Trend: The Explosion of Fitness-Meets-Nature-and-Wellness Festivals 

By Thierry Malleret, economist

AN EXPLOSION OF FITNESS and WELLNESS FESTIVALS – We were well aware of book, food, cinema, music and many other breeds of festivals that punctuate the summer months, but we are struck by the recent boom in fitness-meets-wellness festivals, which are on a steep upward path in the Northern Hemisphere. These cool new festivals are, not coincidentally, being held in cool places spared from heat waves such as the Faroe Islands (the site of this summer’s Átjan Wild Islands Festival) or in the mountains above Chamonix, Switzerland (this summer’s Arc’teryx Alpine Academy, a nature immersion festival that marries the hedonistic air of a music festival with wellness). 

Typically, these new festivals combine trail or ultra-trail running (running events that are longer than a standard marathon held on trails in nature), with music, healthy food, spectacular immersion in nature, and diverse, communal wellness experiences. They constitute a new form of wellness practice, more focused on fitness but also combined with lots of social pleasure. 

The Financial Times recently covered these fitness-wellness festivals as the hot trend of summer 2022, reporting that they “challenge stereotypes as to what fitness and wellness can be”–with their strong focus on delivering a real sense of community and with many young, solo travelers coming to the multi-day extravaganzas. They detail numerous examples, from Norway’s Morning Beat, a booze-free yoga festival headlined by trance DJs to Love Trails, the first running-meets-music festival that combines everything from paddle boarding and surfing to banquet dinners (they’re expanding from Wales to Madeira this year).

We wouldn’t be surprised to see these fitness/wellness festivals grow exponentially in the coming years, much like ultra-trail running itself. Over the past 25 years, there has been a 1,676% increase in participation in ultra-trail runs: from about 34,000 events in 1996 (when the discipline barely existed) to more than 600,000 today. This trend illustrates how wellness is evolving and expanding! Fitness festivals, trails and ultra-trail events, treks and walks, combined with wellness, fun and meaning: these are not easy categories to capture in the wellness economy, since they often don’t have a monetary value, and do not fit neatly into the 11 sectors that compose it. But they are integral parts of our physical and mental wellbeing, and appeal strongly to younger generations. It will surely be worth paying attention to this fast-emerging trend!

CLIMATE AS THE ‘MOTHER’ OF ALL RISKS: The scorching heat waves all around the world (notably in China, India, Europe and the US) are proof that global warming is occurring much faster and with greater severity than anticipated. A fast-warming planet will trigger an endless cascade of economic, financial, geopolitical, and societal risks for which we are collectively unprepared. Yet, despite the extreme emergency, the backlash against green policies and its politicization are mounting in numerous forms, including the latest example of the West Virginia Treasurer banning banks that don’t support coal from doing business with the state. Ultimately, these efforts will be defeated by the magnitude of climate risks (and the rising role of whistleblowers, activists and litigation), but for the moment businesses are engulfed in the ‘polarization trap’ and are being asked to take sides.  

GLOBAL WARMING WILL CHANGE WELLNESS TRAVEL: As heat waves and their second-order effects (like droughts and wildfires) become more frequent, more intense, and more lasting, wellness travellers will adjust by changing their plans. Shifts in patterns are already apparent in Europe. Rising anecdotal evidence shows that tourists are moving to the north and to the coasts, while favouring when possible cooler months like April, May, September, and October. This begs the question of what will happen to ambitious new wellness projects in countries that suffer from extreme temperatures, such as Saudi Arabia’s smart wellness city, NEOM.

One thought on “Trend: The Explosion of Fitness-Meets-Nature-and-Wellness Festivals”

  1. Greetings,
    I love the article. In my country Botswana, there isa growing trend for companies to pay for their stuff members to participate in running events (marathons) outside the country as part of their wellness programs. I found a business opportunity in this in 2014 when I went to Ethiopia and saw many corporate running groups from Europe coming to race at the Great Ethiopian Run. My business, Dreambib, connects recreational runners (including these corporate groups) with running events outside the country and so far so good. We have also started helping local companies to form internal running and fitness clubs to keep their staff members fit and healthy. As we take people to travel abroad, we would like to incorporate many different aspects of wellness such as weight-loss programs, yoga, healthy eating, meditations etc. to provide 360 approach to these companies and individuals.

    As a young startup, I’m following the Global Wellness Institute to seek guidance and support in this area as I believe there’s massive and great potential in it. I was recently awarded a fellowship by the US Government to spend 6-weeks in US, Atlanta and learn good business practices. The program is called Young African Leaders Initiative, and was founded by President Obama.

    Anyway, I would like to connect more with the GWI.

    Thank you.

    Lehlohonolo Makaja

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