Exclusive: new Wellness Tourism Association wants to be ‘voice of the industry’
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Exclusive: new Wellness Tourism Association wants to be ‘voice of the industry’

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A new not-for-profit business has been created to be the voice of the wellness travel industry, and to create more networking, education and marketing opportunities.

Headed up by chair Andrew Gibson, Accor Hotels’ vice president of wellbeing, the tourism+Association'>Wellness Tourism Association (WTA) hopes to create a network for destination marketing organisations, hotels and resorts, tour operators and travel agencies with an interest in the growing wellness tourism industry.

“As an association, it's crucial we work together to help define our industry, as well as to educate the public so they can recognise legitimate and credible wellness suppliers and operators,” said Gibson.

He is joined by founding members Anne Dimon, CEO of Travel to Wellness, who serves as the WTA’s president; Thomas Klein, president and COO of US destination spa Canyon Ranch, who is the organisation’s treasurer; Madeleine Marentette, founder of Canada’s Grail Springs Retreat Center for Wellbeing; and Nilendu Srivastava, managing director of The Art of Living Retreat Center in North Carolina, US.

The association’s first tourism board member – the Monaco Government Tourist Office – will be represented by Cindy Hoddeson, Monaco’s director, North America. The wellness history of this city-state dates back to 1860 and the Etablissement des Bains, Monaco’s first baths, where people traveled to benefit from the curative powers of the Mediterranean.

US-based New Life Hiking Spa signed up as one of the first retreat members; the first tour operator to join is Sojourn Bicycling and Active Vacations.

“The WTA will define the industry and unite all the various categories that fall under the umbrella of wellness tourism for a common purpose – which is the benefit and sustainability of the industry for the ultimate good of all, including the consumer,” said Dimon.

The WTA’s goals are to create a common set of standards and definitions of wellness travel categories; educate and increase awareness of wellness tourism, especially among tour operators and travel agents; and to provide a networking platform for those involved in the industry.

But the first step is to create the industry definitions for various terms within the sector. As Gibson explained: “We want to elevate standards and give credibility to the industry. There’s so much vagueness, so much lack of clarity – when we get the industry speaking with a unified voice, then we can go to the consumer with it.”

That includes clear-cut criteria of the definition of a destination spa versus a resort spa, for instance, and a look at defining wellness retreats, wellness travel and wellness vacations.

“The wellness tourism market is working overtime to keep up with the growing consumer demand, and that includes Canyon Ranch,” said Klein.

“Wellness tourism – travel engaged for the purpose of enriching or sustaining the state of wellness – will continue to evolve, and as a trailblazer in the integrative wellness industry, it’s crucial that we are at the centre of the discussion and movement, working with the industry to define and develop this booming travel sector, along with the immersive wellness experience.”

The WTA made its official debut in late January at the Travel & Adventure Show in Washington DC, and will also have a presence at three other Travel & Adventure Shows in 2018: in Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver, Colorado.

“We saw a lot of interest at the Washington show,” said Dimon. “Suppliers were interested in what they need to do to qualify, agents wanted to know how to get into the ‘niche,’ and consumers were asking all the expected questions: what wellness tourism is, how to work wellness into their travels, and where to go.”

Qualifying hotels, resorts, retreats, destination spas, tour operators and wellness travel companies may join as members, and organisations with a specific interest in the sector may join as partners.

Membership packages range from US$300 (€242, £214) for travel advisors to US$2,000 (€1,615, £1,425) for hotels and destination spas and US$3,500 (€2,826, £2,495) for tourism boards and DMOs.

“If an organisation has a true interest and investment in the travel sector, they will want to be part of this industry-focused collective,” said Dimon. “For some, it will be for credibility, for others it will be a combination of networking, education and marketing opportunities.”

The networking opportunities will begin immediately; WTA is planning an annual meeting, the first of which will take place in Q2 or Q3 2018, most likely in North America – possibly at one of the member locations – and will highlight what wellness tourism is and, based on the first WTA survey, what consumers are looking for in a wellness vacation. Gibson said he expects between 25 to 50 people to attend.

Moving forward, the WTA plans to collaborate with the Global Wellness Summit’s Wellness Tourism Initiative, and to have a presence at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai in April and the World Travel Market in London in November.

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A new not-for-profit business has been created to be the voice of the wellness travel industry, and to create more networking, education and marketing opportunities.
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