As we emerge from the years that changed all of our lives in some way or another, people want to travel! And not just travel, but travel to improve their well-being. 2023 is the year of revival! With burnout, isolation, anxiety, and depression at all-time highs, people want to break free and feel better. Gone are the days when we fly away for a weekend of debauchery, only to return worse-off. Today people use travel instead as a proactive betterment of their health and well-being. So let’s dig in and see – what 2023 wellness travel trends are we likely to see in the new year?
According to all the polls, travelers are looking for travel that improves their physical, mental, and spiritual condition, and that they can feel good about participating in. Travelers are more aware of the impact travel has on the planet and communities now more than ever, and they will become increasingly interested in the well-being of the people and places they visit.
There is also evidence of a strong desire for a sense of community. Thanks to social media, remote work, and the increasing siloing of our lives – people are craving human connection and seeking it in their travel.
What is Wellness Travel?
Wellness travel, or wellness tourism, is the intersection of the travel industry and the wellness industry. It is travel that incorporates healthy habits, activities, and other experiences that maintain or improve physical, mental, emotional, financial, or other components of your well-being.
The Global Wellness Institute defines it as: “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing“. Wellness travelers seek remedies to stress, disease, and monotony through retreats, beautiful destinations, and authentic experiences.
And, it’s blowing up. The wellness tourism market is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 9.93% from 2022 to 2030, and be worth $1 trillion.
The Top 16 Wellness Travel Trends in 2023
Travel isn’t something we indulge in once a year anymore, it’s part of our wellness routine now. In 2023 travel looks like healing, moving, and learning. It’s colorful, engaging, and restorative. Out with the going hard and in with the balance. Let’s take a look at 2023 wellness travel trends and how they fit into the different pillars of wellness.
In 2023 we want to return from vacation feeling physically well. We want to prioritize movement, healthy meals, and sleep. Hilton’s 2023 trends report shows that people want enhanced wellness offerings. For example, access to unique spa treatments, fitness activities (beyond the hotel gym), and healthier food options. People are recognizing travel as an essential part of their wellness routine and want to be able to maintain their physical wellness while they travel in order to fulfill their mental and spiritual wellness.
Trend #1: Soaking and Steaming
Saunas, steam baths, and thermal soaks are on our priority list. More and more people are catching on to the benefits of heat therapy and the travel industry is noticing. People are choosing the hotel or rental with the sauna over the one without.
It’s so popular now that an increasing number of resorts are building new sauna and hydrotherapy complexes to keep up with the new (old) trend. One resort in Colorado even built 41 Japanese-inspired soaking tubs around their concert venue so people can soak while they watch live music.
Soaking and steaming (heat and hydrotherapy) also make for popular wellness activities when traveling. Your hotel or Airbnb may not have a sauna but you can find some sort of heat therapy almost anywhere – and each destination has its own cultural take on it. For example, in Mexico you can partake in their version of a traditional steam bath, called a Temazcal.
Trend #2: Walking, Trekking, and Other Mindful Movement
Move over pool lounge chair, we’re moving on this vacation! Body immunity and fitness retreats are growing in popularity. As people turn their attention to building back their immunity and improving their overall health condition after the pandemic they’re looking to movement. Movement retreats are a way to travel and meaningfully maintain or improve physical and mental health.
Movement retreats usually include healthy meal plans and are located in stunning destinations. For example, Greece offers a number of yoga, hiking and fitness retreats year-round. Not into the whole retreat part? Try a hiking vacation like this Tour du Mont Blanc trek. Spending ten+ days in the mountains will absolutely change your physical and mental health – trust me.
Trend #3: Recovery Treatments
Recovery treatments for the body beyond soaking and steaming, like cryotherapy, oxygen and light therapy, acupuncture, and physiotherapy (to realign your hunched shoulders) are popular. Wellness hubs and hotels are incorporating these amenities into their spa programs now.
SIRO, a new fitness-led hotel brand hopes to lead the fitness and recovery hospitality space by making health and wellness attainable while traveling. They offer top-of-the-line wellness facilities and programs centered around fitness, nutrition, sleep, recovery, and mindfulness. Each hotel even has a dedicated Recovery Lab offering the latest technology to reduce stress, and improve blood circulation and sleep.
Emotional / Mental Wellness
This new generation of travelers is traveling for their well-being. They see the toll sedentary lifestyles, poor diets, overworking, and other lifestyle choices have taken on older generations. And, they’re seeing firsthand the impacts of increased isolation and technology use on their peers. We’re seeing a mindset shift in the younger generation. Younger travelers are opting for wellness-based getaways and seeking out restorative, healing experiences on their travel.
Polls show that younger generation travelers are willing to spend more on their travels if it means it will improve their state of mind. Gen-Z specifically is looking for drug-free, non-invasive approaches to manage stress and anxiety and lead more healthy and balanced lives. Escaping routine, learning a new language/navigating new places, and allowing yourself time to rest and rejuvenate. These are great ways to combat the modern challenges people experience today.
In addition, traveling is a great way to build confidence in yourself and your capabilities. It’s the opposite of social media – the land of comparison and inaction. Here are some of the 2023 wellness travel trends we’re seeing that improve mental and emotional wellness.
Trend #4: Arts and Crafts
Yep, arts and crafts. Working with your hands is calming and engaging. When you indulge in your creative side the world around you often melts away. When your hands and your right brain are activated you don’t have time to scroll or think about stressful thoughts.
Creative play can improve mood and reduce anxiety. If you need help relaxing on vacation, try taking an art class or participating in a craft workshop. Many hotels are incorporating arts and crafts classes into their programming now. A hotel in Santa Fe celebrates the relaxing nature of arts and crafts by offering a variety of classes. Take a painting class, learn the art of ancient lettering and journaling, make your own incense, or take a seed working class.
Trend #5: Animal Therapy Retreats
We all know that being around animals has a positive impact on our mental health. Well, hotels and retreats are taking their wellness programs a step further and incorporating animals for an additional boost of dopamine. You may have heard of goat yoga, but did you know there’s a whole realm of wellness programs that feature all sorts of animals? Dogs and horses are the most popular but you may encounter programs that feature chickens, birds, pigs, and more.
This low-tech and reasonably accessible way to reduce stress and increase our feelings of well-being is gaining popularity in the hospitality industry. From full-day excursions that include meditation on horseback, and painting horses (yes you read that right), to bird watching with a resident resort guide, we’re seeing variations of animal therapy pop up everywhere.
Some hotels offer appointments with their resident therapy dog, and one hotel in Santa Fe actually partners with a humane society to foster puppies year-round. Guests are able to play with and spend time with the puppies, and can even adopt them if they are so inclined. We love to see it!
Trend #6: Dopamine Travel
Speaking of dopamine, have you heard the term ‘dopamine travel’? Because according to data it’s a thing. To combat growing burnout people are booking trips to ‘dopamine destinations’. These are destinations with bright and bold contrasting colors, vibrant sites, sounds, and smells all of which help to stimulate those coveted ‘feel good’ chemicals. To paint a more clear picture, some of the top dopamine travel destinations are India, Mexico, and Morocco.
Trend #7: Slow Travel
Slow travel is a popular term in travel and wellness spaces. It’s an approach to travel that emphasizes spending more time in one place versus jumping from one destination to the next to “see as much as you can”. This allows for a deeper connection to local people, cultures, food, and music and an understanding of other ways of living.
Slow travel is balanced and intentional, and emphasizes supporting local businesses and veering off the main tourist routes. It’s conscious, mindful travel. Consequently, this style of travel is less stressful and more sustainable (mentally).
Trend #8: Emotional Healing & Holistic Wellness Retreats
These are multi-day, guided, intention-driven retreats. Think meditation and yoga retreats, retreats in nature and retreats focused on personal growth. They typically address lifestyle and focus on developing tools to manage stress. Emotional healing retreats allow you the space to acknowledge, process, and release painful experiences and strong emotions that might be holding you back in life.
Trend #9: The “Workcation”
Workcation, the pandemic evolution of “bleisure” (business and pleasure) blends work and play on another level and it looks like it’s here to stay. The concept? Log in from anywhere in the world during your working hours and enjoy wherever you are on your off hours as if you are on vacation. The ultimate manifestation of work-life balance.
As this trend continues to grow we’re seeing more hotels offer ‘workcation’ packages, and short and long-term rentals feature workstations to attract remote workers. A desk and high-speed internet are critical amenities these days. Popular workcation destinations? Arizona, Wyoming, Hawaii, Colorado, Florida, and Georgia.
The theme is inner peace. People want to get more in touch with themselves. This is looking like off-grid, culturally rich, tech-free, and sometimes solo trips. Polls show travelers are seeking more engaging experiences to connect to friends, family, cultures, and the planet on a deeper level. These desires manifest as the following 2023 wellness travel trends.
Trend #10: Digital Detox, Off-Grid Travel
With the desire to disappear into a pre digital era, there is an increased percentage of travelers searching for and booking off-grid style vacations. According to a Booking.com poll, travelers are using off-grid trips as opportunities to learn survival skills, bathe in nature, or participate in other outdoor adventure activities.
Companies like Unplugged and Getaway, which offer off-grid cabins and boxes to lock up your devices, are seeing major growth through the end of 2022. There are actually several companies they partner with who offer digital detoxes to their employees and they’re creating more locations to meet the demand. You can read about my experience at a Getaway Cabin in Washington State here.
Trend #11: Plant Medicine & Ayurveda
We’re seeing a resurgence of interest in plant medicine, specifically Ayurveda and psilocybin, as a powerful tool to connect with intuition and achieve greater mind, body, and spirit wellness. As I mentioned earlier, the younger generation realizes they need to take responsibility for their health and longevity into their own hands. One way they are doing this is engaging in ancient preventative medicine.
People interested in these experiences are interested in transformational travel more generally as well. Individuals, organizations, the spa and hospitality industries, and the travel sector more broadly are seeing demand for these types of experiences and building out programs to support them.
Trend #12: Solo Travel
No travel partner? No problem! Traveling solo is gaining momentum among 65+, Gen-Z, and millennials. Choosing to go solo means more time with yourself, no coordinating, and no compromising.
Additionally, traveling solo travel also allows for more growth and transformation. Solo travel builds confidence, proving strength and capability. If you’re trying to get in sync with your own power, try taking a solo trip 🙂
Trend #13: Traveling to Gather
While solo travel is on the rise, so is traveling with the purpose of being with a group. This is where the longing for sense of community comes in – people are willing to fly anywhere to connect. We’re seeing more family travel and more friend group travel/meetups. These trips are often built around an activity too – retreat, reunion, adventure. Going through an experience together strengthens bonds and releases feel good chemicals.
Trend #14: Climate-Friendly/Sustainable Travel
Wellness for the planet is a major 2023 wellness travel trend. Nowadays, travelers want to know what the hotel or resort they are staying at is doing to minimize its impact on the environment and surrounding community. Whether it’s contributing to a conservation program, using recycled building materials, or offering pull-chain showers – guests want to see that they are spending their money somewhere that has a small and sustainable footprint.
We’re seeing more and more travelers choose to vacation in green cities and sustainable destinations in the face of climate change. Of course, they may still be hopping on long flights, but until there is an alternative there, we might as well be more conscious in the ways that we can – like the destination.
Trend #15: Regenerative Travel
AKA, travel that gives back to people and place/leaves a place better than you found it. This concept applies in many fields – agriculture, development, etc. The definition of regeneration is “the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage”. When applied to travel, the idea is to restore communities/destinations and then make the community/destination resilient to, and benefit from, travel.
A good way for a traveler to know if they are staying in regenerative accommodations or are participating in regenerative travel experiences is to ask questions. How was the hotel built? Are staff being treated well? How is the local environment being protected? How is the hotel or tour supporting the local community?
Hotels are slowly but surely catching on and encouraging philanthropic and sustainable efforts amongst guests by making regenerative efforts more accessible. Many incorporate give-back initiatives to local communities on-site, sustainable purchasing, and recommending attractions and creating partnerships with charities connected to community and environmental impact.
Want to stay in a regenerative hotel? Then check out Regenerative Travel, a booking agency that vets members based on metrics such as carbon usage, employee well-being, immersive guest activities and sourcing local food.
Trend # 16: Air-Free Travel
As the pandemic forced everyone to stay closer to home, alternative ways of travel began to spike. In turn, people realized that there was so much more to be seen in their back yards. As we emerge from the pandemic, planet-friendly transportation options and close to home trips are still on the rise.
This isn’t just because people realized there was more to do close to home. It has become more common in the travel sphere for people to actually feel guilty traveling by plane. There’s even a word for this in Swedish, “smygflyga”, which translates to “flight shame”.
For both of these reasons we’re seeing sustained spikes in travel via train (one of the most climate-friendly options), car, and public transport. Airlines have noticed this and several are investing in sustainable fuel and carbon offsetting options. For example, Southwest Airlines recently announced a plan for carbon neutrality by 2050.
2023 Wellness Travel Trends Wrap-Up
Some themes that are easily pulled from this list are regeneration (for people and the planet), relaxation, small footprint travel, and desire for spiritual fulfillment. This list of 2023 wellness travel trends tells me a lot about our society right now. People are overworked, they’re grasping for some sense of community and belonging. People are worried about the state of our planet, and worried about the state of our older generations. Younger generations are determined to turn the future of their health and the health of the climate around.
This is manifesting in travel in many ways. Travelers are opting for:
- Off-the-beaten-path destinations
- Transformational, healing experiences (traditional ceremonies, retreats, partaking in meditation or spiritual practices)
- Taking the train or going on a roadtrip over flying
- Choosing more outdoor adventure travel
- Taking up local art classes on trips
- Choosing locations with animals
- Longer-term stays
- Choosing destinations or accommodations where fitness activities and healthy food are accessible
So, what does your 2023 travel look like?