Predictions For The Return of Wellness Travel Post-COVID
Q: Which parts of the travel market do you think will be the first to re-open?
A: WeTravel actually conducted a study back in May 2020, toward the beginning of the pandemic, where we collected 500+ surveys from travel-oriented businesses worldwide. Of these, more than 130 were from our wellness travel & retreat organizer clients. Even at that early stage, it was really inspiring to see that these wellness-oriented respondents, relative to the group overall, seemed to be both more resilient and creative -- for example, offering online programming such as virtual retreats -- and also more optimistic about the timing and the strength of the industry’s rebound.
What I’ve been seeing and hearing lately is that, as the survey predicted, wellness travel is coming back on the early end of things. I think that’s a reflection of a few different factors, but primarily that a lot of us have really felt the physical and emotional toll of Coronavirus on ourselves, our daily schedules, our family and professional lives, and our communities. A lot of people have settled in a place where their equilibrium is a bit off. Travel that helps rebuild our wellness and re-set our equilibrium is going to be appealing to lots of people.
It’s probably broader than retreat offerings, though that’s an important part of the picture. It’s also about niche, curated experiences that speak to our sense of adventure and wanderlust after being confined. It’s about travel that offers us something more than just really beautiful memories -- though those are important too. People are going to be looking for an experience that is truly life changing.
Q: What kinds of things will be different in wellness travel as we look forward to 2021?
A: I think the biggest one is going to be a renewed emphasis on sustainability in the travel space. A bit part of this is environmental, for example, making sure that when we travel, we’re thinking about our carbon emissions, that we’re minimizing the depletion and degradation of natural resources locally. This is so important, and one of the reasons that I admire Corc Yoga as a business and a brand so much!
So, ecological concerns are going to be super important, but I actually see sustainability in travel as much broader. There are social, cultural, and economic dimensions too. It’s making sure that as travel planners or travelers, we approach relationships with others by being respectful and inclusive of all. That when we’re entering local communities that we’re mindful of residents’ quality of life and wellbeing. That our dollars (or Euros or Pounds) are being funneled to businesses, governments, and other authorities that are promoting social justice and addressing humanitarian concerns.
At the end of the day, travel is about enriching our lives, but for it to be sustainable, it needs to fairly enrich the people and places that we encounter as travelers. If it does this, it not only makes us feel good about doing something “good,” it actually makes our own experiences more meaningful and means those will be experiences that future generations can share in as well.
Q: Do you see any other ways we can expect things to change, especially during the early part of the recovery?
A: People are going to be slightly more value-conscious than they were before COVID. In part, this reflects financial realities in a time when many have seen their incomes go down, but it’s not just about the ticket price.
It’s about not blindly selecting a destination and opting into a cookie-cutter itinerary. This is always tempting because it’s less time consuming than considering all of your options super carefully, doing your homework on all of the small details, things like that. For that reason, though, I think dollar for dollar people are going to seek out really niche, differentiated niche travel experiences and are going to look toward destinations and travel providers that can support this.
For a while, people are also going to be more cautious about getting on long-haul flights or being a part of a group. I think this is going to create an interesting tension because it is in traveling to places different from our homes, culturally and visually and otherwise, that we’re going to find real escape and transformation. And it is our connection with others that has been so limited in lockdown, so the idea of traveling solo or as a couple maybe just isn’t quite as exciting as joining other like minded people. I don’t have the answer here in terms of how things will ultimately pan out, but it’s going to be really interesting to watch.
Q: That’s a great segue -- I was going to ask, how do you decide when you feel ready? As responsible travel planners or travelers in a group, what should we be considering before traveling in light of everything that’s going on?
A: Responsible travel planners and travelers need to be sensitive to new realities. Right now, this might mean starting out with travel closer to home that’s solo, limited to a couple or family, or in small groups. As we look toward travel in the second half of 2021, I do think we’re going to see things shift a bit, as I alluded to earlier.
As that happens, it’s going to be really important to select a destination and local vendors that give you confidence. Ask a lot of questions of whoever is hosting you. Your retreat center or hotel or rental should be able to tell you about changes to their hygiene and sanitation practices, staff COVID screening & any new training, meal service & dining options, rules for distancing & mask wearing in communal spaces. And, importantly, what on the property will be fully open vs. open in limited capacity vs. closed.
You also want to make sure you’re clear on cancellation policies. How much do you have to put down at booking vs. pay upon arrival. If applicable, is your deposit fully or partially refundable, or just available as a credit toward a future stay? What’s the timeline for cancellation, and what are the financial penalties along the way?
The same goes for the fine print with travel insurance, which historically, Europeans have tended to buy more than Americans have. Given everything that’s going on now, it’s absolutely a good investment, but be sure you’re talking with an agent to get 100% confirmation of exactly what’s included and not included.
Lastly, check local sources like a municipal website or a contact at your hotel, or with anyone who’s helping plan or facilitate your travel. Ideally, you arrive well-prepared with few surprises, having packed the right stuff and as much as possible, knowing exactly what to expect.
Q: What destinations do you see as being particularly attractive in 2021?
A: Right now, as we’ve touched on, people are going to be tending to stick closer to home. But that means really different things, depending on where in the world you’re located. In the US, there’s a lot to explore domestically, and we’re still a bit more closed than Europe has been, for example. Lots of Europe has seen fairly open travel during the second half of this summer and into the present this fall.
Both now and into the future, I think we’re going to see the beauty of the natural world drive people’s destination selections. Really dense population centers are going to continue to be problematic, and probably therefore less of a draw. In the US, there’s been a huge resurgence of interest in national parks, and more remote states like Alaska and Montana tick a lot of the post-COVID boxes. The same might apply for the Faroe Islands and the Azores in Europe.
Overall, I think people are going to gravitate toward places that aren’t total transportation headaches, have reliable infrastructure and healthcare systems, lower-than-average population densities, have demonstrated responsible and effective public health policies and practices during COVID. Also, places where the natural world is celebrated and protected.
Q: Where can those who are planning travel find additional resources?
A: For anyone who’s in the wellness industry and interested in retreats, we have a Facebook group called the Retreat Leader Hub that’s a community for information sharing, getting recommendations, and connecting with others in the industry. We’ve also got a blog with a ton of educational resources, which we also share in our Facebook Group and on our Instagram account, which is @WeTravel.to.
For travelers, our Instagram account shares really great wellness tips every Wednesday, featuring a lot of content from among our client base -- stuff like short yoga sequences, guided meditations, nutrition tips, Ayurvedic practices, and more. Our blog also has a travel tips section and profiles of really cool destinations worldwide. These are all great for checking out if you’re not in the industry, but are interested in the intersection of wellness and travel.
Jen heads the Wellness segment of WeTravel, a payment and registration platform for multi-day travel. In the wellness space, WeTravel provides the technology to support domestic and international retreats, immersions, trainings, and similar offerings. Jen is responsible for strategic development, including sales & marketing strategy, branding, community-building, and project management. She leads a team that creates and distributes educational content, manages partnerships, interacts with the media, and organizes online and live events.