How The Climate Crisis Will Impact Wellness Tourism

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  • The wellness tourism market now worth $639 billion, with one in three people prioritising wellness when they take a trip.
  • With climate change at the forefront of consumers’ minds, people are increasingly opting for slower modes of transport such as boats, bikes and trains, with 48% of travellers seeking to reduce their environmental impact in this way. 
  • In Sweden, a culture of ‘flygskam’ (flight shame) has emerged, as people opt for trains instead of planes for domestic travel. 
  • As people fly less, encouraging holidaying locally will be increasingly important to support the economies that rely on tourism for survival.
  • New entrants to the sector are leading the industry with pioneering innovations, offering bold approaches to sustainable practices.

The $639 billion Wellness tourism market (GWI) is booming, with one in three people prioritising wellness when they take a trip. Yet, without a healthy planet, many wellness retreats will struggle to survive, and some will cease to exist. Already, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and severe beach erosion in the Maldives provide cases in point. 

Wellness brands as leaders on climate change
2019 was the second hottest year on record, and with the dawn of a new decade, the world looked on as Australian bushfires burned, an apocalyptic vision of what climate change inaction could mean for the future of the planet. 

Within Australia itself, there is a strong sentiment of frustration and anger directed towards political leaders. Firefighters and civilians are making headlines, refusing to shake hands with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, while 261 scientists have written an open letter demanding urgent and immediate action on climate change. Now, people are looking outside of politics for leadership, direction and action.

Extinction Rebellion Australia spokesperson James Norman told Welltodo that the bushfires have led to a spike in Extinction Rebellion membership. “There has been a lot of anxiety out there and people want to help out in any way they can,” he explained. “It’s really shocked people into action.”

Michelle Du Prât, Executive Strategy Director at creative agency Household argues that brands will be key to leading action on climate change and setting a sustainable standard for the future. 

“Brands have the expertise and trust to be more powerful than political leaders and countries in the global climate crisis,” she said. “Travel brands should provide platforms that make connections, help customers conveniently find resources or help each other to reach personal or global goals.” 

How The Climate Crisis Will Impact Wellness Tourism

Building a sustainable wellness community
Within the Wellness Tourism industry at large, industry-wide collaboration is increasingly setting a new best practice standard. For instance, the Asia Pacific Spa and Wellness Coalition (APSWC) is developing a program to share sustainable solutions that have already been successfully implemented, to help the whole industry achieve the Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations (UN). 

New entrants to the sector are leading the industry with new innovations, offering bold new approaches to sustainable practices. Brands such as Marriott and Disney Resorts, have long rewarded customers for opting out of housekeeping services with point schemes or gift cards. Arctic Blue Resort in Finland, currently in construction, will take the sustainable choice meets reward model even further. 

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As Vice President and founder Mikko Spoof explains: “Visitors to the resort can influence the cost [of their stay]for example by consuming less energy, attending ecological activities and making sustainable dietary choices.” 

Du-Prât advocates that effective communication of sustainable policies will be key to success. “More customers will be on the lookout for more brands that use accreditations to show their sustainable agenda,” she said. “This helps brands to stand out and enables customers to make informed decisions based on a brand’s sustainability stance.”

The emergence of a slow travel mindset
Guests’ preference for sustainable brands is indicative of a wider travel mindset and lifestyle shift. People are increasingly opting for slower modes of transport such as boats, bikes and trains, with 48% of travellers seeking to reduce their environmental impact in this way. 

In Sweden, a culture of flygskam (flight shame) has emerged, as people opt for trains instead of planes for domestic travel. Or in the case of Greta Thunberg, taking a zero-carbon transatlantic voyage to attend climate conferences in America.  

Norman is an advocate of the slow travel approach and discussed the mindset shift people will need to make with Welltodo. “When it comes to flying, which is one of the worst things we can actually do as individuals in terms of emissions,” he explained, “we can say I’m only going to fly once a year, and spend longer in a place and really make it an extended trip rather than just going for a couple of weeks.”

While this slow travel approach requires the luxury of time, 57% of travellers are happy to spend longer travelling if their mode of transport is unique. Gwenyth Paltrow’s Goop brand has recently capitalised on this, launching a Goop at Sea experience, offering mind-body workshops and a clean eating menu on a Mediterranean cruise. 

Cruising by train is also experiencing a comeback, for both budget, luxury and business-minded travellers. Due to customer demand, travel company Sunvil is expanding its rail holiday roster to include trips to Greece and Scandinavia, while the Eurostar has announced a new direct train route between London and Amsterdam, which will result in 80% less carbon per passenger than the same plane journey.  

How The Climate Crisis Will Impact Wellness Tourism

A return to local travel
As people fly less, encouraging holidaying locally will be increasingly important to support the economies that rely on tourism for survival. Sustainability-minded travellers are already placing new emphasis on local exploration and savvy brands are starting to provide wellness holidays tailored to local markets. In the US, Canyon Ranch Woodside, a half-hour drive from Silicon Valley, is offering wellness retreats for burnt-out tech industry employees. While in the UK, Cornwall based Watergate Bay Hotel and Cumbria based Another Place, the Lake are both offering staycations that combine the relaxed luxury of a country spa with the enjoyment of outdoor pursuits in a stunning natural setting. 

As Du-Prât explains: ”People are no longer looking for the cheapest holiday deals but instead the eco-friendliest options. The travel industry will be underpinned by slow travel and eco-trade offs which will result in more people seeking experiences closer to home.” 

In response to the bushfires, Tourism Australia has launched a ‘Holiday here this year’ campaign to encourage local exploration and help Australian tourism rebuild and recover from the bushfires. As Tourism Australia Managing Director Phillipa Harrison explains: “We are currently in the middle of the peak summer period and we’re already seeing an impact on tourism as people delay or cancel their travel plans, including to areas that haven’t been directly affected.”

From local travel to wider sustainable habits, brands will have a central role to play in nurturing a responsible travel mindset and in translating sustainable intentions into action. The key to success will be making sustainable choices as easy for the customer as possible. 

Responsible travel leader Intrepid Group does the hard work for its travellers. The first Australian-owned company to declare a climate emergency, Intrepid Group has been carbon neutral since 2010 and has developed a deep-rooted sustainable business model over the last thirty years. With both products and business built upon environmental responsibility, the company makes the ‘good for the planet’ choice a non-choice for its customers. 

There are huge opportunities for brands that choose to prioritise sustainability in this way. Intrepid Group, has seen its fourth year of record growth, with profits increasing 56 percent in 2018. And the business attributes its success to its eco-credentials. 

“Responsible travel has been a driving force for Intrepid since our beginnings,” said CEO James Thornton. “The more we grow, the more we can do”. 

At its core, wellness tourism is designed to promote health and wellbeing. Looking to the future, it is impossible to consider a wellness tourism industry that only promotes individual health and wellbeing; to be successful it will need to be united in sharing solutions and innovations that promote and actively seek to create a healthy planet too. 

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