The new jewel of world tourism

One of the most precious experiences these almost two years of pandemic confinement has taken from us is travel. This has affected tourists, hotel owners and investors alike. As a result, travelers whose habits during the pandemic may have been less than healthy and are seeking a reset and renewal, have transformed wellness tourism into “the crown jewel of world tourism.” And this is, of course, giving the tourism sector a boost.

22 September 2021

Tourism and hospitality have undoubtedly been one of the slowest sectors to recover from the pandemic. The main stumbling blocks have included, among others, the vaccination process, the health alerts issued by governments, and people’s clear distrust of travel to favorite destinations for fear of becoming infected. And if that were not enough, in the last 18 months a number of countries have classified tourism as a non-essential activity.

With the aim of reviving the industry and providing a novel offering, the hotel industry and other players in the tourism-linked value chain have made a bet on post-pandemic wellness vacations. Wellness tourism has emerged as an enticing alternative for those travelers seeking to balance body and mind and leave the unpleasantness of months of confinement behind.

Context. During a pandemic, one of the things that has naturally been most valued is good health, both physical and mental. Without it, it is impossible to do anything, anything at all. These issues also began to be a part of everyone’s conversations. One of the things we most missed during confinement was travel.

  • Thanks to wellness tourism and the yearning for nature, many people have overcome their misgivings and jumped back on a plane heading to a heavenly destination that promises a fresh start.
  • There are destinations where the landscape and nature are the perfect setting for a detox trip, or a retreat to disconnect from everything and focus on our wellbeing. Some of these places are Playa del Carmen and Costa Rica, Spain, Namibia and Bali, among many others.

Why it matters. Wellness tourism stands out as the industry’s fastest growing sector. In 2019 it had already grown by 10%, and this trend has picked up again during the pandemic. Perhaps what is most crucial to keep an eye on is how the tourism industry is embracing this style of vacationing and reconverting its now-empty hotels accordingly.

  • According to the Global Wellness Summit, pre-pandemic travelers were already taking around 586 million wellness trips each year, which accounts for about 15% of tourism worldwide, and is second only to cultural tourism. In addition, these tourists spend approximately 130% more than the average traditional traveler.
  • It is a fact that current travel trends are changing. People today are seeking and willing to pay for packages to wellness tourism destinations where they can enhance their mental and physical health. They are very interested in healthy offerings like relaxing massage sessions, quartz or crystal therapies, and even meditation workshops.

Hotel conversions. The pandemic changed the way tourism is done, and also forced the hotels to adapt and convert. While many venues had already planned for these types of travellers and their new demands, the industry as a whole had not experienced such explosive growth before. These tourists are looking to take care of their health and connect with nature through all kinds of experiences that serve to improve their quality of life.

  • Although this concept is not new, the health emergency has accelerated the demand for wellness centers, which is to say places that offer travelers programs to meditate, relax, reduce anxiety, improve quality of sleep, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases through movement,” says Sergio de la Vega, president of Hotel Cartesiano Puebla, which has transformed its lodging services into a wellness sanctuary. They saw a niche opportunity in this segment to position themselves and the city of  Puebla (Mexico) as a destination for experience tourism.
  • It all started in an old 16th-century mansion, a former Talavera tile factory located in Puebla’s Historic Center, and the site of Hotel Cartesiano since 2018. During the pandemic the hotel closed temporarily for a remodeling process designed to attract wellness tourism seekers from all over the world.
  • With support from a team of specialists, Cartesiano – nominated for the World Spa & Wellness Awards 2021, which the best spas in the world compete for – resumed operations in June 2021. Some of its 60 rooms and conference facilities were remodeled to make way for a health and wellness center, and now there are spaces for meditation, ozone therapy, psychotherapy, yoga, music, and even a bar that includes waters with salts from different parts of the planet on its menu.
  • Guests can enjoy 3 to 21-day programs, guided by experts in holistic nutrition, movement, breathing, energy management and different treatments with innovative equipment using quartz sand, detoxifying saunas and acoustic vibrations, all intended to create a life map in synchrony with the new normal.

What do the numbers say? Mexico was among the 10 countries receiving the highest number of international travelers before the pandemic, but everything changed in 2020. Figures provided by the country’s Ministry of Tourism show that visits diminished by 28.7%, and Mexico stopped receiving nearly 20 million tourists annually.

  • “There is a sense of despair in the business community and among companies linked to the tourism value chain since the sector has not yet recovered as desired. Moreover, if we add the fact that the leading international organizations agree that recovery to 2019 levels will only come in 2023, uncertainty continues to grow,” explains Mexican tourism expert Daniel Madariaga Barrilado.
  • This didn’t happen only in Mexico of course and is true for many destinations worldwide. This is why a number of countries have been implementing new alternative modalities to attract tourists, among which wellness tourism is a clear standout.

High-impact locations. There are certain locations that promise to make a traveler feel as-good-as new. And seeing what is on offer makes it is impossible to doubt that whoever takes one of these trips will in fact be absolutely renewed.

  • Palmaia The House of AiA, located in Playa del Carmen (Mexico), is considered the most progressive wellness resort in the country. Located in a jungle away from everything, it is said to be the ideal place for disconnecting. It features plant-based gastronomy, and everything is designed for a retreat focusing on personalized attention and recovery. The place includes meditation sessions, yoga classes and even offers sound baths that are the new trend for curing stress. They also have temazcal ceremonies, aryuvedic treatments and essentially everything needed to make the tourist feel absolutely revitalized. (thehouseofalaia.com)
  • Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts (Costa Rica), located in a tropical mountain paradise, is the perfect place to disconnect and enjoy the famous Costa Rican “pure life.” Set in the middle of a beautiful coffee plantation, this hacienda is surrounded by endless gardens and jungles which invites the traveler to fully connect with nature. The approach here is absolutely holistic and uses age-old healing rituals. The resort includes eight treatment rooms, a thermal suite and a healing garden, with conscious movement classes held outdoors. When it comes to water treatments the resort offers highly recommended four-hour river-water massages. (www.aubergeresorts.com).
  • Finca Cortesín Hotel Casares (España) is one of the wellness concept resorts that boasts the longest history and most experience. Located in the village of Casares on the Andalusian coast, it is a large villa that looks like it was taken from a dream with its mixed Moroccan and Andalusian Mediterranean style architecture. It has a spa that looks like a greenhouse, and a spectacular view of a golf course and beach club. They also offer numerous wellness activities such as horseback riding in the countryside, hiking in the mountains and kitesurfing in the Mediterranean, among many other adventures. (fincacortesin.com).
  • Anantara Dhigu in the Maldives is a must-experience destination for wellness tourism fanatics. Anantara Dhigu is located in the South Male Atoll area of the Maldives and can only be reached by private boat from the airport. Its villas are located on the beach or over the water. It has many treatments, so depending on whether the traveler’s focus is holistic or wellness, they will tailor the experience so that travelers get the rest they need. They have a nutritional therapy program for food-based healing. And if this were not enough, travelers can meditate while facing the Indian Ocean. How about that! (anantara.com)
  • Zannier Hotels Omaanda (Namibia), located in exotic Namibia, is the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure. Here you can see a variety of wildlife up close, things like a herd of elephants swimming, a rhinoceros strolling nearby, or perhaps a leopard climbing a tree. When night falls, watching the sky and the stars above the savannah while sitting around a campfire is a must. There are also traditional African healing practices available. (zannierhotels.com)
  • BVLGARI Resort Bali (Indonesia) is a dream destination. They have wellness programs such as Melukat, a purification ceremony on the resort’s private beach guided by a Balinese priest. There is also an experience where tourists visit the cliff-top Luhur Uluwatu, one of Bali’s most famous marine temples. It is a really worthwhile experience. (bulgarihorels.com)