – a trend other properties have noted, as well.

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We have also witnessed a dynamic shift toward family travel to the Maldives versus only honeymoons that were symbolic of the destination in the past.

Sonu Shivdasani – Soneva

The Retreat
Costa Rica has seen a rise in bookings among 28- to 35-year-old women, as well
an increase in male guest bookings. Stobo says most of the property’s bookings
are direct through the website, with word of mouth and organic searches playing
a big role in growth.

“During the
pandemic we all began to look at the quality of our lives and evaluate our
various lifestyles,” Stobo says. “Many of us realized the benefits of self-care
and living a healthier lifestyle.”

With the
pandemic, Stobo has also observed a rising demand for non-touch options such as
reiki and meditation, she says.

“From our
perspective, we are happily on track to grow our brand, awareness and business.
However, with the current economic climate, we step forward with eyes wide open
and continue to flex as needed.”

Sonu
Shivdasani, co-founder and CEO of Soneva, says Soneva Soul, the company’s expansive wellness concept that offers a
“lifestyle evolution,” has been “very well received since its launch in late
2021, and that reinforces our belief that guests are singularly prioritizing
personal well-being like never before.”

The
pandemic gave many people the opportunity to pause and rethink their values and
priorities, says Shivdasani.

In addition
to programs focused on exercise, rest, relationships and eating well, Soneva
Soul also offers guests the ability to meet with “expert international doctors
and healers [with] the latest innovative treatments and equipment.” 

Shivdasani says
the Maldives had very few travel restrictions in place during the pandemic, so Soneva
Soul was able to welcome a high number of international guests over the past
two years. Growth from short-haul markets, such as India, has been exponential.

“We have
also witnessed a dynamic shift toward family travel to the Maldives versus
only honeymoons that were symbolic of the destination in the past,” says
Shivdasani.

“Reunions
with family and friends have also become very popular, and we are already
witnessing this emerging trend at our resorts through an increase in
multi-generational travelers coming to stay at Soneva.”

Palmaïa, The House of AïA, a luxury wellness resort in Mexico that opened in 2019, has also seen more families traveling for a wellness getaway, says Kelly Whitehead, Palmaia’s senior wellness manager, U.S. East.

The Mexican resort is seeing particularly strong demand from vegetarian and vegan guests who are drawn to the plant-based “gastronomic experience,” as well as from families looking to enroll their kids in Palmaïa’s wellness program for children.

To accommodate traveler and family needs, “Technology is helping to customize and curate the overall experience for the guest,” says Whitehead.



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