Where wellness goes next

The wellness sector is in good health. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the industry is growing at a faster rate than the global economy, reports Frances Ball

The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) has published its Global Wellness Economy Monitor report for 2018, offering insight into ten sectors across the wellness industry. All are growing at a rapid rate, but it’s wellness tourism that holds the most interest for industry experts looking to understand this high-yield sector.

One of the report’s most surprising revelations is that genetics may account for as little as 10-15% of actual health outcomes. Alongside DNA pre-determination, environmental factors significantly influence our physical health and wellbeing. This is the premise behind the wellness tourism industry, one that commanded a $639.4bn market in 2017 – and that the GWI report predicts will grow to $919.4bn by 2022.

Lifestyle, not aspiration

There are two types of wellness-interested travellers, according to the report. The first is specifically motivated to travel for wellness: these ‘primary travellers’ might be visitors to yoga retreats or spas. The secondary traveller engages in wellness activities while they are travelling for other reasons. It’s the latter that account for the vast majority of expenditure: secondary travellers paid out 86% of dollars spent in the wellness tourism sector in 2017.

This suggests that wellness is becoming more of a lifestyle than an aspiration, in many ways – or as the report itself puts it, “an emerging value system that recognises our connection to the collective”. Senior consultant Ophelia Yeung, who co-authored the report with senior economist Katherine Johnston, points out that consumers put “an increasing emphasis on quality rather than quantity, as well as an interest in experience rather than the accumulation of possessions.”

Wellness is increasingly seen as accessible through food choices and exercise while travelling, and brands in the world’s most profitable wellness markets are capitalising on it. North America takes in the biggest slice of the wellness tourism pie by dollars spent, and this has prompted industry crossovers like Hyatt Hotel’s acquisition of Miraval and Exhale.

More and more wellness is seen as routine, or as something that can feasibly be incorporated into everyday life. However, it may be unwittingly stunting its own growth, even as it “starts to permeate the global consumer consciousness”, as the report puts it.

While there is a rise of wellness tourism in smaller markets – in Latin America and the Middle East particularly – there is also a risk that should the wellness industry focus on the wealthiest consumers in any market, it would be limiting its own scope. “The wealthy are not the only people who care about disease prevention and more mental balance,” says Yeung. “There are many opportunities to market wellness to middle income consumers, who have the disposable income for discretionary spending.”

Avoiding polarisation of the market is crucial for both industry growth and, in a more generalised sense, for the benefit of global health.

Workplace wellness

Customers look for experiences and products that promote health and wellness, but how do industries – particularly high-stress service industries – promote wellbeing for their own staff? Yeung is confident that another sector covered in the report, workplace wellness, demonstrates a compelling case for investing in wellness for employees. “In service industries such as restaurants,” she says, “happier, healthier and more motivated staff can directly translate into better service, higher customer satisfaction and profitability”.

That impact on staff goes beyond the kitchen, too. The report’s authors found that “wellness real estate has the most underappreciated value in improving our health and wellbeing,” according to Yeung. Changing workplaces and communities to make it easier and more attractive to walk or take public transport, to have natural green areas and public spaces would have, as Yeung says, “a disproportionate wellness impact” on the workforce.

The report closes with a prescient and clear message that positions accessible wellness as a value proposition for businesses, but one that can’t run the risk of being seen as a rarefied or out of touch industry. Wellness is too important an industry, and too important a health concern, to ignore – and opportunities to maximise it should be embraced.

Frances Ball

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