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The rise of wellness tourism

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Wellness tourism is now worth an estimated £491bn globally, and it’s growing more than twice as fast as general tourism.

Is it Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop empire?

But what are the reasons behind its booming popularity? Is it Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop empire, single-handedly influencing us all to pursue a ‘cleaner’, more spiritual lifestyle, shunning booze in favour of jade eggs and vagina-scented candles, as we dunk ourselves in ancient baths of holy potions in the Himalayan mountains?

Well, not quite. Wellness is big business, but there are many factors contributing to its current boom across food, drink, fitness, travel and leisure. As we collectively become more conscious of our detrimental effects on the planet as humans, so too do we see it impacting in the way we treat our minds and bodies. It’s all the same ‘energy’, if you’re that way inclined. But even if you’re not: it’s impossible to dismiss the impact of wider cultural narratives on individual human behaviour, even unconsciously. 

Not too long ago, you could smoke in clubs and pubs in the UK. Even Gwyneth loved puffing on a Marlboro in the ’90’s: it’s what people did. 13 years after the ban, even the most dedicated smokers now would agree that, quite frankly, we can’t believe that was ever a ‘thing’. 

We’ve seen a shift in respect towards our environment, and ourselves.

Slowly but surely, we’ve seen a shift in respect towards our environment, and ourselves. We’re looking inward more. We’re acknowledging mental health – even men’s mental health, which was historically taboo. Women are striving to be strong, not skinny. We’re not starving, we’re nourishing. So it’s hardly surprising that we’re seeing a shift in wellness trends across many sectors.

ABTA’s report states that ‘more people than ever are seeking new ways to alleviate stress, reduce illness and boost wellbeing.’ A week on a beach drinking cocktails and reading a novel no longer seems to cut it. 

Forecasting agency WGSN, states that the fitness industry has shifted focus in the past year from performance, strength and shape, to wellbeing and mental health. That’s huge. London has meditation studios that offer sessions of ‘energising breathwork’ for £22 a pop. Even mainstream gyms like PureGym offer ‘Stretch Classes’ which are focused on breathing, mindfulness and yoga poses –– the fluorescent strip lighting slightly ruining the vibe, but the thought is there (quickly forgotten, focus on the breath). 

We’ve seen an increasing demand for experiences over products

As we’ve touched on before, we’ve seen an increasing demand for experiences over products, especially among Millennials and Gen Zs. Some cynics would argue this is due to the desire for an aspirational Instagram grid, but others would be more generous. Either way, time and again we’re seeing that ‘authentic’ and wholesome experiences are valued over frivolous, instant purchases

So, just think what awaits us when we go further afield than our cities and towns, to warmer climes and countries rich with Eastern wisdom. 


Amatara Wellness Retreat, Phuket, Thailand

At the luxury end of the spectrum, surrounded by lush tropical foliage, Amatara Wellness Resort in Phuket offers a yoga platform with panoramic sea views, Moroccan hammam, gym, fitness studios and beach. Programmes are varied, focusing on everything from fitness, detoxing, stress relief and strength to improving sleep. Journal-writing and meditation classes help guests rediscover themselves, away from the distractions of technology and work. 

Guests of retreats like Amatara are often seeking transformational experiences to rejuvenate, heal and gain self-confidence; as well as wanting to properly disconnect from the hectic pace of life at home with a digital detox. Some wellness retreats insist that you hand your phone in on arrival, so as to fully experience the benefits of the programme.

The internet has made access to alternative thinkers more accessible

The internet has made access to alternative thinkers more accessible. People are questioning the Western attitude to spirituality more and more. While wellness can be considered a current trend, it’s gathering momentum in a more meaningful way, beyond buzzy beauty products and overpriced yoga classes.  

“The growing trend toward ‘spiritual but not religious’ has spiked in recent years, surprisingly resonating with the very same demographic most likely to reject the notion of a god — liberal academics.” – Man Repeller

Without getting too deep into Jungian psychology, there appears to be a growing desire to confront the depths of the psyche – the shadow – as illustrated by the booming popularity of Ayahuasca retreats. These retreats use plant medicine found in the Banisteriopsis Caapi vine to take guests on intense, self-reflective inner journeys to help with healing from past trauma. 


Ayahuasca Retreats in Peru

The longing for ‘meaning’ is nothing new. As the West grows more open to spirituality and cultivating meaningful interior lives, then, it makes sense that we will stop trying to find it at the bottom of a bottle. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. It takes real work to create a constructive and meaningful relationship with the Self, more than just a week-long meditation and yoga retreat can supply, though it’s certainly a step in the right direction on the road to enlightenment.

If we’re valuing our mental and physical health more, it makes sense that we’d be willing to invest more in holidays – retreats – that work with our bodies and minds, rather than against them. As much as the Inbetweeners-style alcohol-fuelled week in Malaga is very much alive and well for some cohorts of Gen Z, reports suggest that alcohol consumption, on the whole, is much lower, with Millennials and Gen Z drinking less than older generations at their ages.

Health and Pleasure Are Not Mutually Exclusive 


Could it be that a lack of free time has led to a need for indulgence and wellness to converge? 

“Years ago the ‘wellness consumer’ was perceived as someone with a lot of free time. Today, this has completely changed. Most wellness consumers are decision-makers. Our audience has very limited time – and time has become much more valuable than money. We don’t want our guests to have to decide between dedicating time to their health or pleasure anymore.”  – Alejandro Bataller, Vice-President of Sha Wellness Clinic

A subsection of today’s travellers seek transformational experiences, giving them the power to charge their lives with meaning and momentum. Rather than ‘escaping’ life, they are looking to face things head-on –– preferably, in beautiful, tropical environments with delicious, nourishing food and sparkling sea views.

Wellness, hospitality and travel are converging in unprecedented ways

And indeed, why not? Wellness, hospitality and travel are now converging in unprecedented ways at speed, and will only continue to grow faster. Lying at the powerful intersection of the $2.6 trillion tourism industry and the $4.2 trillion wellness market, wellness tourism is an unignorable force that will continue to expand in the coming years.


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