In focus: The evolution of wellness getaways

Wellness holidays have long been a popular choice among travellers. However, while these trips were once as simple as getting some much-needed R&R, the lingering impact of the pandemic means consumers are more hyper-aware of their health than ever before. 

Longevity – the concept of living a longer and healthier life – is now driving wellness bookings as travellers seek preventative treatments and diagnostic tests at specialist medical spa destinations. 

According to Elegant Resorts’ annual trends report, the medical spa market is projected to be worth $49 billion by 2030. In a bid to take a more proactive approach towards their health – while enjoying the luxuries of travelling and bypassing medical waiting lists – consumers are seeking personalised programmes and trusted medical experts to chart a roadmap to optimal mental and physical fitness.  

For the luxury sector, the possibility for repeat bookings, akin to annual or biannual health check-ups, is certainly appealing. With a variety of advanced treatments available from cryotherapy and ozone therapy to programmes designed to target specific health concerns, agents who brush up on medical wellness could leverage fruitful opportunities from the sector.

Personalised programmes

For some travellers, pairing beach getaways with biohacking treatments and swapping poolside cocktails for IV infusions is enough to dip their toe into the medical spa offering – and there is a wealth of options to satisfy their interest. At Six Senses Ibiza’s recently opened longevity clinic, RoseBar, guests can choose from therapies including ‘hangover cure’ IV infusions, red-light therapy and infrared saunas. 

Longevity escapes, on the other hand, are all-encompassing retreats that aim to target health concerns, such as weight loss, sleep management and strengthening immunity. These escapes are hyper-personalised as clients begin their stay with a medical consultation designed to tailor their itinerary to their biological profile. 

In a newly launched programme at Villa Stéphanie – the medi-spa at Oetker Collection’s Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden, Germany, loved by celebrities such as the Beckhams – clients are offered a 10-day full-body ‘MOT’ that includes everything from hormone screening to a cardiac exam and genetic testing. Priced at €43,000, the profitability of providing health-conscious travellers with reassurance and a long-term treatment plan to improve their wellbeing is hard to ignore. 

Each of the programmes at Villa Stéphanie is designed to have a lasting effect, but head of medical care Dr Harry König recommends repeat visits for optimal results. “The frequency depends on individual goals,” he says. “For overall wellbeing, annual visits may suffice, while specific health goals may require semi-annual visits. The key is integrating retreat experiences into daily life. It’s crucial to understand that results often require long-term commitment and are not quick fixes.”

The opportunity for the trade, then, is undeniably lucrative as longevity escapes become an additional repeat booking in clients’ calendars. Since launching a dedicated wellness collection in 2023, Elegant Resorts is already reaping the benefits of this. Head of product Rebecca Turner says: “We’re finding that for a lot of our clients it’s the first time they’ve booked a wellness holiday, but as soon as they get back they’re booking for next year, so the repeat ratio is higher than a lot of holidays.”

For agents looking to tap into the sector and help clients navigate the rapidly expanding range of offerings, a dose of medical spa knowledge is essential. Elegant Resorts is training five dedicated wellness specialists through webinars, meeting with suppliers and testing biohacking treatments for themselves. 

“We’ve invested in getting our team out there to gain first-hand knowledge of resorts and treatments so they can answer clients’ questions,” says Turner. “Sometimes the term ‘medical’ can be daunting and appear invasive, but it’s really about prevention. As that awareness grows and more people understand the treatments, so too will the popularity of medical spa retreats.” 

Regular check-ups

The growth of the market is undoubtedly promising. Michael Oszmann, co-founder of Health Travel, a wellness subsidiary agency to Bluebird Travel, says the pandemic caused a lot of “pent-up demand”. After an initial “spike” as restrictions started to ease, the desire for preventative health treatments focused on “course-correcting and self-improvement” has remained. Health Travel has noticed particular demand for mental health and weight loss retreats. “Traffic to our website from Google Search has more than doubled year on year,” Oszmann adds. 

The agency predicts that as interest rises, bookings will become even more frequent than an annual retreat as travellers seek regular “check-ups” and commit to “longer-term journeys”. Oszmann says: “Clients may start with a programme focused on weight loss, detox or mental wellbeing and then continue to check in periodically at different ‘hubs’ of the same brand, which offer the chance to keep on track with their goals.”

Clinique La Prairie, a medical spa nestled in the Swiss countryside, is striving to be on-call for clients wherever they are with the opening of Longevity Hubs across the globe. The brand has expanded to Bangkok, Doha, Madrid and Taipei, and this month opened a hub in One&Only’s new urban property, One&Only One Za’abeel in Dubai.

With personalised programmes being adapted to meet goals and needs, it’s clear brand loyalty will be key as clients build trust with both their clinician and booking agent. Turner has noticed this in Elegant Resorts’ wellness bookings, 25% of which have been made through the trade since the collection launched. “If our clients loved somewhere, they will most likely go back to the same place for their next trips,” she adds. 

As the quest for longevity is a life-long journey, securing that loyalty is key for both suppliers and agents.

Trend to watch

The world’s five Blue Zones – Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California – are home to the longest-living people. The man who discovered this, Dan Buettner, identified that inhabitants of these regions share the same nine lifestyle characteristics, which he termed the ‘Power 9’. 

Elegant Resorts’ recent travel trends report anticipates the growing influence of Blue Zones – in part thanks to Buettner’s 2023 hit Netflix documentary, Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. For travellers wanting to tap into these secrets, luxury resort Forte Village in Sardinia leans into its Blue Zone credentials and offers regenerative treatments and swims in thalassotherapy pools. 

Michael Oszmann, co-founder of Health Travel, believes the trend could expand beyond the five zones. “We think people could travel to established medical spas, not necessarily in Blue Zones, for programmes around [these] lifestyle [habits],” he says. Some brands are already getting ahead of the trend: Kamalaya Koh Samui in Thailand will host its inaugural Blue Zones retreat in May, where travellers will tap into Power 9 principles for a transformative experience.

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