Americans everywhere are setting their out of offices, grabbing their passport and getting out of dodge. The number of passports issued to Americans has increased from 4% to 42% in three decades and the number of American’s traveling internationally grew 7% last year alone.
Although we are in fact going global, in comparison to the rest of the world, American vacation deprivation levels are at a five-year high, according to Expedia’s yearly study. We took the least amount of vacay days (10 total) in 2019, tying for last place with Japan and Thailand. Can we get a medal for that?
Before we continue, I must point out one more stat. The top 3 most vacation deprived industries? Agriculture, Marketing & Media and Finance & Legal. #mediaproblems
It makes sense then when 8 in 10 people said they are taking vacations with the primary goal of "mental wellness". So how is this influencing the travel landscape? And what trends are taking off because of this? Let me tell you!
Wellness travel is growing in tandem with our burnout. According to Conde Nast’s 2019 Travel Trend report, Wellness tourism is currently valued at $639B and projected to grow 6.5% annually—more than 2x overall industry growth (3.2%).
And it’s not just for the yogis. The tipping point has already been reached for traveler expectations—more than 60% of travelers expect hotels to offer wellness options on property.
Hillary Taylor of Taylored Travel (clever, right?!), a luxury travel advisor in Dallas, TX, says "Wellness has become of utmost importance to people everywhere, which manifests itself in a variety of creative ways—from jet-lag fighting workout classes to hydrotherapy and spa treatments after a long day of touring to quiet meditation gardens within a hotel complex, not to mention unique in-room amenities."
Hotels, airlines, cities and countries alike are doubling down on their wellness offerings and playing it up in their marketing.
Mandarin Oriental Hotels offer a digital wellness experience where guests give up phones on arrival, Singapore airlines partnered with Canyon Ranch for wellness cuisine menus and the marketing campaign for the country of Switzerland centers around wellness.
Skift, a go-to resource for travel marketing research, reports that Boulder, CO, an obvious wellness destination due to the myriad of outdoor activities and the epicenter of the natural movement, started to leverage it in their marketing. And it’s paid off—there are 34% more people on their trails and 24% more hotel bookings than last year.
The rise in wellness travel is a reflection of a shift in the traveler’s mindset—it’s not just about taking short term breaks, it’s about long term rejuvenation.
Booking.com, the #1 choice for booking accommodations (fun fact, I worked on the original Booking.com, Booking.yeahhh campaign), reports that travel "represents a new type of currency and means of personal fulfillment. 2019 will see a focus on travelers making choices with extra significance as they look to add more purpose to their trips"
People are pushing the boundaries of where, what and how they travel, extending past the typical locales and methods.
As you can see from the chart below, sourced from the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office, travel to places like Africa and Oceania is growing faster than places like Europe and Mexico.
Tristan Mace, Co-Founder & Advisor of Skylark, a luxury leisure travel venture, shares how people are booking travel differently: "Consumer expectations continue to affect and drive technology improvements in travel. The hybrid approach, which Skylark really pioneered, is the combined best of both worlds: technology when you want it, human agents when you don't."
Travelers are also looking for a different experience while traveling than before. They want to walk a day in the life of a local, abroad, more so than ever, as evidenced by the Glocal (global + local) trend that Airbnb jumpstarted and advanced. For example, in 2015, Airbnb was paid in 32 different currencies and then paid out their hosts in a total of 65 currencies, to remove any possible barriers for booking and hosting.
Because of this, remote places are getting put on the map in big ways. According to Pinterest's 2019 Trends, "People are seeking out small towns for their bucolic views, unique BnBs and low-key R&R" as evidenced by the 276% increase in search.
Undertourism, the antithetical response to overtourism, is an adjacent but related trend. Skift shares that "as undertourism enters the industry’s collective consciousness, offbeat destinations or those with new stories to tell are marketing immersive experiences that build relationships with people, places, culture, and community over Instagram-worthy photo ops and mass touring."
While there are some obvious pitfalls (figuratively and literally) of traveling for the gram, which many do (40% of UK Millennials choose their next trip based on how instagrammable it is), it’s also an entirely new way to discover off the beaten path places.
Hutton from Hutton B Travels says, "many hot spots on my clients' bucket lists are inspired from what they’ve seen on Instagram, and it’s my job to create an itinerary around an image they’ve been captivated by—for example, Ausangate Mountain in Peru’s Andes."
While spa treatments, silent retreats (my worst nightmare) and nature immersion trips may be the more stereotypical trends in wellness travel, an important thing to consider about wellness is that it looks different for everyone.
For Gen Z, it looks more like taking trips to learn new skills via cultural exchange programs and to give back through volunteering, per Booking.com.
For Millennials, it looks like Micro-cations and Bleisure travel, making the most of shorter jaunts and tack-on trips due to their time-strapped lives.
For Gen X and Boomers, it looks like multigenerational trips and group travel. Pollinatr readers Lee Roy and Mary Ann, who are in their 70s, share their travel story about this. Last year for Christmas they treated their daughter, son in law and two grandkids with a trip to Italy alongside a group of 30 other travelers from around the world. The experience of traveling together across three generations is what made it an unforgettable experience.
Note to all the marketers out there, according to AARP’s 2019 Travel Study, Gen X and Boomers are a very important segment to pay attention to. They are spending more on travel than Millennials (Gen X: $5,400, Boomers: $6,600, Millennials: $4,400) and taking just as many trips, 4-5 on average a year.
Lee Roy and Mary Ann are avid travelers, having visited Budapest, Turkey, Ireland, Peru, India, Italy, London, Serbia, Bulgaria, Russia, Sweden, and China, to name a few, in the last decade. Their secret? Travelzoo’s weekly deals.
On a deeper level, they capture the beauty of travel well: "Travel is good because it clears your mind and gives you a different perspective. It gets you out of a rut and off the beaten path."
What does this all mean? Americans are looking for deeper, more meaningful experiences through travel that has a lasting impact on their lives. Wanderlust, a sometimes surface level, Instagrammable desire, is evolving into a richer exploration of culture that satisfies curiosity and breeds an open-mindedness that’s much needed. Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”