Wellness tourism grew from a $563 billion market in 2015 to $639 billion in 2017, or 6.5% annually, more than twice as fast as 3.2% tourism overall , and it’s forecast to grow even faster through 2022 (7.5% yearly) to reach $919 billion.
North America drives the most wellness tourism revenues, $242 billion annually and Europe the most wellness trips 292 million, but Asia-Pacific is the eye-opening growth leader, with wellness trips growing a whopping 33% in the last two years. China and India rank #1 and #2 for growth: adding roughly 22 million and 17 million wellness trips respectively from 2015-2017. These are just a few findings from the nonprofit Global Wellness Institute’s (GWI) new “Global Wellness Tourism Economy” report released at the World Travel Market in London today.
The report’s first edition in 2013 put wellness tourism on the world’s radar, defining it as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing.”
“Wellness tourism burst into the consumer consciousness just a very few years ago, and it’s hard to grasp the speed of its growth and evolution,” noted Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung, GWI Sr. Researchers. “Wellness, hospitality and travel are now converging in unprecedented ways, from the ‘healthy hotel’ concept going utterly mainstream to airports, airlines, and cruises injecting so much wellness programming, to the profusion of ever-more-creative wellness destinations, retreats and tours. The wellness concept is transforming almost every aspect of the travel industry—and wellness tourism will only grow faster in years ahead, as it lies at the powerful intersection of two massive, booming industries: the $2.6 trillion tourism industry and the $4.2 trillion wellness market.”
The Global Picture: Recent Growth Everywhere
World travelers made 830 million wellness trips in 2017, 139 million more than in 2015, representing 17% of all tourism revenues (or 1 in 6 ‘dollars spent’). Developing markets lead the growth story: Asia-Pacific, Latin America-Caribbean, Middle East-North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa represented only 40% of wellness trips in 2017, but accounted for 57% of the increase in trips since 2015.
Top National Markets
Wellness tourism is heavily concentrated in several countries across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. The top five nations (US, Germany, China, France, Japan) represent 59% of the global market, and the US alone drives over one-third of world revenues. Since 2013, both China and India have shot up in the rankings: China jumping from 11th to 3rd today; India hopping from 16th to 7th. Malaysia has entered the top twenty for the first time.
The Future? Even Faster Growth Ahead
Wellness tourism is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 7.5% through 2022, considerably faster than the 6.4% growth estimated for overall tourism. By 2022, the spend will hit $919 billion, with 1.2 billion wellness trips taken annually. Watch emerging markets: over half of the expenditure growth (and three-quarters of the wellness trips growth) through 2022 will take place in Asia-Pacific, Latin America-Caribbean, Middle East-North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Top Recent Growth Nations
Wellness tourism keeps growing steadily across the leading developed markets, like the US and major European countries. But China and India have seen amazing recent gains, adding roughly 22 and 17 million wellness trips respectively from 2015-2017. For the top 25 growth nations, the pure annual percentage growth leaders from 2015-2017 are: 1) Slovakia 36.9% 2) Philippines 31.1% 3) Chile 29.3% 4) Malaysia 28.6% and 5) Vietnam 22.8%.
A Seriously High-Spending Traveler
Wellness travelers are very high-spending, high-yield tourists. In 2017, international wellness tourists on average spent $1,528 per trip, 53% more than the typical international tourist. The premium for domestic wellness tourists is even higher: at $609 per trip, they spend 178% more than your average domestic tourist.
Secondary Wellness Travelers = Bulk of Trips and Spend
The GWI identifies two types of wellness travelers. The “primary” variety is a traveler whose trip/destination choice is primarily motivated by wellness. The “secondary” is a traveler who participates in wellness experiences on any leisure or business trip. While there’s a misconception that wellness travelers are a small, elite, rich group who visit destination spas or meditation retreats, it’s actually the more mainstream secondary breed that comprises the dramatic bulk of the market: 89% of wellness trips and 86% of expenditures.
More Countries Promoting Their Wellness ‘Assets’
The number of countries actively marketing their wellness offerings at the national level has jumped from 65 in 2013 to over 100 in 2018. And in the US, while only eight of the fifty states marketed the sector in 2013, now over one-third promote some form of wellness tourism on their official state tourism website. What’s crucial is that destinations are now developing far more authentic, place-based wellness tourism products and brands—whether pioneers like Kerala, India which branded itself the “Land of Ayurveda” over two decades ago or Costa Rica’s new “Wellness Pura Vida” campaign.