The travel industry has, for as many years as most of us can remember, been focused on beautiful destinations and the experiences people can have once they get there. That doesn’t just mean sightseeing and excursions—in some cases, it’s about individualized experiences or even self-improvement. A prime example of this phenomenon has been the emergence of the so-called ‘destination spa.’

Despite offering (or appearing to offer) an immersive experience, most destination spas continue to focus on high-touch, one-on-one services like massages and facials, fitness programs and nutrition. Some offer yoga and other quasi-spiritual experiences, but their ultimate deliverable typically amounted to two things: weight loss and well-being.

That’s changing, and the pandemic has a lot to do with it. According to a recent report in The New York Times, “wellness vacations now go far beyond massages and diet advice, instead offering a respite from physical and mental stress.”

For the Love of Oneself

According to The New York Times story: “Before the pandemic, when Mary Calliste, 32, travelled, she would try to hit as many tourist attractions as she could. But in early December, Ms. Calliste, who works in the financial services industry out of Plainfield, N.J., went to Guatemala and stayed at an eco-friendly hotel called Lush Atitlan. There, she ate vegan meals, walked around the natural reserve and listened to music. And loved it. From now on, she said, ‘I see myself incorporating a lot more of my needs into my travel instead of what I can see.’”

Travellers Are Investing in Their Mental & Physical Health

The article cited a recent American Express survey which offered some interesting insights. Consumers, including those here in Canada, are making a concerted effort to invest both time and money towards their physical and mental health to combat the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on their well-being.

In fact, “more than two-thirds (69%) of consumers surveyed indicate that their mental health has been impacted by the pandemic – either by isolation restrictions or concerns for well-being – and 66% agree that the pandemic has encouraged them to spend more money on items or experiences that help with their overall mental wellness.”

More Than Just a Trip

In addition to their regular menu of lavish gyms equipped with Peloton exercise bikes, this phenomenon has the high-end travel industry offering even more. For example:

Holistic Travel & Vacation Destinations

Self-connection, grief and loss management, and mental well-being are now available as an adjunct to more traditional experiences such as spa, adventure and fitness programs. It’s about, as its boosters assert, serving the whole person.

The New York Times story also quoted Caroline Klein, CEO of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, a luxury hotel group. Now, hotels in that group may offer nature walks, meditation, yoga or any number of creative experiences.

“Hotels are really seeing people bring those new mindsets, routines and preferences with them as they start to travel again,” Ms. Klein was quoted as saying. “What that creates is a definite shift in expectations and experiences that hotels need to cater to, because they’re not catering to the traveller from 2019.”

And “Shift” is the Operative Word

What people want out of a vacation is shifting. It’s a shift affecting virtually every demographic group that vacation travel attracts – from twenty and thirty-somethings to boomers and beyond.

According to Chris Kam, the president and chief operating officer of Omnitrak, a Hawaii-based research company that conducts regular national travel surveys: “The travel experience transformed and became a place to heal – from mental, physical, spiritual stress. People travel for answers now about how to feel better.”