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By Betsy Goldberg

woman beach yoga wellness

What style of travel, on the rise dramatically, is a nearly half-trillion-dollar business?

Wellness tourism is a $494-billion industry, powered by travelers who yearn to relax and refresh in beautiful locales around the world. That equals one out of every seven dollars spent on travel worldwide.

Read on to discover eight remarkable wellness travel facts. You’ll look at this style of vacation in a new way.

1. Wellness Travel Is Huge

In 2013, wellness travelers took more than 586 million domestic and international trips. That was up 12% from the year before. By some accounts, wellness tourism is growing at twice the rate of overall tourism.

A Spafinder Wellness 365 survey found 62% of respondents said they’d like to take a healthy vacation, while 20% have already taken one. Of those who took one, a whopping 96% said it positively impacted their life.

More proof of wellness tourism's importance: according to the Global Wellness Tourism Economy study, international wellness tourists spend 59% more per trip, while domestic wellness travelers spend 159% more per trip.

2. Wellness Travel Is No Passing Fad

Although wellness travel is a relatively new niche, it’s already transcended the fad stage. Some experts say it’s a way of life that spans a broad spectrum: everything from spa getaways and spiritual healing to wilderness immersion and wellness cruises.

“Wellness travel is not a trend. It is not something that is here today and gone tomorrow,” saysCarly Renshaw, a Virtuoso wellness travel expert in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and a registered holistic nutritionist. “Wellbeing is part of our everyday conversation now. People want to live better lives and travel is a major component.”

3. Wellness Travel Changes Lives

Leslie Overton, managing director of Absolute Travel in New York, says wellness travel is about rejuvenation. It’s where people can rebuild spiritually or physically or continue on a path they’ve already started.

Absolute Travel offers wellness retreats to destinations such as southern Africa, Bali and India. Its experiences include elements such as learning about ancient tribal healing rituals, local spa treatments, meditation with monks, organic and local food experiences, and sunrise yoga.

4. Wellness Travelers Are Going to Some Surprising Places

One of Overton’s clients, a professional athlete, had suffered multiple concussions and was told he couldn’t play anymore. She booked a three-month wellness journey for him starting in Dubai and ending in Thailand. During the trip, the client experienced a deep immersion with wellness, including physical recovery as well as meditation and mental awareness. He gained new life insights from Eastern philosophy, giving him a bigger-picture view and helping him plan his next steps.

North America and Europe have the most mature wellness travel infrastructure, so they account for two-thirds of wellness vacations. Particularly popular: Hawaii, regions of unspoiled nature such as Costa Rica and Iceland, and areas where Earth’s energy gathers in a vortex, such as Sedona, Arizona.

India is big for travelers wanting to see the birthplace of yoga. Other Asian destinations such as Thailand and Bali are also wellness-oriented. But Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s fastest-growing wellness region, with 90% more visitors from 2012 to 2013. Authentic indigenous treatments and experiences are capturing attention in the developing world.

5. Wellness Travel Is Broader Than You Think

But travel advisors are taking those wellness ingredients and combining them in personalized, creative ways to create powerful travel experiences.The Spafinder Wellness 365 survey found that the most important activities were healthy meals (70%), outdoor experiences (58%), fitness activities and classes (56%), yoga (43%), mindfulness and meditation (41%) and nutrition and weight loss (40%).

Carly Renshaw and her sister Jessica have planned a variety of wellness experiences including active adventure, wilderness and wildlife and rest and rejuvenation trips. One memorable vacation they booked was an Antarctica expedition cruise that immersed clients in raw and relatively untouched nature, surrounded by wildlife. They photographed penguins and whales and kayaked alongside icebergs.

“It was a lifetime experience that left them feeling invigorated, uplifted and joyful,” Jessica Renshaw says.

Wellness cruises are growing in popularity, explains Jeri Donovan, a Virtuoso wellness travel specialist in Larkspur, California. They incorporate elements such as healthy cuisine, classes and lectures by experts, walking programs, meditation, yoga, Pilates, cycling and running.

“To me, that’s what wellness travel should do,” Donovan says. “You want your client to come back rejuvenated and relaxed. Some trips are too frenetic.”Donovan booked a trip for two couples on a wellness cruise to Hawaii. One of the clients had recently had cancer, so they were looking for a healthy getaway with plenty of downtime. During the trip, they had stays on the Big Island and Molokai and enjoyed healthy food, yoga and kayaking. When they returned, they were so entranced by the experience that they promptly made a deposit on a similar trip.

6. Wellness Travelers Are Motivated by a Precious Resource

All kinds of travelers – men and women, younger and older – are seeking wellness experiences. Couples and families also see wellness travel as a way to spend quality time with loved ones and share a positive experience with them.

With limited time off, clients want to retain their healthy habits on vacation. But they want to further enhance them with new experiences.The biggest motivator for wellness travelers is using their precious time in a valuable way. “Time is the new luxury,” said Jessica Renshaw, noting that her wellness clients are people who are looking for a break from the “societal rat race.”

The trend of experiential travel goes hand in hand with wellness travel. With limited time for vacations, people don’t just want to sightsee. Instead, they want to have authentic experiences in the destinations they visit. They want to return home with their lives enhanced.

7. Wellness Travel’s Main Benefits Aren’t Physical

Wellness travel is about more than just losing weight or exercising. Check out the top three positive effects of wellness vacations from the Spafinder Wellness 365 survey. You’ll see the mental triumphs over the physical:

  • Stress and anxiety reduction (76%)
  • A more positive mood (75%)
  • A more rested feeling (69%)
  • Weight loss and getting fit (35%)
  • Kick-starting a healthier lifestyle (34%)