Wellness tourism: the future of wellness for hotels

11 May 2023 | 7 minute read

What is wellness tourism? 

Wellness tourism is an industry which has grown significantly in recent years, going from niche to norm. In 2022, the global wellness tourism market size was valued at US$814.6 billion. 1 As part of a shift in the perception of health, fitness and one's mental wellbeing, more individuals are looking for 'travel which is associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one's personal wellbeing'.2 The concept of travelling with the fundamental element of improving one's wellbeing is by no means new and with wellness travellers spending 53% more than the typical international tourist3, there can be no doubt as to why an increasing number of hotel owners and operators are incorporating the wellness dimension into their corporate strategy, either by acquiring wellness brands or repositioning their existing assets. Wellness tourism appears to be a lucrative business.

With COVID-19 changing the lives of many, individuals have been forced to rethink the way they live, work, eat and travel: wellness, recovery and restoration are now seen as necessities of day-to-day life and travel rather than luxuries, as may previously have been the case. The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) concluded that the pandemic has 'accelerated the ascendance of wellness as a dominant consumer value all around the world'4  and with the average annual growth rate of wellness tourism forecasted at 20.9% from 2020-20255 – surpassing the projection of any other sector in the wellness industry – it is by no means slowing down!

So what is 'wellness'? 

The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) defines wellness as 'the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that leads to a state of holistic health'6  which is centred around six dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental. Therefore, as we enter into a new era, wellness in hospitality is no longer just about having a full-service spa, but also incorporating other 'intangible' and 'softer' elements which increase the traveller's overall experience. 

There is however no one definition that fits all when it comes to describing these 'intangible' and 'softer' elements, and it is solely down to the individual end consumer. GWI identifies two types of travellers in the wellness tourism market. The 'primary' traveller who is motivated by wellness to travel i.e. someone participating in a wellness retreat with their goal being to return home feeling revitalised and replenished, and the 'secondary' traveller being someone who seeks to maintain wellness or engage in wellness activities during their travel i.e. someone who visits the gym regularly or prioritises healthy food as part of their everyday lifestyle. The vast majority of wellness tourism is seen to be engaged in by secondary travellers, who accounted for more than 85% of wellness tourism and 88% of expenditure in 2020 although we note that statistics from 2020 may be skewed due to the pandemic. Secondary travellers are also forecasted to grow at a faster rate and outpace primary travellers, at 6.9% annually from 2021-20307

For that reason, wellness in hospitality remains a broad concept which can comprise any element of wellness; big or small, physical or abstract.

Approaches to wellness by hotel brands

While the stereotype of wellness tends to come from being healthy, many hoteliers are embracing their own unique way of incorporating wellness which fits their hotel brand and their target market. Here are a few up and coming trends across the market.

Exercise: Operators are making it easier for guests to exercise when abroad by providing spacious gyms equipped with premium equipment, and designing hotel rooms with enough space to exercise with in-room equipment. They are also providing complimentary gym kits and access to workouts via workout cards or dedicated in-room television channels. The Westin Hotel offers rooms equipped with a treadmill or stationary bikes, dumbbells, resistance bands and stability bands, as well as the ability to have fitness kit or apparel delivered to your room. Sheraton also offers a complimentary 'workout in a bag' that includes all your essential equipment such as workout cards, a workout mat, a foam roller and resistance bands.

Nutrition: Providing a range of nutritional and healthy options at the hotel restaurants and on the room-service menus is key to embracing wellness through taste. Major operators commented on how their menus are designed to ensure food is tasty, locally sourced and nutritious. Equinox is leading the way with its room-service menu comprising of 70 options designed to offer only the most nutritionally dense meals for peak performance. 

Sleep: Wellness operators carefully design hotel rooms to facilitate optimal sleep. The bedding, lighting (including black out shades), provision of sleeping aids and temperature control are all important aspects. Six Senses demonstrates this by offering a sleep programme which includes a sleep coach, sleep monitoring, a wellness screening, bedtime tea service and a goodie bag of sleep-health supplies. Their trained team offers analysis, behavioural medication recommendations and guidance to improve sleep on one's travels. 

Design: The design of wellness hotels tends to be minimalist, but spacious.  This reflects the emerging trend of adopting wellness architecture, biophilic design, and sustainability elements into the entire design of the property to help travellers connect with nature, albeit within built environments, and to feel calm, grounded and refreshed. 

Personalised wellness: Some providers, such as Six Senses, are focused on providing personalised wellness based on scientific evidence. This includes offering tailored health assessments with nutritionists, free mental health apps or personal trainers. 

Technology: Technology is also key, with many new entrants to the market targeting younger travellers. The Fairmont Spa Century Plaza incorporates technology into their wellness experience to make their spa the 'spa of the future issue'. The newest addition to their offerings which integrate technology with their biohacking programs is NuCalm. NuCalm uses neuroscience technology to destress and improve one's quality of sleep by using biochemistry, physics and neurophysiology to rebalance one's brain and body functions.

Sustainability: Sustainability is particularly appealing to travellers who prioritise wellness. Sustainability can range from ensuring food is locally sourced where possible, re-usable water bottles being available to guests, engaging in the local community and reducing waste. American Express found that 81% of consumers choose to visit destinations where they can immerse themselves in the local culture and where the money they spend goes back into the local community8

Futureproofing your investment 

Kasha Shilington, CEO of Resense Spas has spoken on the importance of futureproofing spa designs, commenting9 that Resense Spas are 'designing spas now that will only open in 3-5 years time and then need to be current for at least 10 years onwards.' This will be a key consideration for hoteliers embarking on updating their premises to incorporate desired wellness features. With the ever-evolving nature of wellness and health due to ongoing medical research, hoteliers will be keen to ensure that any development investments they make now remain lucrative for a significant period in the future to ensure long term return. 

The fear of missing out

As individuals are becoming more committed to wellness either mentally, psychically or emotionally, it is important for hoteliers to get ahead of the game. Whether this is by adapting under-performing parts of their hotels and transforming them into larger gyms equipped with the latest technologies and equipment, or increasing the spa offering by adding salt rooms, plunge pools and additional treatment rooms; the options are endless. However, implementing these wellness concepts often comes with a hefty price tag. Wellness is personal to each individual and therefore hoteliers need to ensure they understand the wellness tourism market and the needs of the consumers in such market to be able to flourish and remain competitive. 

It is worth noting that failure to adapt and invest in wellness now may cost hoteliers more down the line. Wellness comes hand in hand with an increased emphasis on 'green building' and sustainability, and over the next decade there is likely to be a smaller investor pool for properties and business models that do not meet these criteria. As Luxury Lifestyle Magazine warns ’You must embrace wellness in the future of your hotel business. Hoteliers that don't understand that they need to catch this tide will find their hotels become out of date and out of vogue. They will lose market share to those who have embraced wellness and can see the business benefits of doing so.' 10

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


Related experience

As a full-service law firm, we are able to provide advice and information about a wide range of other issues. Here are some related areas.

Join the club

We have lots more news and information that you'll find informative and useful. Let us know what you're interested in and we'll keep you up to date on the issues that matter to you.