SpaFinder Shows Travelers Looking for Wellness and Pampering


Clients and particularly travelers coming into spas are looking for treatments that improve their health as well as de-stress them, says SpaFinder's State of Spa Travel Survey.

According to SpaFinder’s third annual State of Spa Travel survey released yesterday, travel agents experienced a strong year for spa travel in a tough 2008, but report the industry was measurably impacted in the first half of 2009 as the economy’s downward spiral quickened. However, agents also indicated that they see light at the end of the tunnel, and forecast strengthening for the sector across the remainder of the year.

Highlights from SpaFinder’s survey on emerging spa travel trends include: 2009 is shaping up to be an unprecedented year for spa travel deals; wellness and traditional pampering are not opposing categories, as both are of paramount importance to spa travelers today; and the late-2008 AIG scandal had a relatively modest, but lingering, impact on business spa travel.

“While it’s hardly surprising that the 2009 economy has impacted spa travel, compared with other travel sectors it continues to show resilience,” said Susie Ellis, president of SpaFinder. “After all, industry research concurs that the number one reason people go to spas is to de-stress, and today people are more stressed than ever. With consumers increasingly perceiving their health and wellness as a ‘need’ rather than a mere ‘want’—combined with this historic year for spa deals—you have a recipe for relative industry strength.”

SpaFinder’s State of Spa Travel survey was conducted with travel professionals in June and July of 2009, and is designed to illuminate unfolding developments in spa travel, including pricing, consumer adoption, demographics, and popular locations and amenities. Key findings include the following.

Economic impact

In 2008, a significant majority of agents (69%) reported no declines in spa travel bookings, with (35%) reporting spa travel held steady with 2007’s numbers, while 34% reported a year-over-year increase. First-half 2009 tells a different story: 58% reported declines year-over-year through June, but only one in five agents reported that spa travel declined 'significantly.' And travel agents are optimistic about a second-half strengthening: 66% predict no overall declines for full-year 2009, and while 34% do expect declines, only 7% report they will be ‘significant.’

The year of the deal

In 2008, 70% of agents reported that spa resorts were lowering rates and rolling out more special deals than in years past, but this year that number jumped to 90%. And 57% report that spas are offering 'historically' or 'significantly' more aggressive deals than ever before. This industry strategy precisely matches what travelers are actively seeking: agents report that the number one change in spa traveler’s behavior in 2009 has been 'seeking significant deals,’ followed by ‘opting for shorter vacations,’ and ‘traveling closer to home.’

Price-per-night trending down

Wallet-consciousness is also reflected in the most frequently booked per-night price: 74% of spa travel booked in ’09 falls under $299 a night, and price ranges over $300 all experienced declines from 2008. Last year, 60% of spa travel fell in the $250–$399 range, while this year 60% falls in the lower $200 to $299 range.

Wellness or ‘benefit’ travel continues to spike

Health and wellness spa offerings continue to rank as a critical factor for travelers, with 83% of agents reporting it’s either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ important to their clients. But spa travelers demand both wellness and ‘pampering’ elements. 96% of agents report ‘traditional pampering’ elements also rank as important. Spirituality offerings such as yoga and meditation are also gaining in importance. And with consumers sensitive about the economy and justifying their spending, 52% of agents report that travelers are notably more interested in ‘benefit’ vacations—those hitting a spa for tangible benefits like weight loss, fitness, etc.—in 2009.

The ‘AIG effect’

With well-publicized criticism of AIG’s spa resort ‘spree’ in late ’08, agents were queried on its impact on their group business/corporate spa travel. While 55% report the AIG story had some impact on their clients’ travel decisions, 45% reported it had no effect. However, this relatively modest ‘AIG effect” has exhibited staying power: 76% report it’s either remained an issue or escalated for their clients since.

Emerging trends

Agents reports that ‘social spa-ing,’—which is groups of friends traveling to the spa together—an increase in travelers seeking health/wellness elements, and people choosing spas as destinations for special occasions such has honeymoons and weddings rank as the top three emerging 2009 trends.

Spa access still No. 1 consideration for travelers

Access to spa facilities continues to rank No. 1 by significant margins as the top consideration for travelers today, followed by proximity to a beach, sightseeing, shopping, and hiking and nature-based activities, with skiing and golf access occupying the last spots.

About SpaFinder, Inc.

One of the world’s largest spa media, marketing and gifting companies, SpaFinder, Inc. connects millions of wellness-focused consumers with thousands of spas worldwide. SpaFinder’s media properties include the award-winning, the Spa Enthusiast newsletter and the annual Global Spa and Wellness Directory. The company’s technology division innovates new solutions that help spas build and streamline their businesses, including the popular SpaBooker online booking system. SpaFinder Europe and SpaFinder Japan offer regional spa marketing and gifting programs, including localized, native-language Web sites. Founded in 1986, the privately held company is headquartered in Manhattan.

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