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GWTC Unveils Key Strategies for Wellness Tourism Growth

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


New York, NY – April 23, 2014 –
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.

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.

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: Participants concurred that the real opportunity in wellness tourism is, as Enrique Ruiz de Lera, Director, Spain Tourism, put it, “changing the entire mentality of what travel is about.” Majida Chtioui, Trade Manager, Moroccan National Tourist Office UK & Ireland, noted: “We need to change more people’s perceptions about holidays, and make them realize that travel can – and should be – about relaxing and enjoying oneself while looking after his/her body.”

  • Don’t lead with the term “wellness tourism”: The roundtable discussed how, while a majority of consumers 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.” What’s being promoted to consumers needs to be very tangible: exactly what they will experience and exactly why they should want to. James Berresford, Chief Executive of VisitEngland, made the point that the umbrella term “wellness” often confuses consumers and travel agents, and would have more appeal if broken down into clear categories, for example, by encouraging people to come to the Lake District to ‘relax and recharge your batteries’, as opposed to specifically labeling it as wellness tourism.
  • 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. Filipe Silva, Director, Portuguese Tourism, argued that the industry shouldn’t preach about health, “because few people are interested in that, talk about having fun, and make wellness tourism a core part of an enjoyable, aspirational lifestyle.”
  • 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. As Diane Bouzebiba, Managing Director, Amadeus UK and Ireland, put it, price perceptions have to change, and we need to “showcase this as a mainstream sector rather than a luxury niche…because too many people still believe the latter.”

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. Helen Marano, Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs, WTTC, argued, “You have to give governments the empirical evidence for its value, but you have to get it down to their language…and the wellness tourism industry needs to get together and message the same things.”  Or, as Alison Cryer, Managing Director, Representation Plus, noted, “All governments are interested in…is the economic value of this aspect of tourism and its impact on the jobs sector.”

  • 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: Chris Lee, Director & Head of Travel, Barclays,noted numbers beyond revenue and jobs need to be messaged to both properties and tourism organizations. For instance, 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: Marano of the WTTC explained that while the job data is critical, that tourism boards are getting “a little glazed on data showing travel is a job generator, because they don’t get what the jobs are.” She recommended the wellness tourism industry, like the WTTC, should start quantifying what the value of the jobs are - focusing on careers created.

Get Wellness Tourism Classifications Right So Technology Can Power It: Bouzebiba of travel technology leader, Amadeus, explained how the wellness tourism industry needs to standardize classifications of sub-products (whether hot springs destinations, yoga retreats, weight loss properties, etc.), so they can be identified/aggregated. She argued we live in an age of “extreme consumer search,” where travelers want agencies and websites to manage every aspect of their trip (“I have X euros, am traveling to France and want to hike and have access to spa/fitness facilities”). Without these clear category definitions/classifications, the available mobile technology will be unable to serve up the relevant wellness tourism options/properties to travelers on the fly. Bouzebiba noted, “It’s very early days, and if (we get this right), we have a fantastic opportunity to positively shape the future of travel.”

Nations Need to Track “Wellness” as Trip Motivation: Marano of the WTTC also argued that to get a clearer view of how much international wellness tourism is taking place, that more nations need to 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.

Ruiz de Lera of Spain Tourism noted, “People prefer the original to the copy.” And Graham Wason, Co-founder of All Being Well, argued, “You need to build on what you're known for, and not pioneer too much.” Tourism directors shared their strategies. Marcelline Kuonon, UK Director, Tourism Switzerland, explained their long-term focus on “Alpine Wellness,” revolving around nature and locally-farmed food. Ruiz de Lera detailed that for Spain it’s their 3,000-year-old tradition of oil therapy, wine and spas. Chtioui of Morocco shared that their centerpiece was their 5,000-year-old tradition of hammams - while Riitta Balza, Sr. Consultant at Finpro, detailed Finland’s focus on sauna and their vast expanses of unspoiled nature – where people hike and bike in summer and ski and snowshoe under the Northern Lights in winter. Silva explained that Portugal’s focus is on their 800km of stunning coastline, and that they plan to broaden the appeal of their natural thermal waters to international tourists.

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. Carol Hay, UK Director for the Caribbean, explained the job crisis in the Caribbean and how they are focusing on training to build their wellness industry. Ruiz de Lera summed up how crucial people resources are for successful wellness tourism: “Governments need to understand that tourism cannot be automated and a wellness sector cannot be automated.”

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 global healthcare group, Bupa, 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.”

“There’s a huge opportunity for the wellness tourism sector to make a difference…to keep people well and motivate them to change their thinking and behavior,” said Dr. Adshead. “I encourage this industry to think very broadly: people are aging and their health, sadly, isn’t going to get any better. Embrace that, and think about the full range of this huge market…from psychological wellbeing, mindfulness, teaching resilience, to realizing the increasing importance of nature on health.”

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. Steve Brown, a founding Director of Center Parcs and chairman and founder of a number of holiday & leisure business, noted how “it’s still a very fragmented, young industry, with great opportunity, if we’re clear about what it is and train people to deliver within it.” Mike Greenacre, Vice Chairman of the Travel Foundation, urged everyone to take “a broader view of how it will develop over the next 2 to 3 decades” – offering the analogy of the UK cruise industry, which has grown annual trips more than four-fold in the last 25 years.

“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.”

GWTC London Roundtable Participants:
Dr Fiona ADSHEAD – Director of Wellbeing and Public Health, Bupa
Riitta BALZA – Senior Consultant, Finpro
James BERRESFORD – Chief Executive, VisitEngland
Amine BOUGHALEB – Director, Moroccan National Tourist Office UK & Ireland
Diane BOUZEBIBA – Managing Director, Amadeus UK and Ireland
Steve BROWN – a founding Director of Center Parcs and chairman and founder of a number of holiday & leisure business
Majida CHTIOUI - Trade Manager, Moroccan National Tourist Office UK & Ireland
Alison CRYER – Managing Director, Representation Plus
Sandie DAWE – CEO, Visit Britain
Susie ELLIS – Chairman & CEO, Global Spa & Wellness Summit + President, Spafinder Wellness Inc.
Mike GREENACRE – Vice Chairman, The Travel Foundation
Carol HAY – UK Director for the Caribbean ministers
Anni HOOD – Tourism & Government Liaison & Wellness Business Consultant
Ross JACKSON – Asian Tourism Lead, London and Partners
Christina KALOGERA – UK Director, Greek National Tourism
Marcelline KUONEN – UK Director, Tourism Switzerland
Chris LEE – Director & Head of Travel, Barclays
Helen MARANO – Vice President of Government and Industry Affairs, WTTC
Rupert MURRAY – Editor, Aspire
Sally PEDDER – Manager, The Dorchester Spa
Enrique RUIZ DE LERA – Director, Spain Touris
John SCANLON – Hotel Manager, The Dorchester
Filipe SILVA – Director Tourism, Portuguese Tourism
Graham WASON – Co-Founder, All Being Well

To learn more about the upcoming roundtable events, contact Anni Hood (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ); media should contact Beth McGroarty (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) 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.