Wellness tourism is hot. So hot, in fact, that the fast-expanding market hit $639 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach $919 billion by 2022. That 7.5% annual growth rate is more than double the pace of tourism in general, according to a 2018 study by Global Wellness Institute. And thanks to growing awareness of the health benefits of spending time in nature, hotels, resorts and destinations that lack traditional wellness assets like spas now have a very real opportunity to capture a share of the wellness tourism market simply by capitalizing on their proximity to green space.
Forest bathing and blue mind
Science today confirms what humans have long instinctively known: spending time in the great outdoors is healing. In the 1980s, the Japanese ritualized the act of simply being among trees as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” and the practice is now catching on in the West. Dr. Qing Li, the world’s foremost expert on forest medicine, cites an impressive range of benefits from stress reduction to improved cardiovascular health in his 2018 book, “Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing.” Meanwhile, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols in his book, “Blue Mind”(2014), delves into the neuroscience behind the emotional and physical benefits of time spent in, on, under or near the water.
Both scientists’ works have captured the attention of wellness enthusiasts around the world, not to mention valuable real estate in top travel media. A sampling of the yield from a quick online article search includes Travel + Leisure, “Why the Japanese Are Taking Forest Baths” and “Why You Should Be Spending More Time on the Water”; Condé Nast Traveler, “10 Destinations That Prove Water Makes You Happy”; The Travel Channel, “5 Places to Go Forest Bathing”; and Lonely Planet, “Forest Bathing is Having a Moment—Everything You Need to Know About Travel’s Latest Trend.”
Take two nature pills and call me in the morning.
Doctors, for their part, are prescribing nature for a growing list of physical and mental ailments. On the heels of a study showing that as little as 20 minutes in nature is enough to significantly reduce cortisol levels, University of Michigan researchers urged healthcare providers to embrace the prescription of (metaphorical) nature pills as part of their routine clinical practice. This call, in turn, has given rise to organizations like Park Rx America, a nonprofit that advocates for nature therapy to decrease the effects of chronic illness and increase health and happiness, helping doctors across the U.S. connect patients with nearby green spaces.
Nurturing a nature-based wellness marketing strategy
As it turns out, what’s healthy for individuals is also healthy for the tourism industry. The Global Wellness Institute asserts that diversifying through nature tourism can help dilute the impact of overtourism, drawing visitors away from highly trafficked centers into less-developed areas to connect with nature. Similarly, promoting proximity to significant green space and “packaging” it in the context of nature tourism can give second-tier destinations a strong hook to entice wellness-minded travelers.
New York’s Westchester County is one such destination. Just a short drive from Manhattan, the county abounds in protected parkland with native hardwood forests and lakes, waterfronts on the Hudson River to the west and Long Island Sound to the east. One of the nation’s most extensive scenic trail systems helps visitors access it all. Westchester County Tourism & Film, the county’s tourism marketing organization, showcases these natural assets on a dedicated Outdoors webpage whose promise of “a breath of fresh air” underscores the wellness benefits of being out in nature. Subpages delve into the county’s parks and nature centers, its public gardens and farms in great detail.
Individual hotels and resorts also can capitalize on their “natural advantages,” whether those assets are on property or nearby. Lake Austin Spa Resort in the Texas Hill Country has embraced Nichols and his blue mind theory in its wellness programming, with activities ranging from a Blue Mind Morning pedal or paddle on the lake to a scenic boat cruise, and a dedicated webpage. More examples can be found in the online magazine for hotel search site Trivago, which highlights seven U.S. hotels and resorts with formalized forest bathing programs.
How to get started? It doesn’t take much. Here are a few simple ideas that can help tourism organizations and travel brands capture a share of the wellness market:
- Dedicate a section of your website to nature-based wellness, highlighting the benefits and showcasing the natural assets of your location.
- Contract with a certified nature and forest therapy guide in your area to lead forest bathing experiences.
- Move a yoga session from the fitness center to an outdoor location like a lawn or beach, depending on your setting.
- Add group walks to your fitness programming.
- Create a map of nearby green spaces and identify quiet spots within them for travelers to relax and reflect.
- Include a regular rotation of forest bathing, blue mind theory and other nature wellness themes in your social media content strategy.
Are you ready to get your wellness tourism marketing strategy off the ground—or take it to the next level? Let’s start the conversation—contact Mary Gendron, SVP—Managing Director and Mower’s Travel & Tourism lead.