Wellness Tourism The Past The Present and The Future

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Forty years ago, when health resorts first came to the forefront as an option for travel, there were just a few dozen of what would eventually become known as the original “ Destination Spas ”. Destination spas were different than resort spas as they would truly have an educational component to the vacation.


The focus was not meant to be just on relaxation, but there was a wholehearted effort to get guests to bring what they learned on vacation home. In addition to spa treatments, a full program of fitness classes and healthy spa cuisine that emphasized whole grains, fruits and vegetables were offered. This was the beginning of the wellness tourism boom, though that is not what it was called at the time.

The true origin of wellness tourism goes back to the first group of people who discovered the clean fresh mountain air and healing hot springs cured what ailed them. At the destination spas of the past few decades, ancient traditions have been mixed with modern improvements to enhance our lives in this stressful, wired world.


The “Destination Spa Association” was created in the year 2000. This group of approximately 25 true destination spas had to undergo a rigorous screening process and attend yearly mandatory meetings to discuss the importance of staying precise to what the wellness tourist not only wanted, but needed.

The group of destination spa members were committed to getting tourists to feel better than they ever imagined with wellness vacations that were completely focused on putting guests on a healthier path for life.

These destination spa vacations were committed to providing a wonderful vacation in a nurturing environment to help tourists feel changed, refreshed and invigorated. As a complete alternative to the ordinary vacations that leave guests feeling bloated, sick and needing a “vacation from their vacation”.


Destination spas defined wellness tourism by offering personal growth, outdoor adventures, nutritious cuisine, spa treatments, bodywork and opportunities in preventative care, all while on vacation.

Today, there are many different names for travel with a wellness focus. The Destination Spa Group is no longer an association, but the term is still widely used and is synonymous with wellness tourism. Health spa is widely known, but thought of to be a term that is a bit dated.


For the past several years, wellness has become the hot new buzzword and everyone is using it because in this internet age, savvy marketing pros know a wellness business will show up better in search engines.

The increase in focus on wellness is something the original pioneers of the industry wanted to happen. However, the increased focus on wellness is largely because our lives have become so unhealthy. Over the past several decades’ consumers have become increasingly more focused on wellness tourism.


More than ever, we are “on” 24/7, we are more connected to our jobs with our cell phones and tablets, we are living with increased sedentary lifestyles while we sit with our social media accounts, and have somehow become so attached to screens that we have to schedule vacations in nature to combat the negative effects.

There are many reputable hotels that are focusing on wellness and putting great thought and planning into the process. These hotels are branding and re-branding around wellness, figuring out what the needs are of the wellness tourist and adjusting their rooms and programming.


Travel needs to restore and rejuvenate to build a relationship with the customer that will continue to come back to the property.

The current wellness tourism industry already represents a US $439 billion market, with forecasts predicting a 50 percent faster growth than “regular” tourism in the next few years. This trend is good for consumers and good for the wellness tourism business. However, this boom also creates a muddied market for the consumer who might not know exactly what they are looking for.


As the word “wellness” increases in popularity many hotels are trying to capitalize on industry and run programming that they simply can’t sustain. With the power of the internet and social media, it is not uncommon for a hotel to jump on the wellness bandwagon without having the programming to back it up.

What happens when the unsuspecting wellness traveler goes hundreds of miles to find the classes that have be canceled or switched due to low enrollment for the wellness retreat? What happens when an emergency takes place on a hike and there is no insurance for such activities or even a permit to be hiking on the land in the first place?


What happens when the food presented doesn’t look quite like the fresh healthy fare that was in the stock photos? The wellness industry will suffer. So that brings us to the future of wellness tourism. What will it look like? How much will it continue to grow? Will it continue thrive?

As consumer’s need for wellness increases in general, wellness tourism is expected to be the continued hot item in travel. According to the 2016 spa and wellness trends forecast completed by SpaFinder Wellness 365, it’s expected to expand into parenting and family wellness retreats, wellness festivals, wellness cruising and wellness in the workplace. With this growth, there also needs to be a certification program.

For instance, a program like the WellHotel® Certification program is a wonderful step in the right direction. Developed exclusively for the hospitality industry, this certification was designed to enhance the operations of hospitality related businesses: Hotels, Resorts and Spas.


This designation certifies that hotels have the proper infrastructure in place to cater to the unique needs of health & wellness tourists, or guests that may engage in wellness services while traveling. Programs like this will ensure the wellness tourism industry will not only grow and thrive, but also give credibility and accountability.

About the Author

Kathleen LeSage is the President and co-owner of New Life Hiking Spa which has been in operation since 1978 in Vermont. New Life Hiking Spa was recently selected as the #1 Destination Spa in the United States by Travel + Leisure Magazine and was subsequently featured on the Today Show.


Known as a pioneer in the wellness tourism and spa industry, New Life Hiking Spa was the first destination spa in the continental United States to become a certified WellHotel. Mrs. LeSage runs New Life Hiking Spa in Vermont from May – September and New Life Wellness Consulting in Florida from October – April.