It is one thing when hotels open fitness centres, but quite another when fitness centres open hotels.
Luxe gym Equinox is opening a hotel in New York’s new Hudson Yards neighbourhood next year in a move that embodies the evolution of wellness travel.
Most hotels have increased fitness options – you can book rooms with stationary bikes and rent workout clothes – but wellness travel has become much more than just keeping fit while on the road. Increasingly it has become the point of the journey. And it is bringing in lots of money.
Whether it is foraging for your own medicinal herbs in Peru, cycling across the California coastline or spending several thousand dollars to workout alongside celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson in Aspen, Colorado, wellness tourists made 691 million trips in 2015, according to the Global Wellness Institute.
In the past, wellness holidays straddled between starvation-style boot camps or relaxing spa weekends to detox from an unhealthy lifestyle.
However, as self-care has evolved into a daily goal, it has found an obvious match in travel. International and domestic wellness tourism brought in US$563 billion in 2015 – up from US$489 billion in 2013, according to the Global Wellness Institute.
Wellness travel is expected to grow to US$808 billion by 2020.
The travel trend has mirrored the shift in retail.
Gone are the days when shoppers headed to a bricks-and-mortar stores to buy shoes that they could buy online. Instead, they are being lured to stores by experiences.
Similarly, holidaymakers are less excited about lying on the beach with umbrella drinks.
They also want a more immersive experience, such as a yoga meditation retreat or surf camp, to connect with others and revitalise themselves, experts say.
“[Fitness has] gone from being an activity to now [where] it’s a destination – it’s a purpose,” says Marshal Cohen, an analyst at the trend group NPD.
“That’s a huge shift in spending. We’re not building wardrobes any more. We’re building memories and the photos we’re clicking on our phones and posting on social media are the fruits of our labour.”
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The Curtain Bluff resort in Antigua launched a new wellness concierge where guests can meet the team at no extra charge to design their own fitness programme including everything from Zumba to Pilates.
Amanpuri’s resort in Phuket, Thailand, created four wellness immersions, where guests can focus on fitness, weight loss, digestive cleanses or mental awareness during a three- to 14-night holiday.
Offerings include reiki, an alternative stress-reduction therapy, and life-coaching.
The trend is even spilling over to cruises, once stereotyped as weight-gaining holidays with bottomless buffets.
Now, wellness can be the whole point of the cruise. Holland America Line, in partnership with O, The Oprah Magazine, has programmes for meditation and healthy living.
Cruise passengers can also combine wellness with sightseeing during ports of call. Take a shore excursion on a Regents Seven Seas cruise, for example, and you might end up doing yoga on a coconut plantation in Ko Samui, Thailand, or outdoor tai chi in Marseille, France, with a view of the sea on one side and a palace on the other.
“We are seeing [cruise] lines of every ilk and size embrace healthy eating, fitness, all sorts of positive, new kinds of approaches to yoga and that kind of thing,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor at large of CruiseCritic.
Savvy athleisure retailers are also seizing on it.
Lululemon and Free People, a bohemian line popular with yogis, have both branched into wellness tourism.
Free People’s retreats started a few years ago where participants can exercise and try journaling – the practice of keeping a diary or journal – or tarot-card workshops in spots such as Glacier National Park, in the US state of Montana.
Zen travellers are spending thousands to follow celebrity trainers to exotic destinations.
Tracy Anderson, who is actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s business partner and the trainer who shapes Jennifer Lopez’s famous bottom, hosts a handful of intimate weekends each year with fewer than 40 guests.
Participants sweat alongside the fitness guru and get to know her during fireside-style chats in US cities including Miami and Aspen.
The weekends, priced at several thousand dollars, always sell out.
Singer Shakira’s trainer Anna Kaiser leads a few trips a year, including recent stints in Ojai, California and Austin, Texas.
And retreats for the hot workout du jour The Class by Taryn Toomey have all sold out, often within one hour.
Toomey’s guests pay between US$2,000 and US$6,000 for her cathartic workouts with options for beachside massages and picturesque hikes in spots such as Mustique and Mexico.
Roughly 100,000 wellness lovers attended uber-popular Wanderlust festivals across North America last year, taking part in everything from yoga and meditation to stand-up paddleboarding and spinning in spots such as Oahu, Hawaii, and Squaw Valley, California.
Meghan Aftosmis loved Wanderlust’s Vermont event so much last year that she is heading back in a few weeks.
The 39-year-old American public relations executive said she was eager to take yoga classes with one of the celebrity teachers.
She also took a poetry session with a teacher she had been following online.
“It comes down to having an experience and especially in the summer I look for new adventures,” she said.