Wellness tourism is a fast-growing market

A new industry report finds that a growing movement pushing to change travel to include healthy activities and options, is opening up the fast-growing market of “Wellness Tourism.”

The report estimates that the Wellness Tourism market is set to grow 9.1% annually through 2017, from $438.6 billion to $678.5 billion, at a rate that is almost 50% higher than that of overall global tourism.

The Global Wellness Tourism Economy report is the work of the American nonprofit research institute SRI International together with the Global Spa and Wellness Summit.

It defines Wellness Tourism as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal well-being.”

Unwell travel versus wellness travel

Much of what travelers experience today is “unwell travel,” characterized by unhealthy and over-eating, stress, too much alcohol, poor sleep, and disruption to fitness routines.

On the other hand wellness travel is characterized by healthy living, rejuvenation and relaxation, seeking meaning and connection, having authentic experiences, and managing and preventing disease.

The report suggests the growing market for wellness travel reflects a rising trend among travelers across all segments of the travel industry to plan their trips so they include visits to spas, baths and springs, health resorts, gym and fitness centres, yoga retreats, national parks, and even specialty eating places.

Primary-purpose and secondary-purpose Wellness Tourism travelers

The report says there are two types of wellness travelers: the ones where the primary purpose of the trip is wellness, and the ones where this is the secondary purpose of the trip.

The primary-purpose international wellness traveler constitutes the smallest segment of the market, but individually they spend more per trip (aroun $2,066).

The secondary-purpose domestic wellness traveler constitutes the largest segments, but they spend less per trip ($680).

Writing in a recent SRI blog, one of the report’s lead authors, Ophelia Yeung, Senior Consultant in SRI’s Center for Science, Technology and Economic Development, says they were very surprised to find that the secondary-purpose wellness traveler constituted the larger proportion of the market: “accounting for 85% of all wellness trips and expenditures.”

She explains that while wellness travel is not the sole purpose of their trip, secondary-purpose wellness travelers have an interest in maintaining wellness during travel, and:

“This can range from finding a hotel with a healthy menu and extensive exercise facilities to a person who spends a day at the spa during a ski vacation. And it includes a tourist visiting India mainly with a cultural interest, but who also visits an ayurveda center or takes a few yoga classes.”

Medical Tourism and Wellness Tourism are opposite poles of the health continuum

The report also seeks to distinguish between Wellness Tourism and Medical Tourism, portraying these as opposite poles of a continuum.

At one extreme – labelled “reactive” – Medical Tourism is generally pursued by people who are sick and travel to their destination to receive treatment for a diagnosed condition. Such travelers are looking for a lower cost of care or care not available at home, and the activities they undertake tend to be medically necessary, reactive to illnesses, supervised by health professionals, and involve invasive procedures.

At the other end of the continuum – labelled “proactive” – Wellness Tourism is pursued by people who are healthy and wish to maintain and improve their health and well-being. Such travelers seek to prevent disease, live more healthily, reduce stress, improve lifestyle habits and have authentic experiences. They undertake activities that are proactive, voluntary, and do not involve invasive or medical procedures.

The report suggests that Wellness Tourism is a much larger market than Medical Tourism and:

“While there are areas of overlap, cross-marketing must be pursued carefully to target specific consumer markets. From a policy and industry promotion perspective, the two are best developed and marketed separately.”

Ms Yeung concludes:

“Industry executives would be well-advised to offer services and options that meet the wellness travelers’ needs. Already, a number of hotel brands are doing just that, with healthy rooms, better meals, well-equipped fitness centers, and even yoga classes. It’s a trend worth paying attention to. And don’t be surprised when an airline brands itself as the No. 1 “fly healthy” carrier to target this travel segment.”


  1. The Global Wellness Tourism Economy: Executive Summary (pdf), Ophelia Yeung and others, SRI International and Global Spa and Wellness Summit, 2013, accessed 28 December 2013.
  2. Wellness Tourism is a Growth Opportunity Worldwide, Ophelia Yeung, SRI Blog, 20 November 2013.