September letter: Wellness travel is here to stay

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By Bharat (Bruce) Patel, AAHOA Chairman (2016-2017)

The sign of a successful business plan is to identify a gap in the market and then find a profitable way to fill it. How many times have we heard people say that they cannot stay in shape because they are always traveling? Well, they are not alone.

According to Joel Eisemann, chief development officer, The Americas, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), “Our research showed that there are 17 million travelers in the U.S. who find it hard to stay active and eat right, and that they ‘fall off the wagon’ when traveling.” Skift, an online travel-industry intelligence platform, shows that wellness tourism is a $494-billion business, and growing, up 12.3 percent between 2014 and 2015. This combination results in one of the biggest revenue opportunities in recent memory.

As you will read in this issue, IHG recognized this opportunity and capitalized on it in 2012, launching EVEN Hotels, the first health-centric brand in the hotel industry. Similarly, Westin‘s introduction of the Heavenly Bed in 1999 was an early step toward guest wellness. Almost immediately Westin noted an improvement in customer satisfaction and loyalty. Since then Westin has introduced numerous wellness initiatives, including its partnerships with Fitbit and New Balance, Tangent workspaces, run concierges and more.

Once reserved for exclusive spa resorts, wellness services now are expanding into every market. This means that no matter the size or type of your property, you can expand your wellness-focused amenities to offer the kind of experience for which up-and-coming travelers are looking. Research shows that guests are actively searching out hotels that provide them with amenities that help them maintain their exercise, diet and sleep routines while on the road.

Earlier this year, IHG was listed as one of the “Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Fitness” by Fast Company for the creation of its EVEN brand. EVEN is in high demand among not only consumers, but developers too. According to Eisemann, “The growth strategy for EVEN hotels is through both new builds and conversions,” generating “considerable interest from existing IHG owners as well as other owners.” Eisemann went on to add, “Wellness is not just a fad – it’s become critical to the way of doing business and catering to the health-conscious traveler.” The success of Westin and IHG’s business plans is evident – they identified gaps in the wellness market and found ways to fill them.

If the success of these health-centric brands – as well as the many other brands with wellness initiatives – is any indication, wellness travel is here to stay. The unmistakable shift among travelers to a more health-conscious lifestyle is both an opportunity and responsibility for hoteliers, and I encourage you to make the most of it.

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