New Data On Wellness Travel and Mental Wellness

It’s no surprise, wellness is here to stay. We all knew it. And the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), a leading global research and wellness industry nonprofit, just released the data to prove it.

The comprehensive 100-page report on the wellness industry, The Global Wellness Economy Monitor Report: 2023, was recently revealed at this year’s annual Global Wellness Summit in Miami. The upshot is that the global wellness economy is not only well on its way to recovery after the shock waves of the pandemic, it is surging. Not only is that a very good thing, it is exactly what we all need to hear right now. A 2023 survey released by the American Psychological Association showed that three-quarters of adults say their stress levels have increased over the past year.

In the report, GWI forecasts that the consumers will continue to increase spending on wellness, and the global wellness economy will grow at an annual rate of 8.6 percent. By the end of this year, it will reach $6.3 trillion, $7.4 trillion in 2025, and $8.5 trillion in 2027­, which is almost double its size in 2020.

The biggest growth rates since 2020 were seen in these wellness markets: wellness tourism (36 percent annual growth); spas (22 percent); physical activity (14 percent); and mental wellness (12.5 percent). Through 2027, some of the largest gains will be seen in wellness real estate (17.4 percent annual growth), wellness tourism (16.6 percent), thermal/mineral springs (14.3 percent); and mental wellness (12.8 percent).

The GWI Report took 10 months to complete. Research was led by Ophelia Yeung, senior research fellow, Global Wellness Institute, who holds a post-graduate degree from Princeton University, and Katherine Johnston, senior research fellow, Global Wellness Institute, with a post-graduate degree from Georgetown. The long-time economists have worked in research, consulting, and public policy in dozens of countries, working for multinational organizations, companies and governments, in economic development. They initiated their wellness research 15 years ago, in 2008, when they first started working with the Global Wellness Summit to measure the size of the global spa industry.

Here is Yeung and Johnston’s fascinating insight on what the wellness market will look like over the next few years, and why.

How do you define “wellness economy”?

The wellness economy consists of eleven industry sectors that enable and support people to live a healthy lifestyle, to prevent disease and to move toward a state of holistic health. What we measure as the $5.6 trillion global wellness economy captures the massive global consumer marketplace that has arisen to provide people with access to a mind-boggling array of products, services, and experiences to support their wellness and preventive health, and also to capitalize on the exploding consumer interest in all things related to wellness.

However, we need to be clear that just because something is included in our wellness economy measurements does not mean that it is necessarily “essential” to wellness. There is a huge amount of diversity, choice, and innovation in the wellness marketplace. But we also do not have to spend a lot of money on wellness in order to “be well,” and there are many activities and lifestyle choices that we can pursue to support our health and well-being that do not cost anything at all (e.g., spending time with friends, enjoying nature, etc.). Therefore, our wellness economy data are an important economic measurement of the evolution and explosion of wellness, but that is not the same thing as measuring whether people are truly well!

If you had to summarize the biggest takeaways from your research, what would those be?

Wellness is driven by one of the biggest consumer movements in history. Although many segments of the wellness economy were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (due to business shutdowns, border closures and travel bans, etc.), wellness is resilient and the underlying forces driving the movement have only increased since the pandemic–and have increased because of the pandemic.

We project that spending on all things related to wellness will continue to rise rapidly. However, a key question in the future will be what is the impact of all this spending? Is it truly making people more healthy or improving their well-being? And is the wellness economy providing essential services to the people who need wellness the most?

What was most surprising to you?

The speed and the strength of the recovery of the wellness economy and the resilience of consumer spending on wellness took us by surprise. When we set out at the beginning of this year to start compiling data and making our estimates–country-by-country and sector-by-sector–we did not expect to find how rapidly most wellness sectors (and the overall wellness economy) came roaring back from the dip they took in 2020 due to the pandemic.

What do you think is impacting wellness tourism and mental wellness data the most right now?

In terms of wellness tourism: the pandemic has made travelers become more intentional about their trips, and many people are seeing traveling as an important part of their mental wellness. More travelers are experiencing and interpreting their travel experience from a wellness lens, whether it is spending more time in nature, to challenge yourself and physical ability, to be awed by something specular, or to feel a sense of connection to the place, through interaction with local people and their culture in an authentic, and less touristy way.

For mental wellness: the pandemic has propelled a huge shift in consumer awareness of and interest in mental health and well being, and it has helped to continue to reduce stigma around these issues. Spending on mental wellness grew rapidly during the pandemic because people were desperate to find ways to address the immense stressors they were facing. There is a growing understanding among consumers about how many activities and aspects of their lifestyles can help their mental wellness–like exercise, or how they eat–and so the growth in mental wellness extends far beyond what we can measure for that specific industry sector and touches on many other parts of the wellness economy.

What are the top five to 10 global forces impacting the wellness economy right now?

On the positive side, propelling growth of the wellness economy, are: population aging, global rise of chronic disease and unsustainable health care costs; deteriorating mental conditions across the world, wellness is a rising consumer value and immense technological innovations (such as AI applications in research, diagnostics, creation of wellness content).

On the negative/risk side, challenges affecting the wellness economy include: widening wealth/income gaps, which are encouraging a premiumization trend in wellness; the environmental crisis and climate risks may threaten wellness destinations, products, and services; uncertain global economic conditions and consumer confidence; social media and influencers who spread wellness ideas and concepts without qualifications; geopolitical developments that affect the flow of people, investments, technology and ideas.

Where do you see wellness tourism growing the most?

Wellness tourism is a subset of the overall tourism industry–therefore, the places that have been seeing huge overall growth in tourism are also seeing big growth in wellness tourism.

In the future, we expect to see especially strong wellness tourism growth in regions that are not just marketing the typical standalone spa and wellness resorts, but are able to develop a holistic wellness offering for visitors that builds upon their unique and authentic local healing/wellness traditions, nature/geography (e.g., hot springs), culture, foods, etc.

How do you account for the extraordinary projected growth in wellness tourism from 2022 to 2027?

We project that wellness tourism spending will grow by 16.6 percent annually through 2027. One reason for this high growth is simply because the sector is still recovering from the huge drop it experienced due to the pandemic (wellness tourism shrank by over 50 percent in 2020).

But looking beyond just the post-pandemic recovery of the tourism sector, there are also important, long-term drivers that are supporting wellness tourism growth. More and more consumers are proactively seeking out ways to stay healthy and improve their physical and mental health and well being, and these consumers take these values with them when they travel

Looking at the wellness economy overall, many wellness sectors, including several large ones, are going to grow at a pace much faster than overall economic growth, such as wellness real estate, mental wellness, wellness tourism, physical activity, complementary medicine, and healthy eating. Spending on these sectors will be stimulated by increasing consumer spending to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

Same for spa? Do you attribute spa growth to the integration of wellness modalities?

Growth in the spa industry is driven by the same factors driving wellness tourism growth, and overall wellness economy growth–that is, rising consumer awareness of wellness all around the world. The spa industry is becoming increasingly diverse in the many different types of experiences it offers, which is bringing more diversity in terms of the customers who are visiting spas.

A huge driver for the future of the spa industry is that there are so many new types of businesses being launched that are similar to spas, or overlap with spas, but we would not necessarily call them a “spa”–for example, single service operations like salt chambers, flotation therapy centers, or napping studios. In large cities, there are all kinds of new hybrid wellness centers and clubs that combine social aspects, spa services, coworking, complementary or integrative medicine, and much more.

These developments are creating more competition in the spa and wellness industry but they are also vastly expanding the options for consumers (at different price points) and helping to shift our mindsets on how we can integrate wellness into our daily lives in new ways.

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