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3 of the fastest-growing new trends in wellness travel

On the back of the latest figures that show the global wellness tourism market is valued at more than US$640 billion, here are three of the latest trends emerging in wellness travel.

On the back of the latest figures that show the global wellness tourism market is valued at more than US$640 billion, here are three of the latest trends emerging in wellness travel.

Wellness tourism has emerged as a significant and rapidly growing segment within the overall tourism industry, reflecting a global shift towards prioritising health, wellbeing, and experiential travel.
The importance of wellness tourism is underscored by its substantial market size and impressive growth trajectory in recent years.

According to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), the global wellness tourism market is valued at over US$640 billion, representing a substantial portion of the overall tourism industry. This figure encompasses spending on wellness-focused experiences, accommodations, activities, and services aimed at enhancing physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing while travelling.

The Global Wellness Summit (GWS), of which GWI is a division, has released its annual “Future of Wellness” report, the longest-running, most in-depth forecast of the big trends that will shape wellness in the year ahead. And no surprise, many of them have crept into our leisure time and will begin to impact how, when and where we travel.

Here are three of the trends that will influence the wellness travel your clients may want to book in the near future.

The power of the pilgrimage

The Arkaba Walk by Wildbush Luxury.

One silver lining that came out of the pandemic gloom is that people all around the world rediscovered the simple joys and health benefits that come from walking, and a purposeful connection with nature.

Today, walking enthusiasts are dramatically expanding their horizons by exploring ancient pilgrimage trails, fueling a global trend as record numbers of travellers take up multi-day hikes infused with spiritual exploration and cultural heritage in countries around the world.

While nearly half a million pilgrims completed the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain in 2023 (a new record), scores of modern pilgrims were also drawn to off-the-beaten-path sites in Japan, such as the Shikoku 88 and the Michinoku Coastal trails, as well as buzzy pilgrimage destinations in Sri Lanka, Bhutan, India and Italy – all of which have undergone extensive restorations thanks to government efforts to promote holistic tourism.

From a wellness perspective, this trend has serious legs: a pilgrimage is a metaphor for the path to enlightenment, engendering slow, meditative travel, and facilitating deeper engagement with our surroundings to foster a sense of awe.

It also produces unexpected encounters with strangers that lead to a deeper perspective on the place of our “self” in a very big world. Savvy resorts are now looking to pilgrimages, offering wellness programs that incorporate journeys between sacred sites, participation in religious services such as meditating with monks or alms giving, and providing access to ceremonies once attainable only after years of experience on the path to enlightenment.

Closer to home, Great Walks of Australia are working with local indigenous communities to add another dimension to their scenic walks. With elders as your guide, guests have the opportunity to learn not just about the land they are on, but the rich history of our First Nations People and what the landscape offers in terms of health, healing and survival.

Climate-adaptive wellness

Parkroyal Collection Pickering, Singapore.

With an increasingly heat-crushed planet, bringing massive physical and mental health risks, we will see a new ‘climate-adaptive wellness’: a wave of innovations that can cool our bodies, homes and cities. We simply cannot continue to air condition more of the world as it’s erasing climate change progress.

Cooling approaches (from the cutting-edge to the ancient) will be the burning issue in architecture and design. We’ll see more green space, tree cover, and rooftop gardens; high-tech building materials and heat-reflective paint for roads and roofs; and heat-fighting design from historically broiling places like the Middle East.

Cities are re-thinking everything, building cooling centres and public pools, with many rushing to clean up their waterways to let people do wild swimming, an incredible line of defence.

Smart-tech cooling clothing will go mainstream, as will wearables that monitor the body’s heat indicators, from core temp to hydration to electrolytes. There is even a new ‘climate-adaptive’ beauty trend rising.
Our baking planet is disrupting travel, with people moving away from traditional ‘hotspots’, trading beaches and deserts for mountains; the Mediterranean for Scandinavia; and summer vacations for autumn or spring ones – all in a move towards what’s being called ‘cool-cations’.

Lofoton, Norway. Credit: Kym Ellis.

So much will change in the traditional wellness space, from a new focus on the role of hot/cold therapies on the body’s thermoregulation; to the rise of (cooler), night-time wellness programming at hotels and resorts, from star-gazing to full-moon yoga.

Hotels all around the world are doing their bit to be more environmentally-friendly, as well as offering state-of-the-art wellness centres and bathing facilities that allow their guests to experience hot/cold therapy, as well as the benefits of the Dead Sea, without necessarily visiting Israel or Jordan!

Sports is finding its footing in hospitality

Siro-One-Za'abeel-fitness-lab_Wellness travel
The fitness lab at Siro One Za’abeel, Dubai.

After decades of fitness meaning lonely solo sessions at the gym, more people are embracing social, empowering sports (see: the pickleball explosion)—and more people want to train like near-elite athletes.

At the same time, pro, collegiate, and even competitive junior athletes, constantly travelling to compete, have sorely lacked hospitality destinations that deliver wellness, recovery treatments and state-of-the-art gym equipment.

Hospitality destinations are answering the call with everything from pro trainers to pro-level facilities—and if the global sports hospitality market was last valued at US$4.75 billion, it’s about to boom.

Siro-One-Za'abeel-experience-box_wellness travel

More high-end wellness destinations are catering to recreational athletes who are serious about their sport, letting guests train and learn from their sports idols. Body Holiday in St. Lucia now features nine sports-themed months led by pro athletes like Daley Thompson, Alix Klineman and Angie Akers, to let people up their running, swimming, and crewing game.

New hospitality brands are squarely aimed at elite athletes, offering ultimate wellness, fitness and recovery programming.

Equinox-Resort Amaala_floating canopy
The floating canopy at Equinox Resort Amaala.

Equinox Hotels plans 33 properties, and will next open in Saudi Arabia’s extraordinary Amaala wellness destination, with a pro-level gym, personal trainers, brain stimulating tech to boost performance, and the full recovery menu, from cryo chambers to on-demand IV drips.

Siro, a mind-blowing fitness and recovery hotel concept, opening its first property SIRO One Za’abeel next month in Dubai, optimises everything (from rooms to food) for athletes of all levels.

Sports tourism (people travelling to watch events) is a massive market, but more destinations are moving people from spectators to sports participants.

The-Tour-de-France credit Markus Spiske_wellness travel
The Tour de France. Credit: Markus Spiske.

The 2024 Paris Olympics will host a pre-Games marathon for regular folks so they can experience the thrill of the course. This summer’s Tour de France will, for the first time, open up new cycling routes near the course, so biking enthusiasts can jump in. And who doesn’t want to participate in a Muay Thai class in Bangkok?

As travellers increasingly prioritise wellbeing in their travel decisions, the wellness tourism sector is poised for continued expansion and innovation. Start warming up…

Kris Abbey is an expert writer, book author, speaker and consultant on all things spa, wellness and wellness inspired travel. Her career in the health and fitness industry spans 30 years and includes facilitating health and wellness workshops and retreats in both Australia and overseas. Kris publishes Spa & Wellness Magazine and online directory. Her most recent undertaking is launching the Asia Pacific Spa & Wellness awards and the Wellness Summit.