SpaFinder Wellness’ sixth annual “State of Spa Travel” report shows that in 2012 bookings to hotel, resort and destination spas turned a corner, with more than two-thirds of travel agents seeing positive booking growth, and the average price-per-night-booked rising significantly. The findings are based on an in-depth survey of 160+ travel agents around the world, completed in the fourth quarter 2012.
“While the upswing in spa travel is being driven by the wider economic rebound, the survey clearly indicates that other factors are at play,” said Susie Ellis, president, SpaFinder Wellness Inc. “With more than two-thirds of agents reporting that people are now more interested in traveling to spas specifically for programs like stress-reduction, fitness, and weight loss, the results are a clear indication that more travelers are deciding they simply can’t afford exhausting, unhealthy vacations.”
Ellis noted that “wellness tourism” is no longer an exotic concept, but is becoming a powerful, mainstream trend that will continue to fuel the spa travel market – and influence where people go, and what they choose to do, on their increasingly precious time off. The report found that spa travel was up in 2012 over 2011: While 37 percent of travel agents reported that spa travel bookings increased in 2011 over 2010 that number roughly doubled for 2012. Sixty-eight percent reported growth in the number of clients choosing spa travel last year, with only 9 percent reporting declines.
In addition, the report found that the price per night is increasing: The high end of the market is clearly spurring spa travel growth, with the average price-per-night-booked in 2012 rising dramatically over recent years. In 2010 only 10 percent of bookings topped $350 per night, but last year that jumped to 29 percent. And the majority of bookings now fall above $300-a-night, up significantly from 2009-2011, when only 25 to 40 percent fell in that range.
With the economy officially “post-recession,” one might expect the hotel, resort, and destination spas deals to dry up, but agents are reporting that 35 percent of “stay spa” deals were actually more aggressive in 2012 over 2011, with 55 percent reporting they held firm. (Only one in 10 agents saw a decline in spa discounting.)
Mexico’s tourism industry is clearly recovering from negative press about safety concerns in recent years. The Mexican Tourist Board reported a record number of inbound tourists in 2012, and agents surveyed reported that the Mexico/Caribbean region was the number one global spa travel destination in 2012, leapfrogging the 2010 and 2011 leader, North America. Agents also reported that Hawaii toppled the west coast as the U.S. region attracting the most spa travelers in 2012.
Sixty-seven percent of agents reported that their clients were more interested in spa vacations with a strong health/wellness focus in 2012, and 30 percent noted it was just as strong a trend as in 2011.
Health-obsessed Baby Boomer travelers (individuals aged 48 to 67) remains this sector’s core demographic, with 67 percent of agents reporting that they were the age group most likely to book spa travel in 2012. But a significant 31 percent of agents pegged the younger, 26 to 45 age group, as now most likely to book spa vacations. (This age breakdown is essentially the same as reported for 2011).
Across 2012 there were numerous reports that travel agents were seeing resurgence in their business (particularly in luxury travel) after a long period of decline. And this new survey provides further confirmation: 65 percent of agents reported that more people booked spa travel through agents in 2012, with 28 percent claiming levels remained the same as 2011, and only six percent seeing declines.
With the daily deal sites now a travel space fixture, the survey gauged how this new reality has impacted travel agents’ business. A significant minority (44 percent) reported that the group-buying sites have had a direct, negative impact on their bookings. But, 53 percent report that the crowded daily deals space has had “little/no impact,” because the “deal” customer is typically not a travel agent customer. Three percent reported that their spa travel bookings have increased since the emergence of deal sites.