What is wellness tourism? Definition and meaning

Wellness tourism refers to traveling for health and well-being reasons. 

DRI International defines wellness tourism as ‘all travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing’. 

The wellness tourism economy includes all expenditures that tourists make during a trip to improve or maintain their wellbeing. 

The Global Wellness Institute splits the wellness tourism market into two types of travellers:

  • Primary wellness travellers –  those who are primarily motivated by wellness to take a trip. Their destination is based on its wellness offerings. An example would be someone going to a yoga retreat of wellness resort.
  • Secondary wellness travellers – those who want to maintain wellness or participate in wellness activities during any kind of travel. An example would be someone who visits the gym while they are on a trip.

Wellness tourism should not be confused with medical tourism. Wellness tourists travel to improve or maintain their health and quality of life, whereas medical tourists travel to receive treatment for a diagnosed condition.

Wellness tourism trips include a variety of activities such as thermal springs, day spa and hotel spa, thalassotherapy, exercise.


Examples of activities for wellness tourists by category

Health (integrative health centers, CAM centers and wellness centers)

  • Check-ups
  • Integrative medicine
  • Diagnostics
  • Healthy eating

Nutrition (organic restaurants, health food stores)

  • Weight management
  • Detox
  • Culinary experiences

Fitness (gyms and fitness centers)

  • Gym visits
  • Fitness classes
  • Stretching
  • Pilates.

Eco and Adventure (parks, wildlife sanctuaries and nature preserves)

  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Taking walks
  • Nature visits

Personal growth (lifestyle retreats and wellness retreats)

  • Retreats
  • Life coaching
  • Stress reduction
  • Reading
  • Music and arts

Spiritual and Connection (yoga retreats, spiritual retreats and ashrams)

  • Prayer
  • Volunteering
  • Time with friends and family
  • Time alone

Mind-body (yoga studios and martial arts studios)

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Qigong
  • Biofeedback

Spa and Beauty (healthy hotels, wellness cruises, health resorts, spas, salons, bath and springs)

  • Massage
  • Bathing
  • Body treatments
  • Facials
  • Hair and nails

Wellness tourism – a growing industry

The wellness tourism industry has grown at a fast rate because of a boom in global interest in fitness, health, wellbeing, and consumer having more disposable income.

Leading players in the hospitality sector are capitalizing on these types of health-conscious consumers by incorporating fitness facilities in their hotels and offering in-room yoga mats. 

But it’s not just hotels that are catering to wellness tourists. Airports around the world are beginning to enter the market by offering travelers rooms for meditation, massage chairs, indoor green spaces, organic restaurants, and walking tracks.

The Global Wellness Institute’s report titled “Global Wellness Tourism Economy” forecasts that wellness tourism will grow at an average annual rate of 7.5% through to 2022 – compared to 6.4% annual growth forecast for overall global tourism.