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Monday,  July 22, 2024   5:03 PM
Wellness travel: a healthy market

As interest in healthy living and fitness continues to grow, the effects are being seen in the travel industry as an increasing number of travellers - and agents – look to the expanding market of health and wellness travel.

Anne Marie Moebes, executive VP, Well-Being TravelAccording to Anne Marie Moebes, executive VP of Well-Being Travel, the health travel segment is valued at approximately $494 billion worldwide, making it a potentially lucrative market for agents seeking a specialty. Since its founding in 2009 with a focus on medical travel, Well-Being Travel (which aims to educate agents on the growing health travel market) eventually shifted its focus to the larger health and wellness travel niche.

“As we got more involved in that side of the industry, we realized there was a wellness side of the business that definitely had a larger share of the market,” Moebes explained. “Consumers are looking for vacations that either help them jumpstart a wellness program, or they already have a healthy, active lifestyle and they want to continue that while they’re travelling.”

The increasing profile of the health travel niche will be front and centre at the third Well-Being Travel Symposium, connecting agents with suppliers dealing in this particular niche. This year's event will be held in Toronto on June 15-16 and will mark the event’s first Canadian date, after being held in U.S. cities such as Las Vegas in previous years.

“There’s actually more agents interested than suppliers; they're agents are now saying ‘I’m interested, I’ve got the client base – where are the products for me to sell?’," Moebes said.

According to Moebes, there’s even more room for specialization in this particular niche, when comparing health-minded business and leisure travellers.

“The corporate traveller is looking for fitness centres, fitness equipment and better lighting," she explained. "For leisure travellers, it started with spas but that’s not all the consumer is asking for now; what they want now is the experience. They want to stay fit – whether it’s golfing or going to the gym. It’s not as if the vacation is only about wellness but making sure that while the individual traveller enjoys their vacation, they can stay fit and healthy.”

For travel agent Deborah Peniuk, entering the health travel niche was something of a personal decision.

“I realized I needed to spend more time on my own health and wellness,” she said. “For the last four years, I’ve been focused on crafting really good mindful trips that focus on specific health and wellness issues, or just a general trip that has a little bit of that wound into it.”

Deborah Peniuk, Aya LifeSince making the shift to wellness travel with her business Aya Life, Peniuk has organized trips featuring a mix of activities such as yoga and spa visits, with an increasing focus on diet, from trips featuring vegetarian and vegan menus and most recently, to gluten-free, catering to travellers who are looking to make a change for either lifestyle or medical reasons.

The make-up of her clients is also diverse. In addition to yoga and fitness instructors looking to take groups on health retreats, Peniuk has also worked with couples, women-only groups and is currently organizing a retreat for a labour union, which she said has recognized the importance of health (both physical and psychological) for its workers and is looking to take the next step by sending employees on a retreat. Multi-generational family trips are also in the works, Peniuk said.

While traditional health and wellness destinations such as the Caribbean and Central America (including countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica) remain popular, Peniuk said that up-and-coming destinations include Colombia and other South American countries which allow for retreats in the Amazon. She is also currently working on trips for clients to Ireland, Italy and France.

When organizing such packages for clients, Peniuk said that once a destination, theme and budget have been determined, the size of both the group and venue are equally as important.

“People build these retreats for 40 people and they expect to have one-on-one time; you’ll be burnt out by day two,” she explained, adding that an ideal group is between 12 and 20 travellers. “You have to make sure it has the right energy and the right amount of space to do the activities that you want to do.”

As for the growth of the health travel niche, the sky’s the limit.

“I compare it to luxury travel – 25 years ago, no one was talking about luxury travel and then all of a sudden, it became a lifestyle of its own,” Moebes said. “It’s the same with wellness travel – you don’t see a lot of suppliers concentrating on it, but you see a lot more of it now than you did four years ago.”

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