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‘Wellness travel’ niche is increasingly healthy

It’s goodbye “fat farms” and hello “soft wellness,” as more travelers choose vacation destinations that meet a revised definition of health.

“It’s really changed,” said Jean Pickard, luxury travel consultant with SmartFlyer of Atlanta. “It used to be hard-core, where you worked out for a week. Now, wellness travel has blossomed into going places to take a hike and have a nice lunch paired with wine. It’s a soft wellness.”

Boom in well-being

More travelers are taking the time to stop and smell the roses. That’s a healthy trend for spa-centered hotels, such as the Evian Resort on Lake Geneva in France, where the swimming pools are filled with (you guessed it) water from the Evian springs.

“Guests wake up, and the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing,” said Samuel Berne of Evian Resort.

Virtuoso, an international network of travel advisers and destination properties, predicts the wellness travel niche, representing 15 percent of global tourism, will reach $680 billion by next year.

“Simply defined, wellness travel encompasses physical, mental and social well-being, as well as spiritual health,” Virtuoso’s Albert Herrera said.

What’s on the menu also has changed with the wellness trend.

“It used to be the vegetarian was the odd man out, but now there’s not a table today where people are not watching what they eat, including lactose-free and gluten-free,” said Roland Fasel, general manager of the Dorchester Hotel in London. “This all happened very quickly, and you have to be ready to deliver with specific menus.”

Pickard is planning a trip to Japan for a client who doesn’t eat sushi and is gluten-free. In Vietnam, the question might be, “Where can I go for the safest street food?”

“It’s really a big deal. We tell the concierge the most important thing they can do is help guests with their food experience,” said Anthony Slewka-Armfelt of the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi.

Wellness travel trends tracked by Virtuoso include savoring little luxuries, such as lobster risotto at Rivea restaurant in the Delano Las Vegas Hotel.

Sound sleep

The quest for wellness includes a good night’s sleep. “Lack of sleep is no longer a badge of honor. My travel clients want to get away from sleep deprivation, and it goes beyond bed linen thread count to classes in meditation,” Pickard said.

There are even places that offer “electronic detox,” where you check your phone and other devices at the door as a part of a wellness vacation.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and author of “The Slim Down South Cookbook.” Email her at

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