Wellness travel goes beyond staying fit on the go. Experts decode the trend

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It’s one thing when hotels open fitness centers, but quite another when fitness centers open hotels. Luxe gym Equinox is opening a hotel in New York’s new Hudson Yards neighbourhood next year in a move that embodies the evolution of wellness travel.

Most hotels have beefed up fitness options — you can book rooms with stationary bikes and rent workout clothes — but wellness travel has become much more than just keeping fit while on the road. Increasingly it’s become the point of the journey. And it’s bringing in big dollars. Whether it’s foraging for your own medicinal herbs in Peru, cycling across the California coastline or spending several thousand dollars to workout alongside celeb trainer Tracy Anderson in Aspen, Colorado, wellness tourists made 691 million trips in 2015, according to the Global Wellness Institute.

In the past, wellness vacations straddled between starvation-style bootcamps or relaxing spa weekends to detox from an unhealthy lifestyle. But as self-care has evolved into a daily goal, it’s found an obvious match in travel. International and domestic wellness tourism brought in $563 billion in 2015, up from $489 billion in 2013, according to the Global Wellness Institute. Wellness travel is expected to grow to $808 billion by 2020.

The travel trend has mirrored the shift in retail. Gone are the days when shoppers head to a brick-and-mortar store to buy shoes that they could buy online. Instead, they’re being lured to stores by experiences. Similarly, vacationers are less excited about lying on the beach with umbrella drinks. They too want a more immersive experience, like a yoga meditation retreat or surf camp, to connect with others and revitalize themselves, experts say.

“(Fitness has) gone from being an activity to now it’s a destination. It’s a purpose,” said Marshal Cohen, an analyst for the trend group NPD. “That’s a huge shift in spending. We’re not building wardrobes anymore. We’re building memories and the photos we’re clicking on our phones and posting on social media are the fruits of our labour.”

The Curtain Bluff resort in Antigua launched a new wellness concierge where guests can meet with the team at no extra charge to design their own fitness program including everything from zumba to pilates. Amanpuri’s resort in Phuket, Thailand, created four wellness immersions, where guests can focus on fitness, weight loss, digestive cleanses or mental awareness during a three- to 14-night vacation. Offerings include reiki, an alternative stress-reduction therapy, and life-coaching.

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