Editor’s Note: Back in 2019 we asked wellness travel expert Susan Kime to share her thoughts on trends for the coming year. Her pre-COVID predictions for 2020, based on the Global Wellness Summit, suggested the world was ready for some rest.
Sleep apps promised to improve our quality of shut-eye. Wellness sabbaticals combined fitness, nutrition and spirituality. Bucket lists grew to include destinations like Nepal, India and Ghana.
Then, of course, a global cannon ball (or rather, several tiny, spiked virus particles) rendered our travel plans moot.
A year later, with vaccines available and normalcy on the horizon, we asked Susan to revisit her trends list. What held true? What had changed? What can travel enthusiasts look forward to as we make new bucket lists and revise our plans?
Below are Susan’s insights into post-pandemic wellness trends, followed by our team’s take on how they may apply to travel. Cheers to ‘renewal, reconnection and regeneration.’
No matter who reads the nuanced wellness trends of the post-COVID-19 economy, certain consistencies and complementarities are emerging that combine the social, spiritual, and sustainable. Here are seven to watch in the coming months.
The Regenerative Economy
The Regenerative Economy is an economic model that promotes a state of balance, rather than unsustainable growth. This is achieved an interdependent system measured by sustainability, happiness and well-being. It moves beyond the mere fiscal to include climate responsibility and personal fulfillment. As such, this economy provides a broad platform for collaboration: balancing the entrepreneurial, academic, public, private and spiritual.
This trend in travel: We expect to see lodging providers adopt more eco-friendly practices, while giving guests more options to “green” their stay. Think reusable water bottles and more local fare at the on-site restaurant. We also expect to see companies share more about how they support their employees, particularly seasonal staff.
Associated with the economy is an Increasing number of Benefit Corporations in the Wellness Industry. B-Corporations define a new sector of the corporate community where the objective is to be the best for the world, rather than best in the world, balancing purpose with profit. Benefit Corporation principles align closely with the principles of the wellness industry—pursuing higher levels of benefit at individual, corporate, social and environmental dimensions.
This trend in travel: Travel is ahead of the curve on this one. More than 50 companies directly related to travel have become certified B-Corporations, and dozens more fall into related categories like apparel, hospitality, and development. For an uplifting browse, check out all certified companies in the B Corp Directory.
Organizations and governments alike have begun prioritizing ‘happiness’ as policy. Happiness, in its deepest meaning, can be defined as self-realization, altruism and individual and collective well-being. With this in mind, The Gross National Happiness Index, formulated in Bhutan in the 1970s, is still used as an index used to measure the collective happiness and well being of a population. It is considered a holistic, not a mathematical assessment. It measures progress in society according to a mix of quality-of-life factors.
This trend in travel: After a year of social isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty, every employer will need to address mental health in the workplace. HR experts say this may translate to more vacation time, more freedom to work remotely, and more personal days. We may also see the return of the corporate retreat with a greater focus on employee wellness. We may even see more companies like Australia’s Flo Wellbeing, which specialize in corporate wellness retreats.
In a post-COVID world, spirituality is gaining momentum. People have become more interested in ancient teachings from different global faiths and aware of existence beyond our conscious selves. This shift toward a more spiritual outlook is supported by advances in neuroscience and psychology. These newer levels of interest in and understanding of the human condition will surely contribute to greater societal wellbeing and greater emotional attunement.
This trend in travel: Yoga, meditation and mindfulness retreats have certainly left the fringes, as evidenced by the many successful women-led travel companies who specialize in these experiences. We also expect to see more elements of spirituality combined with the outdoors in activities like climbing, hiking and surfing.
A Nature Renaissance
As we fled cities for a sense of calm, many of us rediscovered the allure of nature. A research study conducted by the University of Vermont is one of the first to explore how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Americans’ relationship with nature, and the results show signs of a new love affair with the Great Outdoors.
Participants in the study reported significant increases in outdoor activity during COVID-19, especially among women. People also experienced a shift in the reasons they value nature. Nearly two-thirds said in nature they cherished a greater sense of mental health and wellbeing. More than a quarter said they felt a greater sense of identity or spirituality.
This trend in travel: With international trips largely off the table in 2020, many tour operators turned to America’s national parks. Rather than Iceland or Morocco, for example, we saw Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Saguaro Desert. We may also see more people taking advantage of nature as part of working vacations. A family might spend a month in summer at a mountain town home with great WiFi, for example, rather than a week abroad sight-seeing.
Positive stress is that which moves people away from their static comfort levels without going beyond what the body can handle. This could mean running or walking faster, holding a yoga stretch longer, or slowly adopting new eating habits. The University of California, San Francisco is funding a research study on how different forms of positive stress—the Wim Hof Method, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and meditation—impact depressive symptoms, and allow for greater resiliency.
This trend in travel: We see this in a growing number of wellness travel retreats that leverage the down time and low mental stress of vacation to help participants adapt to new routines, from exercise to diet. As we emerge from months of comfort eating in isolation, we expect to see “boot camp” style retreats gain popularity in the short-term, with more wellness-driven retreats, which prompt more self-reflection and intrinsic growth, remaining of interest in the long-term.
The Future of Wellness Travel
Although some trends of 2021 may fade as we recover from the upheaval of the past two years, the themes of renewal, reconnection and regeneration will likely remain. In all cases, the movement from stasis to activity is an essential therapeutic form of a personal commitment to greater wellness. COVID-19 has created a type of enforced pause in many people’s lives, allowing a more defined introspection that could lead to possible answers to the biblical question, Quo Vadis? Where are you going?
A needful wellness question for the present, as well as the future.
Susan Kime, MA, CPC, NCC, is a wellness travel expert who writes about trends, destinations, and the intersection of travel and mental health. Find her work in Pursuitist, JustLuxe, Beau Monde Traveler and other lifestyle publications.