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How You Can Put Your Health at the Forefront of Your Vacation

Photo: Courtesy of Jens Kreuter

Wellness travel. Wellness vacations. Wellness retreats. 

These are terms we often hear bandied about in both traditional and social media, but what do they really mean? The truth is, they often mean different things to different people. So in the spring of 2018, the Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) — launched in January 2018 with a mandate to help shape and support global wellness tourism — decided to bring some clarity to the industry and consumers by introducing the first industry glossary.  

But let’s step back just a bit to shed some light on the industry at large.  

What is wellness tourism?

As the population ages and interest in proactive healthcare and self-care increases, we have seen a relatively new sector of the global tourism industry, called wellness tourism, grow. 

In some countries around the world, the practice of traveling to a particular destination for health purposes — mostly for the “taking of the waters” — has been around much longer. However, the activity was not called wellness travel until about a decade ago, and it certainly was not as widespread as the concept that is marketed globally today as wellness tourism, and encompasses so many more components.  

Today, wellness travel, as defined by the WTA, is simply “Travel that allows the traveler to maintain, enhance, or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one’s sense of well-being.” 

Better outcomes

On one hand, today’s savvy, wellness-minded travelers, when traveling for business or pleasure, actively seek out destinations, accommodation, amenities and/or activities that will allow them to maintain or enhance their daily habits of healthy eating, movement activities, and other wellness lifestyle pursuits.  

On the other hand, there are those who want to use their vacation and holiday time to consciously improve their health and well-being, to jump-start a healthier way of living, or to find solutions for health-related issues, such as achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, or learning new ways to manage stress. 

Our 2018 consumer survey tells us a “generally overall reboot” is the No. 1 goal of those who travel for a wellness vacation, and, the top-four must-haves were a variety of healthy food options, accessible nature, access to spa treatments, and a wide range of scheduled fitness activities.

The keys of a wellness vacation

The WTA defines a wellness vacation (or wellness holiday, as it is called in some countries) as being “powered by a wellness-focused intention, typically self-directed with the traveler setting his or her own timetable and schedule. A wellness vacation/holiday may also include a wellness retreat.”

And there, we have another increasingly-popular term: wellness retreat. In today’s world, the term actually has two meanings:  

  1. A guided, intention-driven, multi-day program with a set or semi-set schedule, and hosted by one or more facilitators. The program may include learning and lifestyle workshops, such as meditation and healthy eating, as well as fitness activities like yoga, nature walks, and hiking.
  2. A smaller facility with accommodations and hospitality services, and where the primary purpose is to provide programs and experiences for the wellness traveler. The facility may have fewer wellness activities, services, and facilities than a wellness resort (also referred to as a wellness sanctuary or wellness clinic in some parts of the world, and typically larger than a wellness retreat).

Wellness travel is not a trend, and wellness vacations and retreats (as in hosted, multi-day programs), are becoming a new way of traveling in tandem with the ever-increasing interest in being proactive with health. 

The best news of all? There are more options available now than ever, and there is something out there to suit every interest, intention, and budget. 

Anne Dimon, President, Wellness Tourism Association; Founder and Editor,, [email protected]

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