The Wellness Boom

Expanding in all sectors of travel, hospitality and recreation, the inexorable quest for wellness will drive these industries to new heights in the coming decades.


The global wellness economy is currently estimated to be worth $4.5 trillion and will continue along its 5–10 percent year-on-year growth curve well into the future. Using conservative estimates, wellness will double its size—piling on over $200 billion in new revenue annually—by 2040. Comparatively, the entirety of the world’s tourism market is similarly valued, but will take 40 years—instead of wellness’s 20—to double its worth.


But what is wellness, anyway? Simply put, wellness is the multidisciplinary practice of living well, the umbrella under which health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep and mindfulness have come together to form a more integrated approach toward self-care. Being well is no longer defined as the opposite of illness, but rather as the full set of measures we take to nurture our body and mind. Global wellness is already three times larger than the worldwide pharmaceutical industry.


Furthermore, wellness tourism currently accounts for roughly 17 percent of the travel industry’s total spending and is growing faster than any other sector. A trillion dollars will be spent annually in wellness-related tourism by 2025, and by 2045 one in two travelers will factor wellness in when planning their next holiday.








“Society is becoming more comfortable and open about talking about the state of mental health, and I’m seeing destination fitness programs morph to rejuvenation retreats where meditation and counseling are essential elements.”

—Annie Daly, author of Destination Wellness: Global Secrets for Better Living Wherever You Are


From calorie disclosures on restaurant menus to 10-minute massage parlors at airports and “getting my 10,000 steps in”—wellness has found myriad ways to sneak into our lives over the last few years, and hotels have begun to notice. Gyms—once relegated to hotel basements and broom closets—are now being constructed in prime locations with Instagrammable views and brag-worthy equipment du jour (hello, Peloton). The bathroom sizes at luxury hotels are also increasing relative to the rest of the suite, offering ample space for a relaxing soak, preening and other facets of care under the most flattering lighting.

Soon, the ubiquitous desire for active and passive wellness will narrow the gap between the different accommodation categories. Business-oriented hotels in the heart of a city will have all the trappings of a resort, and beachside properties will offer the accoutrements needed to blend business and leisure (or “bleisure” as it’s unfortunately been dubbed) for that much-obsessed-about work-life balance. In short: every hotel will be as much of a spa—or as much of an office—as you want it to be, with top-of-the-line broadband to stream your favorite pilates class or Zoom into important conference calls. Clunky hotel desks will fold up against the walls like a Murphy bed so you can roll out your yoga mat to meditate; room-service menus will offer acupuncture in addition to a club sandwich; and next to the overpriced cashews in the minibar you’ll find gut-friendly kombucha and hemp extract–infused gummies for a more restful night’s sleep.


As hotels redefine themselves as pliable points of wellness, there will forever remain destinations around the world that have long been—and will continue to be—associated with at least one of the interdisciplinary facets of maintaining or improving our wellbeing. The word “spa,” for example, originates from the eponymous village in Belgium frequented by the ancient Romans for its natural abundance of warm, mineral-rich water—perfect for soaking. Today, it’s such places as the onsen hot springs of Japan, the meditation retreats of India and the hammams of Morocco that inspire international travel. These countries will continue to double down on wellness reputations, further investing in their health tourism infrastructure. The coveted destinations of tomorrow will be places that can best commoditize the wellness already embedded in their culture for global consumption. Saunas, for example, thrive well beyond Finland to include everything from the Native American sweat lodge to the birch-lined pirts of rural Latvia.

Health motivations (for baby boomers) and the need to escape the daily routine (for millennials) will drive the growth of active sports tourism involving such pursuits as cycling, hiking, kayaking, stand-up paddling and long-distance running. This sector will become a more significant segment of the travel market by 2030, diverting trips away from traditional beach, shopping and sightseeing destinations.


Iceland is leading by example: 20 years ago, entrance to Blue Lagoon, a turquoise lake formed by the runoff of a geothermal power plant, cost less than $20. Today, it costs over $50 and two high-end hotels abut the silica-rich waters, one of which—the Retreat—is arguably Iceland’s most indulgent product, with a Michelin-caliber restaurant and a state-of-the-art spa (day-use of the spa costs over $400). Competing hot springs have recently opened—now there’s Sky Lagoon (completely man made), Krauma (harnessing a natural spring) and GeoSea (a mix of artesian and seawater) to name a few—each with an entry price tag of around $50 as well. Two more Blue Lagoons with luxury accommodation are due to open in farther-flung places in Iceland over the next five years, enticing travelers beyond the well-trodden tourism circuit that already is attracting the hordes—eight times more than the local population.

Over the next few years, certain destinations will also begin to market another natural resource and wellness premium: fresh air. It may sound antiquated (before the rise of affordable commercial flying, the Catskills in Upstate New York were coveted as a breezy destination to escape from the literal Big Smoke), but since early 2020 more people have died from the harmful effects of airborne pollutants than from Covid. In the US, it’s Puerto Rico that can claim the country’s best air quality. Internationally, such places as Canada, Finland and Estonia will begin a more concerted appeal as data continues to surface that pertains to the health-damaging effects of atmospheric pollution. By 2027, destinations with premium oxygen will be certified as “Fresh Air Sanctuaries,” much like the Blue Flag award for clean beaches, and the Dark Sky honors given to places with the best views of the night sky.


Consumers’ opinions of Western medicine and pharmaceuticals have begun a shift similar to opinions of the food industry, placing great importance on traceability and transparency, and a desire to remedy health issues with solutions found in nature, not a laboratory. As a result, cannabis has become an increasingly popular tonic for many of our wellness woes, including anxiety and sleep deprivation. In 2021, 67 percent of Americans polled supported the legalization of marijuana, up from 31 percent in 2000. Currently, a bill to federally legalize marijuana has been approved by the US House Judiciary Committee; it is more than likely that the federal sanctions levied against marijuana will be removed by the end of Biden’s presidential term, if not the end of 2022. By 2025, cannabis-related tourism will have further evolved, taking a page out of wine tourism’s playbook, with bars and dispensaries in major cities, tasting rooms at various growing farms and a premium on reserve batches and single-origin buds. The cannabis industry—a $13.6 billion endeavor in 2019—will be worth $100 billion by 2030. Following suit, psychedelics will also find their footing with a mainstream audience; the industry is expected to be worth more than $69 billion by 2026, as clinicians become increasingly inclined to recommend magic mushrooms and their cousins as remedies for depression and PTSD.

Cultural trends toward wellness and health-conscious practices show that Dry January is more than a passing trend—imbibers will begin to view alcohol as the new cigarettes, an indulgence that’s ultimately not worth the toll on one’s health. The market for low-alcohol and no-alcohol products has grown 32 percent from 2018 to 2022. Sober bars and pop-ups with alcohol-free menus will triple in number by 2030, with more varieties of near-beers, premium soft drinks, mocktails, kombuchas and botanical tinctures.
















In a country like the US, notorious for a lack of a nationalized health service, we are our own health advocates. Fortunately, our smartphones—and the huge proliferation of wearable tech—will make monitoring our wellbeing a cinch, putting sleep-cycle analyses, meditation sessions, heart-rate stats, blood-sugar levels and insulin checkups in the palms of our hands. Soon, the industry of minor care will decrease with better measures to prevent the onset of illness, and certain doctor visits will be permanently relegated to FaceTime.


For higher-level medical needs, however, there is a conundrum to solve: now that we’ve become so good at nourishing our bodies, there will be vastly more people living beyond 80 and well into their 100s, which will further strain healthcare. And America’s fragmented and profit-focused medical system will suffer more than any other modern nation’s; by 2030, life expectancy in the US will wane compared with other developed and developing nations, fueling a meteoric rise in medical tourism. Before the pandemic curtailed long-haul travel, international medical tourism was already an industry valued between $80 to $90 billion, with the average consumer spending just over $3,500 per trip. The worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15–25 percent, with patients flocking to Mexico, Southeast Asia and South Asia. A growing number of baby boomers faced with retiring at a lower standard of living than they had expected are choosing to retire as expats in Asia, Europe and Central and South America—where their dollar goes farther and healthcare is cheaper. In 2019, the number of Americans seeking Social Security while living abroad leaped 40 percent; this number will continue to rise without a dramatic not-for-massive-profit shift in American healthcare. Once travel resumes in earnest, we expect the numbers to rapidly increase, more than doubling by 2030, to $200 billion. The continued privatization of healthcare in America could also spur the heavy-weights of the hospitality sector into action, bringing hotel-caliber service— and brand recognition—into hospitals, offering more value on premium-priced care; imagine Four Seasons Cardiology.





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