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Leisure Management - Consumer insight

North american Research

Consumer insight

The Wellness Tourism Association has conducted its first North American consumer survey. President and co-founder Anne Dimon reveals the findings

Of the men who filled out WTA’s survey, half were over the age of 55 shutterstock
A ‘general, overall reboot’ is the prime objective of half of respondents shutterstock
47% of women want to travel solo or solo to meet up with others shutterstock

The need to better understand what consumers want in a wellness vacation was the driving force behind the Wellness Tourism Association’s 2018 Wellness Travel Survey. Conducted in mid-January to the end of August, 2018, the online survey drew from 2,566 respondents, of which 95 per cent were from the US and Canada.

Respondents were those who had already expressed some interested in wellness travel via social media or as subscribers to various newsletters distributed by WTA members. The survey included 16 questions related to demographics as well as to wellness vacations. Respondents were overwhelmingly female aged 35 plus, with just 10 per cent of total respondents under the age of 35. Of the men who filled out the survey, half were 55 plus.

More than 63 per cent of respondents said they had been on a wellness vacation, while the remainder said they had not, but planned to take one.

This particular finding supports a recent poll of WTA members on trends they are seeing for 2019 and beyond: More “newcomers” participating in their wellness programmes. For instance, Pritikin in Miami, Florida reports that in 2018, approximately 50 per cent of their guests were first-timers. According to Canyon Ranch, new guests also make up nearly 50 per cent of their business, and at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta, 95 per cent of the people who attend their all-inclusive retreats have not previously participated in a wellness retreat. WTA members report the growth of “first timers” as a growing trend, as consumers become more aware of the importance of taking charge of their own health.

What do wellness travellers want?
In response to the question “If you are planning to take a wellness vacation in 2018 or 2019 what would be the main goal?”, just under half of survey respondents (44.93 per cent) identified a “general, overall reboot” as their prime objective, followed by “reconnecting with self” and a “mental health break.”

The vast majority (just under 85 per cent) of people told us a “variety of healthy food options” topped their list of must haves for a wellness vacation. “Accessible nature” was second, followed by “a wide range of schedule fitness activities” and “access to spa treatments”, which were tied for third place on this list of must haves. “Peace and quiet” was fourth. And it surprised us to learn that “A fully hosted event” was the least important item on their list. Nearly 8 in 10 selected “a self-guided programme with opportunity to pick and choose from a menu of options,” versus just over 2 in 10 who desired “a structured programme guided by hosts and experts.”

A rise in solo travel
When we asked “With whom do you prefer to travel,” the overwhelming response (47 per cent) was a combination of “solo” and “solo to meet up with the like-minded”, followed closely by travel “with a significant other.” But what we found fascinating was that it is mostly men who want to travel with their significant others. Women want to travel solo or solo to meet up with others with similar interests. The only female group that indicated they wanted to travel with their “significant other” was those under the age of 35.

Right across the industry, the rise in solo travellers appears to be a trend, and WTA members are witnessing it as well. At Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, 50 per cent of their wellness package guests are women travelling solo, and that figure increases to 75 per cent for the hotel’s three- and four-night retreats. At Canyon Ranch resorts in Massachusetts and Arizona, president and COO Thomas Klein says, “half of our guests are solo travellers.” While the integrative wellness brand historically skews higher with female guests, in general, Klein says they are seeing an increase in solo male travellers.

Flexibility in length of stay
When it came to preferred length of stay for a wellness vacation, close to half of participants sized up their perfect length of stay as three to five nights, while just over a third said they preferred seven nights. WTA members are seeing greater flexibility with length of stays.

The 40-year-old New Life Hiking in Vermont reports that over the past three years, the number of guests that have stayed longer than two weeks has increased by 90 per cent, which prompted them to add a 21-night wellness retreat in 2017. Simultaneously, Canyon Ranch has seen a decrease in guests’ average length of stay, as customers seek shorter and more frequent trips. And, at Hilton Head Health in South Carolina, while “annual visits” have been popular for years, guests are now planning out shorter, more frequent trips (two to four times per year) to stay on track, while others are dedicating resources to commit to an 8- to 12-week stay to make a significant impact on their health.

Ideal spend
While consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits associated with a true wellness vacation planned with a specific goal and carefully researched to ensure the right fit, the survey revealed that there is a high percentage still needing to better understand the value proposition. Just shy of half the respondents (49.22 per cent) would be “willing to spend less than US$2,000” on a five-day all-inclusive (exclusive of transportation) wellness vacation, while close to the same number (44.86 per cent) would be “willing to spend between US$2,500 and US$5,000.”

With the rising costs of healthcare and prescription drugs in the US, there is an opportunity to educate consumers on the fact that, over time, it will cost them less to spend money on preserving their health than dealing with the costs of declining health.

A follow-up consumer survey is already in the works, plus, the association has partnered with Recommend Magazine on a travel agent survey.

If you are planning to take a Wellness Vacation in 2018 or 2019 what would be the MAIN goal?
What do you feel are the Must Haves for your personal Wellness Vacation?
What would be the perfect length of stay for a Wellness Vacation
Who do you/would you prefer to travel with on a wellness vacation?
About the author:
Anne Dimon

Anne Dimon is a long-time travel journalist, founder/editor of TraveltoWellness.com and Co-Founder & President of the Wellness Tourism Association.

The Wellness Tourism Association is a global organisation, incorporated as a non-profit company in the State of Colorado, US. The mission is to support and further the growth of the wellness tourism industry worldwide through networking, education, communication and marketing. Co-Founders are Accor Hotels, Canyon Ranch and Travel to Wellness with Founding Members Art of Living Retreat Center and the Monaco Government Tourist Office. www.wellnesstourismassociation.org [email protected]

Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2019 edition
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