Butterfly garden at the JW Marriott's Anaheim resort.
JW Marriott’s Anaheim resort's augmented-reality-enhanced immersive butterfly garden is one of the experiences it offers geared toward well-being and rejuvenation. — JW Marriott

Why it matters:

  • Wellness tourism—travel related to the pursuit of self-care and cultivating personal well-being—has grown post-pandemic.
  • A 2021 survey from American Express found that 76% of those polled wanted to spend more on travel to enhance their well-being.
  • The trend has startups from Casa Alternavida to big brands like Hyatt elevating the wellness experience for guests.

Gone are the days when a small gym, a menu that offers gluten-free and vegetarian options, and a yoga class would earn a hotel bragging rights to say they were wellness destinations.

Even before the pandemic, there was a shift toward wellness tourism—travel related to the pursuit of self-care and cultivating personal well-being. But the crisis pushed the trend to new heights.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness tourism is the fastest growing sector of the travel industry, and it’s forecast to grow even faster and reach $919 billion this year.

A 2021 survey from American Express found that 76% of those polled wanted to spend more on travel to enhance their well-being and 68% said that their next vacation would be geared toward improving mental well-being, in particular.

“The pandemic shifted more than just our working lifestyle, but our entire way of life and priorities. There is a much greater focus on spirituality, mental health, nature, and reconnecting with slow living. When it comes to travel, people are looking to use their vacation time to nourish their mind, body, and soul,” Kara Harms, founder of Whimsy Soul, which focuses on women travelers and specializes in wellness, told CO—.

Harsh Patil, CEO of xplor.earth, says as a travel planner, he has seen the industry adapt to travelers’ heightened expectations for wellness-fueled experiences. “[Brands] are offering more remote and fitness-related experiences. Wellness travel has expanded far beyond the traditional yoga retreats and spa vacations.”

Some corporations are also seizing on wellness travel as rewards for their employees. “Wellness resorts are a hot spot for corporate travel as employers are trying to keep a happy and healthy workforce, decrease company turnover, increase employee productivity and increase employee engagement,” said Mia Wood, a certified lifestyle and wellness travel specialist.

Here’s a look at how startups to major hospitality brands are catering to the guest’s mind, body, and spirit to drive business.

JW Marriott’s personal touch — ‘wellness looks different for every guest’ — boosts bookings

From the day the JW Marriott’s Anaheim resort opened in 2020, its mission was to instill a feeling of rejuvenation, rest, and wellness in its guests.

The resort offers candlelight concerts, an augmented-reality-enhanced immersive butterfly garden, a dedicated Zen and yoga room, and a new seed-to-table fine dining Italian restaurant, Tocca Ferro.

The resort is also partnering with local restaurants and retail shops for various well-being initiatives.

“Wellness looks different for every guest, and it is imperative that we offer several wellness experiences and amenities to suit the needs for every guest,” Nusrat Mirza, general manager, told CO—. The property is already seeing a payoff. “With the added amenities, we have seen an increase in bookings in 2021 and the first quarter of 2022,” Mirza said.

[Read: How 7 Hospitality Brands Tapped Unexpected Perks to Boost Bookings]

 Sensei guides offer guests personalized wellness treatments at Sensei Lānaʻi. 
At Sensei Lānaʻi, a Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii, sensei guides curate personalized itineraries with a variety of one-on-one wellness sessions. — Four Seasons

Four Seasons Resort’s Sensei Lānaʻi: ‘Sensei Guides’ customize guests’ wellness itineraries

At Sensei Lānaʻi, a Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii, the guest experience reflects what it considers three factors for a healthy life: movement, nourishment, and rest. Each guest’s stay at Sensei Lānaʻi is led by “Sensei Guides,” practitioners who hold degrees in fields including exercise science, nutrition, and mindfulness.

Resort stays are highly customized to meet guests’ wellness intentions. There are private wellness consultations; treatments in individual 1000-square-feet spa hales (the Hawaiian word for “home”); and dining guided by the Sensei Lānaʻi’s nutritional philosophy. Sensei guides curate personalized itineraries with a variety of one-on-one wellness sessions. These include the new Optimum Wellbeing Program, which is tailored to individuals based on health data that’s captured by wearable devices and other technology.

[Read: How Hot Startups Pacaso, Shipt and Thumbtack Capitalized on Two Key Pandemic Trends to Fuel Growth]

The pandemic shifted more than just our working lifestyle, but our entire way of life and priorities. There is a much greater focus on spirituality, mental health, nature, and reconnecting with slow living. When it comes to travel, people are looking to use their vacation time to nourish their mind, body, and soul.

Kara Harms, founder, Whimsy Soul

Hyatt’s next-level wellness perks: from floatation therapy to ‘sleep suites’

Hyatt has embraced post-pandemic pampering at its various properties with perks ranging from wellness suites and hikes guided by Reiki, the energy healing technique, and aerial yoga to flotation therapies, whereby guests float in water that, at 93 to 94 degrees, closely matches skin temperature. Flotation therapy is said to help one enter a deep state of relaxation that facilitates restoring the mind and body.

It’s available at Hyatt’s Thompson Washington D.C. location through its partnership with nearby Soulex Float Spa, what it bills as the first and only sensory deprivation flotation therapy spa in Washington D.C.

And as a goodnight’s sleep has been hard to come by for a lot of people the last couple of years, Park Hyatt New York recently launched its Bryte Restorative Sleep Suite. Guests can store their sleep preferences and then tap into a personal bed profile when they return to their room. Suite features include a bed that adjusts to relieve pressure points and shifts throughout various sleep stages, as well as sleep-enhancing amenities such as a Vitruvi diffuser and its signature Sleep essential oil blend, sleeping masks, and a collection of sleep-related books.

 People doing a morning yoga class outside at Casa Alternavida.
Wellness offerings at Casa Alternavida, a year-old boutique retreat center in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, include fire ceremonies, morning movement classes, and cacao ceremonies. — Casa Alternavida

Casa Alternavida: Cacao ceremonies and ‘ecstatic dance’ offerings increase revenues and package rates

Casa Alternavida, a year-old boutique retreat center in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, aims to help guests reduce stress and anxiety, touting the notion that its rainforest and beach environs set the stage for a wellness transformation. Wellness offerings include fire ceremonies, morning movement classes, and cacao ceremonies, a tradition whereby a cacao beverage is consumed to enhance the spiritual ritual practiced. At Casa Alternavida, the ceremony, which is performed on the rooftop before dinner while the sun is setting overlooking the rainforest, has gained popularity among guests.

Indeed, Casa Alternavida has noticed a recent increase in guests seeking a reprieve from their stressful daily lives, evidenced by greater demand for its nature-based private coaching services, Jennifer Ruiz, a social media consultant for Casa Alternavida, told CO—.

Also more popular are the retreat’s ecstatic dance services. Ecstatic dance, a free-from movement without any specific steps or requirements to perform for others, enables guests to privately explore their body movements without concern about how others might judge them.

All told, “These offerings boost revenues by increasing the overall package rates,” Ruiz said. “We have seen a 50% increase in bookings since the beginning of the year. Success is measured by client testimonials and the return rate of existing clients.”

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Published May 09, 2022