Wellness tourism: in search of the self
5 min

Is wellness tourism a pleonasm? Few people go on holiday to suffer, unless they’re devotees of adventure tourism or endless treks! But some push the limits of wellness. Spas, body treatments and hot-spring cures have become draws that can entice tourists to travel across the world. Women have already been won over, and a rising number of men are going to saunas. Even children are entitled to a massage before going back to school.

A healthy industry

Wellness tourism starts with quality food and a good night’s sleep, two criteria that determine the choice of destination and accommodation.

Wellness tourism is a key trend that goes beyond the tourism industry: health is very “in” today. To prove the point, just consider how many apps and connected objects have recently come out to count the number of steps we take every day, track our calorie intake or assess the quality of our sleep. The estimated value of the overall wellness market is put at $3.4 trillion.

More and more of us want to lead a wholesome lifestyle, but on a day-to-day basis we sometimes face real hurdles, such as lack of time to shop and prepare a good home-cooked meal, tiredness that keeps us out of the gym and worries brought home from work that prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep. But these obstacles usually vanish on holiday, which is therefore the ideal time for a wellness cure.

Once the basics — meals and sleep — are taken care of, wellness tourism offers a range of activities, such as yoga, spas, saunas, hot-spring cures and steam baths, that open up the door to serenity. Guests can choose whatever strikes their fancy, but the goal remains the same: relaxation, relaxation, relaxation!


Of course these pleasures can often be found near home, but wellness tourism has the additional advantage of combining them with the exotic appeal of travel, a change of scene and an encounter with another culture to completely lift us out of our everyday lives.

The wellness tourism market grew by almost 13% from 2012 to 2013, with turnover reaching $494 billion in 2013: nearly 15% of the total volume of tourist spending! The Wellness Global Institute forecasts a bright outlook for wellness tourism, expecting it to grow by an average of 9.1% a year between 2012 and 2017.

Treatments for all

Today, the overwhelming majority of wellness tourists are mature, relatively well-off Americans, Europeans and Asians. Tomorrow, the growth of emerging countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East will fuel the sector’s expansion. Moreover, the clientele is likely to become younger: the average age of spa-goers has fallen from 50-55 ten years ago to around 35-40 today. In the collective imagination, treatments are most popular with women, as if admission to spas, steam rooms and saunas were only for them, while men are less interested in relaxing than in going to the gym for their well-being. Humbug! Today, women are just as likely to be found on the treadmill as men, who also claim the right to body treatments. Nearly 60% of Europeans and two-thirds of Americans reportedly go to spas on a regular basis.


Men have always taken advantage of their holidays to look after themselves, but now they’re not ashamed of wanting to be pampered as well. They have their own requirements, including a clear, effective treatment menu (they want to know which benefits a specific treatment will bring them), shorter treatments (they spend 25 to 50 minutes at spas compared to 90 minutes for women) and brisker treatments, such as Swedish massages or shiatsu. Women prefer facials and beauty treatments for their hands, feet, etc.

Even children are getting in on the act, asking for their own little moment of relaxation. Those under 16 years old are not allowed in saunas or steam rooms, but they can enjoy a little massage from the age of ten up. Like traditional thalassotherapy for two, now the whole family can enjoy wellness cures that make everybody happy.


Destination relaxation

Some places are classic wellness tourism destinations. In Iceland, the clash between polar temperatures and volcanic boiling springs deeply cleanses the body. But careful, the country’s natural saunas will spoil you forever!


Morocco is popular for its steam baths. Traditionally, they are as much places for hygiene as public venues. So, away with privacy and off with your clothes! (But obviously there’s no mixing between men and women.) For women, this is a place to swap beauty tips and be reminded that nothing could be better than black soap and a Kîs glove for a perfect scrub in a steam room.

France is famous for its thermal spas. “Taking the waters” became fashionable there in the 19th century, when Parisians travelled to the aptly named Aix-les-Bains (“bains” means “baths” in French), Vichy or Dax to benefit from the local springs’ curative virtues.

Meanwhile, seaside resorts, especially Trouville on the Normandy coast, nicknamed the “Queen of Beaches”, were just as popular. Trouville is home to the Hôtel des Cures Marines, a famous Belle Époque institution that the AccorHotels’ MGallery brand has brought back to life. Guests staying for a week can choose the wellness programme that suits them best: “Mers du Monde” for those who enjoy spas and cocooning or “La Cure Marine Sportive” for personalised coaching.

Other destinations are more surprising. Who would have thought that Las Vegas could be a wellness destination? It all depends on where you go. The MGM Grand Hotel will show you an unsuspected side of “Sin City”: its guestrooms feature showers with vitamin C infusions, aromatherapy and mini-bars offering a balanced diet.

Tourists in Singapore can stay on serene Sentosa Island to get their fill of all the rest they need and then some. At the Sofitel Sentosa, they can enjoy the world’s biggest So SPA wellness centre, especially the mud pool to regenerate their skin with volcanic mud from New Zealand.


By now you’ve probably caught on that what matters most isn’t the destination, but the journey: a soothing experience offering a change of pace and a range of treatments that will help you find yourself. You’ll bring home something better than a tonne of pictures and souvenirs: a new state of mind.