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SpaFinder Releases "State of Spa Travel" Survey Results

According to SpaFinder’s recently released fourth annual State of Spa Travel survey, travel agents report spa travel performed surprisingly well across a depressed economy in 2009, and is clocking measurable, if modest, growth for the first half of 2010.

A key finding: Despite the recovering economy, more than nine in 10 travel agents report that global hotel, resort and destination spas are actually offering more, or holding firm on, special deals and low pricing in 2010 compared with 2009. Additionally, the two most powerful consumer trends this year are an increased interest in vacations/travel with a specific health/wellness focus; and more “social spa-ing,” i.e., friends, groups and families traveling together to spas for special occasions or celebrations.

“Our survey provides further evidence that spa travel proved relatively resilient compared with other travel and hospitality sectors last year, and that the slowly recovering economy is having some positive impact in 2010,” noted Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder. “It also confirms that spas’ ongoing attractive pricing, combined with their stronger focus on health and wellness offerings, are essentially the twin drivers of the industry’s strength.”

The SpaFinder survey was conducted with 250-plus global travel agents in July 2010. It’s designed to shed light on unfolding developments in the spa travel sector, including the health of the market, pricing, consumer adoption and demographics, and popular locations and amenities.

A resilient 2009--modest gains in 2010

Despite a historically abysmal 2009 economy, roughly two in three agents (64%) reported no declines in spa travel bookings last year over 2008, with 26% reporting spa travel actually increased. (Only 11% cited “significant” decreases in 2009).

And for first-half 2010, the modest economic recovery underway is reflected in the measurable, if similarly modest, gains in spa travel: 36% report spa travel has increased in the first six months of 2010; 39% claim it’s remained about the same; while 25% cite year-over-year declines. Compare that to the 58% of agents reporting declines in first-half 2009. The majority (52%) report the economic recovery is now having a direct, positive impact on spa travel bookings--and the optimism for full-year 2010 is higher: 61% predict overall growth this year, with only 7% expecting year-over-year declines.

A new season of “Let’s Make a Deal”

SpaFinder dubbed 2009 The Year of the Deal, but hotel, resort and destination spas are hardly hitting the brakes on special pricing/deals in the somewhat-improved 2010 economy. In fact, a surprising 44% of agents report even more aggressive spa travel deals in 2010 over 2009, while 48% report the bargains are holding firm. This industry “deal” strategy matches what consumers have been conditioned to expect: Agents report that the No. 1 change in spa travelers’ behavior in 2010 is “seeking significant deals,” followed by “opting for shorter vacations,” and “traveling closer to home.”

Price-per-night mirrors 2009

In 2009, agents reported that the most frequently booked price-per-night at spa destinations had trended down considerably, and in 2010, the numbers are nearly identical: 74% of spa travel booked now falls under $299 a night (identical with 2009), while 41% falls under $200.

Health and wellness travel continues surge

Sixty-six percent of agents (up from 52% last year) report their clients are showing a markedly increased interest in vacations with a dedicated health/wellness focus, such as hitting the spa to lose weight, or for fitness and yoga programs. Additionally, 88% of agents report that health/wellness offerings are now important to their clients (up from 83% in 2009). And for spa travelers, there’s no conflict between seeking “pampering” and “wellness,” with 96% of agents arguing that “traditional pampering” is important to spa travelers today. However, spa “spirituality offerings” seem to be declining in importance: Last year 70% of agents reported they were important to clients, but that number fell to 38% in 2010.

Top trends: “social spa-ing” parties on

Agents weighed in on which trends are exhibiting the most momentum in 2010, and “social spa-ing” ranked No. 1, just edging out “spa travel for wellness/health.” Traveling solo ranked third, spa travel by younger people (under 40) ranked fourth, and increased international spa travel ranked fifth.

Spa access remains No. 1 consideration for travelers

For the fourth straight year, access to spa facilities ranks as the No. 1 consideration for travelers, followed by proximity to a beach, sightseeing, hiking and nature-based activities, and shopping. Access to golf facilities and skiing claimed the last spots.