From now on, she said, “I see myself incorporating a lot
more of my needs into my travel instead of what I can see.”
As the pandemic lingers into its third calendar year, it’s probably
not surprising that travellers are increasingly looking to their vacations to
work on their mental and physical wellness. In a recent American Express
survey, 76% of respondents said they wanted to spend more on travel that
improves their well-being, and 55% said they would be willing to pay extra for
these services or activities.
That has hotels ramping up their wellness offerings, from
outfitting rooms with Peloton exercise bikes to adding programmes that address
mental health. Hilton has created a programme called Five Feet to Fitness,
which includes an interactive kiosk with fitness tutorials and a gym’s worth of
equipment in some rooms.
At Miraval Resorts & Spas locations, guests over the
past year have come in “having experienced symptoms of stress that they, quite
frankly, were unfamiliar with,” said Simon Marxer, the hotel group’s associate
vice president for wellness offerings.
In April, Miraval partnered with the National Alliance on
Mental Illness to create Journeys With Intention, a customisable wellness
programme that allows guests to choose from a selection of “journeys” according
to their health goals. Among the offerings: self-connection, grief and loss,
and mental well-being, as well as more standard spa, adventure and fitness programmes.
“What we’re seeing, certainly in hospitality, is the need to
serve really the whole person,” Marxer said.
SPAS TOOK A HIT
Spas, with their focus on high-touch, one-on-one services
like massages and facials, were hit hard last year. Hotel and resort spas
experienced a 42% dip in revenues, while destination spas, which offer an
immersive experience, were down 37%, according to a report by the Global
Wellness Institute published this month. But the wellness industry has since
begun a rapid recovery, the report said, projecting that the spa sector will
grow 17% annually through 2025.
Still, the downturn forced hotels and resorts — and their
guests — to expand their notions of wellness and what activities fall under
that umbrella. Before the pandemic, a wellness trip was probably centered on a
spa’s traditional services, said Caroline Klein, chief communications officer
of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, a luxury hotel group. Now, hotels may offer
nature walks, meditation, yoga or any number of creative offerings.
In some ways, hotels are responding to the lifestyles that
many people adopted at the height of lockdowns, including making home-cooked
meals and taking virtual fitness classes.
“Hotels are really seeing people bring those new mindsets,
routines and preferences with them as they start to travel again,” Klein said.
“What that creates is a definite shift in expectations and experiences that
hotels need to cater to, because they’re not catering to the traveller from
Emily Rossin, a spokesperson for a hospitality group that
includes the Ryder, a boutique hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, said that
after seeing the surge in popularity of Peloton bikes during the pandemic, the
hotel decided to make them an in-room option for guests.
“We noticed that people were still stuck in their habitual
routines from when we were in lockdown,” Rossin said. “When they’re coming to
stay with us, it’s within their same routine, and they really don’t have to
Established wellness hotels are also benefiting from the
boom. Alex Glasscock, a co-founder of the Ranch wellness retreat in Malibu,
California, which offers hours of daily hiking and a vegan menu, has seen an
increase in bookings, he said, notably from teenagers and young adults. It’s a
significant shift from when he and his wife, Sue, started the company in 2010
and people were confused by the concept of a “luxury boot camp.”
“This is truly a megatrend,” he said, adding that at the
Ranch, “what we’ve noticed from the pandemic is that where people used to book
two and three months in advance, now we’re full six months in advance.”
CHANGING TRAVEL STYLES
What people want out of a vacation is shifting, said Chris
Kam, president and chief operating officer of Omnitrak, a Hawaii-based research
company that conducts regular national travel surveys. While travel has always
been a reset, during the pandemic, “the travel experience transformed and
became a place to heal — from mental, physical, spiritual stress,” he said in
an email. “People travel for answers now about how to feel better.”
Shasha Du, 33, a founder and the creative director of Wild
Awake, which organises retreats for young people of colour, said her travel
style had changed. “I used to love travelling to cities a lot more,” she said.
But looking back at that travel, which she said included a lot of shopping, Du
realised that it “was enjoyable, but it was also not that fulfilling. It didn’t
nurture my soul.”
In 2020, she designed two nature retreats for herself and
her friends. And in November, she rented a barn north of Sacramento,
California, through Airbnb and, for the first time, signed up for an Airbnb
experience: a tea foraging event where she learnt about the ancestral medicinal
uses of many plants, some of which she’d been seeing all her life.
“It was just a different form of self-care, but I felt that
it was really, really rejuvenating,” she said.
Feeling depleted by the pandemic, Ann Chen, 58, an English
composition instructor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia,
recently booked a wellness retreat with a friend for June 2022 “as a way to
keep going — find something positive,” she said. They plan to stay at Ojo Santa
Fe in New Mexico, a wellness resort with thermal pools, meals sourced from
local farms and a spa. They planned ahead for personal scheduling reasons, but
also to give them time to research the area and understand its “culture,
attitudes and beliefs,” Chen said. The idea, she added, was “to be soothed, to
work on being calm, to work on eating good food.”
“This kind of resort is getting us back to more of a normal
feeling in our lives, where we’re just not so stressed out by worrying about
whether we’re going to live another day,” Chen said.
Industry experts say the wellness travel trend is here to
stay. The United States accounted for nearly 30% of the global wellness tourism
market in 2020, and the sector is expected to grow to $919 billion by 2022 from
$735.8 billion in 2020, according to the Global Wellness Institute.
“This is where we were headed,” Marxer of Miraval Resorts
& Spas said. “The pandemic has brought the future forward in an accelerated
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