With health roots digging deep into the 17th century, Le Monastère des Augustines, a wellness-themed boutique hotel located within the historic stone walls of Quebec City, Canada, was the ideal setting for the Wellness Tourism Association’s first meeting of members.
Figures just released value global wellness tourism as a US$639.4bn (€552.4bn, £484.2bn) sector that’s growing twice as fast as general tourism, representing 830 million trips in 2017 (see p88). On the cusp of this trend, the non-profit association launched in January with a view to creating connections between the places that offer wellness travel options – from tourist boards to high-end spas – and those who want to market this growing sector of the industry, such as tour operators and travel agents.
The inaugural meeting welcomed 29 members and partners from as far away as Turkey and the Dominican Republic, including top name operators such as Canyon Ranch and Richmond Nua Wellness-Spa.
Along with thought leader presentations, delegates were privy to findings from the WTA’s first consumer wellness travel survey (see p91) and engaged in open, round-table sessions.
In his opening remarks WTA chair, and well known spa and hospitality figure, Andrew Gibson encouraged delegates to agree on the future direction and tasks of the association. And several plans of action were made.
With the goal of bringing standards and clear-cut definitions to stakeholders, travel advisors and consumers, it was agreed that members will work to make the WTA’s Glossary of Industry Definitions widely acknowledged and accepted. The glossary, published earlier this year, includes definitions of wellness resorts versus wellness destinations and outlines the differences between wellness retreats, travel and vacations.
In addition, a team will be assembled to look at the development of measurable standards to reinforce the definitions and determine if and how these standards should be audited.
In the meantime, an Education Advisory Committee will be launched with a mandate of identifying and/or developing educational tools and outreach programmes to help educate the various sectors – including consumers, travel advisors and destination marketing organisations (DMOs) – on these definitions. It will also offer consumers advice on finding the right fit, travel advisors a better understanding of what customers are looking for and DMOs insight into what they need to launch a viable wellness initiative.
Presenting on the topic of Wellness Meets Medical, Dr Richard Carmona, 17th surgeon general of the US and chief of health innovations at Canyon Ranch, said: “Wellness has become a necessity due to the continued rising disease and economic burden. We have to educate fellow citizens on its value, defined in its simplest terms as ‘the personal pursuit of aligning one’s mind, body and spirit’.”
Under the same topic, neuropsychologist Dr Robert Velin shared that, “we’re seeing the younger generation look at quality of life with a whole new perspective, and they’re far more motivated to pursue that quality of life by embracing healthy living,” which, naturally, extends to their travels.
And, how did participants feel about this inaugural event? Travelling nearly 24 hours from Turkey, Hakan Balcan, general manager of destination spa Richmond Nua Wellness-Spa, echoed the sentiment of many of the attendees: “Sharing ideas and experiences was one of the most important benefits. The wellness sector needed this organisation, and I’m honoured to be a member of this industry community.”
In conclusion, chair Gibson pointed out that the WTA was created to help shape the sustainable future of wellness tourism and be a credible voice of the industry.