Wellness Travel Trends 2021: A Look At What To Expect In The New Year (And Beyond)

December 16, 2020
Jen Corley
6 min read

As 2021 draws to an end, we look forward to the new year – one that holds promise, hope, and a possible push toward a semblance of normality! But what exactly will the “new normal” in wellness travel look like? Here are our top predictions for the industry in the year to come, and beyond.

Possible Factors Driving The Trends

In April/May of 2020, towards the beginning of the pandemic, WeTravel conducted a survey of its wellness clients. The purpose was to find out how they had been impacted by COVID-19 and gauge their outlook for the future.

It was inspiring to see that, even in those early stages, many respondents were showing resilience – getting creative with their offerings, for example, by moving their programs online or hosting virtual retreats. They were also optimistic about the timing of recovery and the industry’s ability to rebound.

Fast forward to today: what we’re seeing, as reflected in the business activities of our clients, is that wellness travel is reviving on the earlier end of things. This could be due to several factors, including the desire to safely and responsibly reconnect with ourselves, our loved ones, and our health.

The extended lockdowns forced a physical disconnect from our communities. It disrupted daily schedules and our professional lives, which, in turn, has led to widespread technology overload.

In short, the year has taken an emotional and physical toll on people around the globe. It’s this very fact that may be driving our dreams, and ultimately, our decisions around travel in the new year. Experiences that focus on wellness and help reset our equilibrium are going to appeal to many people.

Let’s jump in and look through a collection of trends we can expect to drive both consumer demand and supplier behavior in the new year.

Wellness Travel 2021: Our Top 3 Consumer Trend Predictions

1. Nature-Focused Destinations Will Take Center Stage

After months of being in lockdown and practicing social distancing, people are discovering a profound new value in nature in terms of healing, say media experts at the most recent Global Wellness Summit.

Densely populated areas are problematic for the spread of the virus, and while we are forced to place a hold on fully connecting with people again, finding that connection outdoors in nature can be soothing.

Travelers can participate in outdoor activities that are adequately socially distanced and fit into the category of wellness experiences.

Outdoor Activities

2. Travelers Will Favor Businesses Following Sustainable and Regenerative Practices

Based on results from Booking.com’s 2020 Sustainable Travel Report, nearly 8 in 10 (76%) of people want to make more sustainable choices when traveling in the future.

Amid the upheaval brought about by COVID-19 this year, our planet had a moment to breathe while the world was at a standstill. It was awe-inspiring to see how even a short term disruption in our status quo could impact how we see our environment, institutions, and communities.

While the ecological impact of tourism will be a key consideration here, trends in sustainable and regenerative travel will e broader reaching.

Socially, people are going to seek out more intentional experiences by being respectful and inclusive of everyone they encounter while away from home.

Culturally, they will want to engage in positive interactions with hosting communities, being extra mindful of tourism’s impact on local people’s way of life.

Economically, they will want to leave the destination community better off than when they arrived by ensuring their money is funneled to entities that directly serve those they’ve visited.

Community Awareness In Travel

3. “Hassle-Free” Will Be The Name Of The Game

2020 was so stressful, people will want their 2021 travel experiences to be anything but!

A study presented at the Wellness Tourism Association’s November 2020 annual meeting identifies “de-stressing,” “relaxation,” and “self-healing” as today’s top triggers in terms of what academics believe actually motivates consumer purchases of wellness-related travel services.

Aside from programming that speaks to these desires, travelers will increasingly demand things like easy, on-demand booking experiences and flexible cancellation policies, even for last-minute travel.

They will similarly gravitate toward destinations that require minimal transportation headache (think fewer connecting flights, pre-arranged ground transportation) and offer reliable tourism and health infrastructure.

Hassle Free Travel

Wellness Travel 2021: Our Top 3 Supplier Trend Predictions

1. Successful Operators Will Champion Their Safety Standards Rather Than Downplay Risks

According to Travel Market Report’s Wellness Travel Outlook 2020-2021, the industry is seeing increasing client inquiries to travel advisors about the safety standards that their suppliers implement.

As a retreat leader or other wellness travel provider, you will need to use this information to build trust with your clients. It means knowing the exact protocols that your vendors and partners are following and checking in with them regularly for updates as the situation changes.

Some of the prominent questions your clients might ask include:

  • Will there be empty middle seats on the transport that we take?
  • Are rooms disinfected, and is there a hold-off period between guests to ensure safety?
  • What are the social distancing norms in the places we’re visiting, and are there crowd/venue capacity limits in place?
  • Are the restaurant and dining options available mindful of COVID protocols?
Champion Safety Standards

2. Suppliers Will Revisit The Fine Print on ALL Of Their Policies

COVID-19 has changed both the service offerings of industry operators and the risk profile surrounding travel. This has meant that there is an industry-wide need for updated terms and conditions. New formats and circumstances bring with them new legal considerations for protecting both yourself and your clients.

Along with T&Cs, revised deposit and cancellation policies are essential. The events of 2020 have taught us that being unprepared or unclear around these documents can result in confusion, potentially leading to eventual credit card disputes and chargebacks.

Be forthcoming about how much money clients have to put down at the time of booking and pay before arrival. Let them know whether the deposit is refundable and under what timeframe and circumstances refunds are possible.

If you haven’t adapted your policies for the times, now is the time to look into it. Flexibility and service-orientation in dealing with your clients should be matched with transparency and disclosure.

Evaluate Terms and Conditions

3. More Thoughtful Pre- & Post-Travel Client Communications Will Become The Norm

Communication best practices are going to play an even more prominent role in the pre-and post-travel experience going forward. These won’t only entail providing detailed information around your safety and hygiene policies, but building trust, excitement, and for group travel, a sense of community.

Sending out the right marketing communications can be a pivotal point in securing new bookings. For example, a well-placed hygiene and safety outline on your website can answer pertinent questions while also building client confidence.

Similarly, sharing thoughtful, proactive travel tips (such as information on what your clients can expect to experience around in-destination COVID protocols) can help to put their minds at ease and field questions otherwise directed at you.

Although travelers will be both eager to get out and have an adventure, it doesn’t mean that they won’t want reassurance from you every step of the way. After the fact, keeping them engaged with relevant, thoughtful content will pay extra dividends in driving repeat business.

Thoughtful Communication

Some Good News: Wellness Travel Intention Skyrockets In 2021

Ending off, we thought we’d share an uplifting insight from a study conducted by the Global Wellness Institute between May and July of 2020. Simply put, it’s to say that once global restrictions are more fully lifted, the demand for wellness travel will skyrocket from current levels.

Out of the 87% of study respondents who intend to take a holiday in the next 12 months as restrictions lift, 76% of them said this will include a wellness component.

Granted, this plays into the concept behind primary and secondary wellness travelers. A secondary traveler seeks to maintain wellness while taking any kind of trip, while a primary wellness traveler is motivated and focused on wellness as the sole purpose for the trip.

Nevertheless, it lends credence to our assertion that wellness travel will be on the leading edge of the travel industry’s rebound.

Group retreat offerings are an important part of this picture, but there will be broad demand in 2021 for niche, curated, wellness-focused travel that speaks to our sense of wanderlust and adventure after months of confinement.

Ultimately, people will be looking for life-changing experiences where they can create lasting memories. Travel organizers that can deliver these experiences while remaining attuned to changing consumer concerns and preferences will be well-positioned for a strong recovery.