by Nick Verrastro -May 17, 2012
Consumers are increasingly interested in spa travel for its health and wellness benefits, rather than mere pampering, and suppliers are responding with attractive pricing and product to satisfy the demand.
These developments account for the resiliency of the spa travel segment during the recent economic downturn, according to Susie Ellis, president, SpaFinder, Inc.
Attractive pricing bolsters sales
As consumer interest in wellness travel has grown, destination spas, or “stay spas,” have been aggressive with deals, according to travel agents surveyed in SpaFinder’s Fifth Annual State of Spa Travel study.
In 2011, 55% of travel agents surveyed reported that hotel, resort and destination spas were being more aggressive with pricing and value-add packages than they had been in 2010. The trend is holding firm for 2012, Ellis indicated.
“Spas’ greatly expanded focus on health, wellness and prevention, rather than mere pampering – combined with their ongoing attractive pricing – have been the two keys to this travel category’s resiliency over these last tough years,” said Ellis.
Changing customer needs
Increased customer interest in spa travel specifically for its health and wellness benefits was the number one emerging trend in spa travel identified by travel agents in the SpaFinder survey.
Pampering and pleasure have become less important as motivating factors in consumer desire for spa travel, agents indicated.
Health is very important to people traveling today, whether for business or for leisure, Ellis told Travel Market Report. Understanding that is key to agents developing this niche market successfully.
The growth of wellness tourism shows that “a new vacation concept is gaining traction,” Ellis said.
“People are stressed and burned out, and they increasingly want to use their precious vacations to jumpstart healthy lifestyle changes, so they can return from trips feeling revitalized, rather than worse than when they left.”
Spas go social . . . and solo
The second and third top emerging trends – respectively, growing interest in group travel to spas and in individuals traveling solo – also offer opportunities for agents, Ellis said.
The group trend in spa travel – which Ellis calls “social spa-ing” – can be a lucrative opportunity for travel sellers. Ellis explained that in addition to destination spas, group spa travel can involve groups booking hotel spas locally, and agents can facilitate those bookings.
Group spa travel started out as girlfriends getting away. Now it is morphing into celebration travel, including for reunions, birthdays and “babymoons.”
It is also increasingly common, almost the norm, Ellis said, for bridal parties to have a spa date. The trend even encompasses multigenerational travel, according to Ellis.
Spa facilities a top priority
In the SpaFinder survey, travel sellers noted that their clients rank spa facilities as the most important offerings/amenities at destinations.
“People want to have a fitness facility and a spa,” said Ellis. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they will use them, but the availability of those facilities is important to them.
“So agents have to become more informed about what facilities and spa services are available at properties and destinations.”
It is also important for agents to know that spa travel, by definition, is international, according to Ellis.
This is the case even when booking a U.S. facility, because spa and well-being treatments are globally sourced, she noted. For instance, traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and shiatsu; European water treatments, and Asian treatments are now available at most spas.