Media Contact: Beth McGroarty
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Global Wellness Institute Presents Worldwide and MENA Wellness Travel Trends at Arabian Travel Market

Rise of more transformative wellness travel spans everything from extreme wellness approaches like biohacking and brain optimization retreats to empowering all-women wellness adventures – Key Middle East/North African developments include a surge in hot springs development and the first truly holistic wellness resorts and “healthy hotels” hitting region

Miami, FL – April 23, 2018 – Today at the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai, the Global Wellness Institute presented its second annual symposium, “The Wellness Showcase: Wellness Experiences & Travel Trends 2018.” The focus was on the macro shift from experiential to more “transformative” wellness travel, and how travelers now seek (and destinations are innovating) more emotional, life changing wellness journeys rather than the old programming, treatments and classes. GWI chairman and CEO Susie Ellis shared emerging trends that fall under the transformative umbrella: from brands creating multi-property wellness circuits or story-based wellness sagas to the rise of more extreme wellness at destinations (whether intense mind-over-matter challenges or empowering wellness travel for women).

The GWI also provided a sneak peek of key developments unfolding in the MENA wellness tourism market in advance of the “2018 Global Wellness Tourism Economy Monitor” being released in November at World Travel Market (WTM) in London, including the first truly comprehensive wellness resorts hitting the region and a hot springs development rush from Algeria to Saudi Arabia.

To bring wellness approaches to life, the symposium became an experiential theater, with doctors, experts and master practitioners from Dubai Herbal & Treatment Center, Hilton Worldwide, International SOS, Jumeirah Resorts, Sofitel the Palm, State of One, The Retreat Palm Dubai and WTS International demonstrating. On display were ayurvedic approaches, “smart” wellness screening and skin analyses, acupuncture, herbal medicine, tai chi, kung fu, color and aromatherapy, sound/vibrational therapies like Tibetan singing bowls, gongs and laughter yoga. Leaders from Dubai’s Health Authority and the Caribbean Tourism Organization shared strategies for attracting the wellness tourist, and innovative properties like Switzerland’s new Burgenstock Resort shared impressive photography of their hotels and resorts.

“The buzzword in travel today is ‘transformative,’ and while it can never be precisely defined and often gets misused, for the wellness travel sector it’s the very brand and promise,” noted Susie Ellis. “Wellness travelers increasingly demand true brain, body and soul shake-ups–intense personal growth rather than just pampering–and destinations are creatively heeding the call.”

I) Aspects of the Transformative Wellness Travel Trend from the ATM Symposium

Destinations creating immersive, story-based, epic wellness journeys

The trend: moving beyond the piecemeal (and sometimes un-engaging) approach of classes, treatments and itineraries to a necklace of integrated wellness experiences that cast the traveler-pilgrim in an emotional, multi-chapter wellness journey or theatrical saga of transformation. Example: Six Senses building the first multi-property wellness circuits from a hospitality brand, like Six Senses Bhutan (opening 2018), where people journey across five lodges, immersed in five pillars of Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness Index.”

More performance, music & art mixed with wellness

To spark the brain and emotion, more art, performance, music and literature is being served up with wellness. Examples: at China’s stunning new Amanyangun resort the vision is equal parts culture and wellness, where calligraphy, painting and Kunqu Opera performances take place in the ancient scholars’ studio. At the now-being-redesigned Peninsula Hot Springs (AU) people will be able to watch concerts, plays and talks while floating in a vast hot springs amphitheater.

From generic to genetic: hyper-personalized wellness based on your DNA and biomarkers

Thanks to a wave of ever-better DNA, personal biomarker, intestinal microbiome and epigenetic testing (targeting genes that can be turned on or off with lifestyle changes), more medical-wellness destinations are deploying new deep-view testing to create specific-only-to-you health, diet, fitness and even skincare roadmaps. This transformative information can be acted on at home via telemedicine. Example: California’s famed Cal-a-Vie spa uses the new, super-comprehensive Wellness FX platform that tests cardiovascular, metabolic, hormonal and nutritional health, then combines that knowledge with consultations and online habit tracking, to create a precision wellness plan based on each person’s biology.

Brain hacks and optimization

If wellness destinations have long focused on physical fitness, the coming surge is brain health and optimization – whether serving up eatable and drink-able brain-boosting nootropics or using cutting-edge brain neuromodulation technologies to create that better, less stressed, more focused brain. Example: Spain’s SHA Wellness Clinic just launched a Brain Photo Modulation program (using transcranial stimulation technology) to improve guests’ cognitive function and memory and reduce anxiety and depression.

Extreme mind-over-matter training

Transformative travel is about conquering challenges, even scary ones, and a key trend is wellness travel that goes far beyond lazing on a beach or gently practicing yoga. Wellness warriors are seeking everything from survivor-style fitness challenges to training at the elite athlete level to extreme mind-over-matter workshops to achieve things they never thought possible. Examples: BodyHoliday in St. Lucia’s WellFit retreats where you train with Olympians and NFL champions or “Ice Man” Wim Hof’s destination retreats where the fearless learn a meditation and breathwork program to brave extreme ice and master their immune and autonomic nervous systems. (Extreme ice/cold experiences are generally hot.)

Happiness travel

There’s a new science of happiness, like the annual World Happiness Report, that analyzes which nations are the happiest and why. And this new body of happiness research provides key lessons for wellness travel: drive more social connection (loneliness is unhealthy) and more tech disconnection (smartphones have created a depression and anxiety epidemic). With an unhappiness epidemic, suddenly no WiFi wellness destinations focused on contemplation, community and deep nature are the most sought after. More happiness (or joy-for-joy’s sake) programming will rise: from eating for happiness, with menus packed with serotonin-boasting foods; more “happy fitness,” or exercise that returns us to childlike play. More governments (from Bhutan to the UAE to Costa Rica) are putting citizen’s happiness at the heart of government policy and they will realize that a happy country is a strong tourism brand – as there’s insatiable consumer interest in the unique wellness philosophies of the happiest nations: from the Danish concept of “hygge” (coziness and contentment) to Sweden’s “lagom” (a life lived in moderation) to Japan’s “ikigai” (finding true purpose in life).

Empowering all-women wellness travel 

In this fourth wave of feminism, more destinations and tour companies are focusing on all-women adventures and retreats that are part women’s empowerment and part wellness. There’s a boom in more challenging all-women’s adventure travel, from companies like AdventureWomen, WHOA, Intrepid and Exodus. More “painmoons”: emotional healing retreats for women who have suffered loss or grief, like Borgo Ignazia’s (Italy) Tarant Program. Bold new concepts like Finland’s SuperShe Island, a membership-based remote island destination where only women roam, immersed in meditation, yoga, sauna, farm-to-table cooking…and female bonding. Mainstream hotels like W are programming around gender equality, with “What She Said” events that mix empowering female speakers with fitness/wellness.

II) Key Developments in MENA Wellness Travel & Spa Markets

The Global Wellness Institute also presented important new wellness travel and spa developments across MENA, prior to the release of their new wellness tourism research at WTM.

GWI Senior Researchers, Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung, reported on big picture reasons why MENA wellness tourism – a $8.3 billion annual market as of 2015 – will be a growth story.

Why MENA wellness tourism is growing

Johnston and Yeung noted that the MENA region (especially Gulf nations) is suffering a chronic disease epidemic, with some of the world’s fastest growth rates for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and depression. This makes preventative wellness an imperative and something more governments will support and people will seek.

Inbound travel is also growing fast overall: from 64.7 mil. arrivals in 2007 to 128 mil. in 2022, with receipts projected to skyrocket from $55.9 mil. to $1 billion in the same period. This is much faster inbound tourism growth than the global average.*

Travelers from many top MENA inbound markets embrace wellness as a lifestyle (the UK, France, U.S. and Germany are all top-12 source markets); more primary wellness travelers will flow into the region.

While MENA’s wellness travel market has traditionally revolved around uber-luxury spas/hotels, now hospitality development is shifting towards far more comprehensive wellness in ways never seen before: a holistic blend of physical, mental and spiritual offerings.

Key MENA Developments

A Hot Springs Development Rush

Countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Iran all have extensive natural thermal/mineral springs resources but haven’t had the hospitality/tourism infrastructure to support them. That’s changing fast. For instance, Tunisia is building 54 new thermal/wellness centers by 2020 and Algeria is investing $100 mil. to modernize eight government-owned hot springs centers and 40 hammams. Countries without established hot springs markets are taking action: Saudi Arabia is planning extensive development around the Jizan Dam hot springs, while developing the Jizan coastal region as a wellness tourism destination. Egypt is redeveloping (and seeking investment for new wellness resorts) in regions famed for natural therapies/resources: the black sands of the Safaga/Red Sea region, sand baths and hot springs in the Siwa Oasis, and sulfur springs in Helwan. Even Iraq recently reopened its historic Hammam al-Alil hot springs facility that received thousands of visitors prior to the war.

Spa & Medical-Wellness Projects Boom in the Gulf Region

The Gulf region hasn’t been known for strong wellness offerings, but investment and growth in the region’s tourism infrastructure is changing this picture. One factor: the explosive growth in the hotel industry overall, with Colliers reporting that fifty new five-star hotel spas will open between 2017-2021 in Dubai alone. Countries like Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are all investing in big resort spa developments. Billions are being invested in massive medical-wellness projects that interweave green building, fitness amenities, world-class medical and complementary wellness services, targeting both residents and tourists. Examples: Dubai Healthcare City/WorldCare Wellness Village; Dilmunia Island project, Bahrain; Kuwait Silk City project; Qatar Foundation Stadium and Health & Wellness Precinct/Education City project. And international spa brands/chains are rushing into the UAE’s day spa market, leading to greater competition and more price points.

First Destination Wellness Resorts Are Hitting Middle East

The Middle East is now developing the very first properties catering to primary wellness travelers: true holistic, multidimensional wellness and spa destinations. Examples: The Retreat Palm Dubai (MGallery by Sofitel) opened in 2017 and the deeply integrative Zalal Wellness Destination Retreat now under construction in Qatar, which will be the first destination to revolve around Islamic culture and wellness traditions, with approaches based upon Hakim Ibn Sina’s (Avicenna’s) Islamic Golden Age philosophies of health.

First “Healthy Hotels” Hit Region

The first “healthy hotel” concepts – a mostly Western phenom that brings mainstream, more affordable wellness to leisure and business travelers – are now opening in the region. The Al Shaqab healthy/active lifestyle concept hotel opened in Qatar’s Education City and in Dubai, Smartotels is launching its FORM Hotel concept this year, focused on wellbeing, lifestyle, and technology-driven and socially-responsible design – offering everything from private yoga sessions to sustainable, healthy food.

Visit ATM’s Wellness Lounge: ATM offers a dedicated Wellness & Spa Lounge with Chenot Palace Health Wellness Hotel, NG Sapanca Wellness & Convention, Santani Wellness Resort & Spa, The Begnas Lake Resort, L’Albereta Relais & Chateaux, Soukya International Holistic Health Centre, Aitken Spence Hotels, Heritance Ayurveda and Velaa Private Island Maldives as exhibitors. It’s open Tuesday, April 24th from 10am – 6pm and Wednesday, April 25th from 10am – 5pm. On Tuesday at 4:30pm, ATM will host an educational session to learn more about the eye-opening wellness travel sector and meet the exhibitors.

*Euromonitor data, 2018

For more info, contact Beth McGroarty: [email protected] or (+1) 213-300-0107

About the Global Wellness Institute: The Global Wellness Institute (GWI), a non-profit 501(c)(3), is considered the leading global research and educational resource for the global wellness industry, and is known for introducing major industry initiatives and regional events that bring together leaders to chart the future. GWI positively impacts global health and wellness by advocating for both public institutions and businesses that are working to help prevent disease, reduce stress, and enhance overall quality of life. Its mission is to empower wellness worldwide.

About the Arabian Travel Market: ATM is the leading international travel and tourism event in the Middle East for inbound and outbound tourism professionals. ATM attracts around 40,000 industry professionals, agreeing on deals worth US $2.5bn over the four days.