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Leisure Management - What Wellness Travellers Want

Global Research

What Wellness Travellers Want


Wellness travel now accounts for 17 per cent of all global tourism revenues, but it’s difficult to decipher what wellness travellers really want. Compare Retreats founder Dervla Louli Musgrave turns to her global community of clients and readers to find out

Retreats are commonly viewed as an investment in your body and mind
Yoga retreats were the most popular among those surveyed, at 17.8 per cent shutterstock
With modern life requiring so many decisions, retreats offer room to switch off

As a US$639bn industry, wellness tourism has become a point of global interest as it continues to be the fastest-growing tourism sector. The industry is far from reaching saturation-point, but with more wellness retreats on offer than ever before, what is it that wellness travellers really want?

That’s the question Compare Retreats, the booking portal, travel agency and media company for the world’s leading wellness retreats, asked more than 500 wellness travellers between the ages of 18-76 from locations around the globe, including Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, the UK and Australia in Q4 of 2018.

From most-desired destinations, to how wellness travellers research retreats, and mental health becoming the top reason to book a retreat, the survey results uncovered what makes wellness travellers today tick.

Google search, Instagram, and friend referrals are key search channels
The top three ways that the wellness travellers surveyed research and found retreats were via Google search (80.5 per cent), friend referrals (65.6 per cent), and Instagram (45.7 per cent). Online publications are important among the 50+ demographic, where they ranked third in place of Instagram. With good SEO practices, online publications can see themselves having extra influence if they fall into the top pages of a Google search.

Print publications are important for third-party validation of wellness retreat businesses, but only 10.7 per cent of users said they refer to print when searching for a retreat. This indicates that advertisers and retreats would be wiser investing money in online publications and well-crafted Instagram marketing plans, as well as referral programmes, to reach across audiences of all ages and genders.

Mental health is the new wellness priority
Physical fitness has long dominated the wellness industry, but today’s wellness travellers are showing a significant shift towards mental health as their main focus on retreats.

Survey respondents were asked to rank mental, physical and spiritual health in order of importance: 62.9 per cent selected mental health as number one.

Millennials ranked mental health far higher than other demographics, with 67.2 per cent ranking it as first, compared to 57.7 per cent of Gen X and only 52.5 per cent of the 50+ group.

Overall, physical health was ranked first by 24.4 per cent of respondents, and second by 57.9 per cent, showing it continues to be important to many wellness travellers. Spiritual health ranked last, with 75.8 per cent respondents selecting it as their lowest priority.

Plastic-free policies influence wellness travellers’ decisions
The anti-plastic movement is growing momentum fast, and 89.5 per cent of wellness travellers surveyed want wellness retreats to have a plastic-free policy.

Women were more concerned with environmental issues: with 90.7 per cent of female respondents favouring plastic-free policies to 82.3 per cent of men. The huge push towards plastic-free demonstrates the need for wellness retreats to update their sustainability policies to remain competitive.

The Maldives, Bali and Thailand come out on top
Tropical destinations continue to dominate the wellness travel destination bucket list, although surprisingly, Bali is no longer the number one choice for wellness travellers.

The three most desired wellness travel destination was the Maldives (45.4 per cent), followed by Bali (42.9 per cent) and Thailand (34.5 per cent).

Retreats are for prevention instead of a cure
Wellness retreats are commonly viewed as an annual investment in your body and mind. The majority of retreat-going wellness travellers surveyed (45 per cent) attend a retreat once a year, while 36.6 per cent save wellness retreats for special occasions, and 18.4 per cent go two or more times per year.

Furthermore, only 0.2 per cent of wellness travellers showed interest in medical health retreats, and having doctors onsite ranked the lowest of the desired features (2.8 per cent).

All-inclusive packages are preferential
Seventy-eight per cent of wellness travellers want all-inclusive packages and set programmes that include accommodation, meal plans and activities/therapies. Modern-day living requires people to make an increasing number of decisions every day, so when checking into a retreat they want to be able to switch off.

Romance isn’t dead but corporate retreats might be
When asked who they would like to attend a retreat with the majority of participants (46 per cent) opted to bring their romantic partner along.

Men were the demographic most in favour of this: 60.8 per cent of men would rather travel with a romantic partner, compared to 43 per cent of women. Additionally, when it came to favoured retreat types, men ranked romantic marriage and couples’ retreats fourth (after fitness, yoga and spa).

And while a corporate retreat might sound like a good idea, only 0.4 per cent of respondents were interested in going on a retreat with their colleagues.

Yoga, fitness and spa outrate weight-loss
Yoga (17.8 per cent), fitness (17.1 per cent), and spa retreats (16.5 per cent) were the most popular retreat types overall, followed by anti-stress (9.7 per cent) and detox retreats (8.1 per cent) in fourth and fifth place. Only 2.8 per cent of respondents were interested in weight-loss retreats. The popularity of yoga, fitness and spa retreats as well as adventure sports reflects the wellness travellers’ changing focus towards fitness and overall health.

How often do you go on retreats?
Where do you research retreats?
Who would you go on a retreat with?
About the author
Dervla Louli Musgrave

Dervla Louli Musgrave is the founder and CEO of Compare Retreats, a booking portal, travel agency and media company focusing on travel to some of the world’s leading luxury wellness retreats.


Originally published in Spa Business Handbook 2019 edition
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