GWTC Unveils Key Strategies for Wellness Tourism Growth

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24 tourism board, travel and health leaders gathered in London to strategize how to grow the $439 billion wellness travel market.

The inaugural roundtable was a resounding success; thanks to all participants who committed their time and expertise to the discussions.

The Global Wellness Tourism Congress (GWTC) held its first roundtable at the Dorchester, London on April 1st. The invite-only event attracted leaders from within the Finnish, Greek, Moroccan, Portuguese, Spanish, Swiss and UK tourism ministries and organizations, as well as executives from powerful travel and healthcare establishments like The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and Bupa, the global healthcare group. (See complete list here).

The GWTC will hold two additional roundtables in the first half of 2014 in New York City and Washington D.C.

Since the GWTC released the “Global Wellness Tourism Economy” report in October, finding that wellness travel is already a $439 billion USD market, forecast to grow another 50% through 2017, this emerging travel category has seen national and regional tourism authorities taking action to promote their wellness offerings.

In a Q & A moderated by GWTC executives Anni Hood and Susie Ellis, the tourism and health experts assembled discussed the detailed, new research report that helped define the two key categories of primary (taking a trip entirely for wellness purposes) and secondary wellness travel (engaging in wellness-related activities during a trip). The exchange was wide-ranging and spirited on how to best grow wellness tourism: from getting consumers excited about a new, healthier approach to travel – to successfully convincing more tourism organizations and governments of its social and economic benefits. For a more detailed press release, click here.

Key Strategies for Wellness Tourism Identified

Radically Different Language Needed for Consumers & Governments: Roundtable participants agreed that more education about the benefits of, and tangible options in, wellness tourism were needed for consumers, tourism bodies, governments, tour operators and travel agents. A dominant topic: the language used to promote this travel category to consumers and governments/tourism authorities needs to be carefully developed to meet the needs of the audience – vocabulary and messaging are of paramount importance.

“Talking” Wellness Tourism to Consumers:

  •     Don’t lead with term “wellness tourism”: The roundtable discussed how, while a majority of people may in fact be doing “wellness tourism” while traveling (some fitness, going to a spa, etc.), that it’s an industry term that doesn’t resonate with “real people.” More here.
  •     Don’t preach – it’s about aspiration and pleasure: Participants agreed that for most people, telling them they should embrace healthier travel/destinations because it’s “good for them,” is a strategy that backfires. More here.
  •     Make it mainstream and affordable: The roundtable also concurred that industry stakeholders needed to better communicate that this is an accessible-to-all form of travel. More here.

Talking Wellness Tourism to Governments = Focus on Bottom Line: Leaders from the ministries of tourism assembled all strongly agreed: when you’re talking to ministries of tourism or health, the key aspects of concern are the impact to the financial economy and jobs. More here.

  •     Use the Numbers: The data from the “Global Wellness Tourism Economy” report gives stakeholders ammunition, including $439 billion in expenditures, 11.7 million jobs, and a world economic impact of $1.3 trillion. And there are details on expenditures and trip numbers, as well as direct jobs supported and wider economic impact for 70+ nations globally.
  •     A Seasonality Fighter: Wellness tourism is less vulnerable to seasonality than some other forms of travel and drives consistent revenue streams over the whole year.
  •     Focus on Careers Created: The wellness tourism industry, like the WTTC, should start quantifying what the value of the jobs are - focusing on careers created. More here.

Get Wellness Tourism Classifications Right So Technology Can Power It: Standardize classifications of sub-products (whether hot springs destinations, yoga retreats, weight loss properties, etc.), so they can be identified/aggregated. More here.

Nations Need to Track “Wellness” as Trip Motivation: Add “wellness” as an option for “purpose of trip” in their surveys of outbound travelers.

Nations Need to Clearly Promote Their Unique “Wellness Resources”: In a world where travelers increasingly seek authentic, “couldn’t get it anywhere else” experiences, nations/regions must clearly identify and promote their unique wellness offerings - their country’s USP in wellness. More here.

Fix the Job-People Disconnect: Unemployment is a global crisis, and participants agreed that there are not enough well trained people to fill the jobs opening up in wellness tourism. Governments need to be educated on what the jobs are, and create the education infrastructure to meet demand. More here.

Connect Healthy Travel to Public Health: Dr. Fiona Adshead, with a high-profile career developing innovative health policy at the heart of government, and the current Director of Wellbeing and Public Health at Bupa, the global health care group, led a discussion on how wellness tourism can be properly seen as part of (and should be more forcefully linked to) mainstream public health discussions and prevention initiatives.

Dr. Adshead argued that it’s “every aspect of the way we live that fundamentally shapes our health,” and that how we travel is one of them. She detailed the grim, global health realities: a dramatically aging population; chronic, preventable diseases as the new “normal”; the massive, unsustainable costs of healthcare to governments; and how traditional, “mechanistic” healthcare struggles with the “emotional motivators” that can help people make lifestyle changes. While cautioning about how hard it is to get the health policy side of governments to address/support any aspect of tourism, Dr. Adshead argued that, “the premise is right.” More here.

A Young Industry: Despite already representing 1 in 7 tourism dollars, the roundtable wrapped up with reflections on what early days it is for the modern wellness tourism industry. More here.

“The inaugural roundtable was a resounding success; thanks to all participants who committed their time and expertise to the discussions,” said Susie Ellis, President and CEO of the Global Wellness Tourism Congress and the Global Spa & Wellness Summit. “A special thanks goes to the Dorchester Collection for hosting this event and highlighting the benefits of wellness tourism at the five-star level.”

To learn more about the upcoming roundtable events, contact Anni Hood (anni.hood(at)gsws(dot)org); media should contact Beth McGroarty (beth(at)rbicom(dot)com) for further information on GWTC and its research (full report is available for $895, but qualified members of the media may request a copy), or visit the website.

About the Global Wellness Tourism Congress: The Global Wellness Tourism Congress (GWTC) falls under the umbrella of the Global Wellness Institute and brings together public and private stakeholders to chart the course of the rapidly growing wellness tourism sector. Attendees include government ministers of tourism, health and economic development; CEOs of private companies; leaders and visionaries in related arenas such as medical tourism and eco-tourism; and other industry VIPs who present data, engage in open dialogue and map the future of wellness tourism. The next Congress will be held on September 10, 2014 at the Four Seasons Resort in Marrakech, Morocco.

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Beth McGroarty
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