Is health the key to a healthier visitor economy?

Wellbeing in the context of tourism is an ambiguous term. What constitutes a wellbeing break is open to debate. And then there’s ‘wellness’ – the half wellbeing, half fitness hybrid from America now in common usage in the UK.

When all’s said and done, the name’s immaterial. If you’re booking a break specifically to maintain or enhance a healthy lifestyle, you’re part of a growing market segment - one that tourism businesses, particularly those in natural or coastal settings, are beginning to exploit. Rightly so, with time-poor, cash-rich city slickers increasingly identifying with the ‘Third Metric’ – the notion that rather than wealth and power, wellbeing is the new metric by which success should be measured.

But this raises an interesting question. Aren’t all holidays supposed to make you feel better? New research commissioned by the NCTA suggests that while just over half of a nationally representative sample agreed that “all holidays are wellbeing holidays”, 76% agreed that “all holidays should enhance wellbeing”.

The problem of disaggregation from ‘normal’ holidays aside, there’s an untapped opportunity in UK coastal destinations for development of health and wellness tourism. Research estimates that 1 in 5 people take at least one dedicated wellness break a year in the UK, where the primary purpose is to take part in activities or use facilities that enhance health and wellbeing. These are particularly popular with the younger demographic (nearly a third of all 18-34 year olds) and those already active in their day to day lives. In London, there’s a lucrative ‘wellness niche’ of around one in 50 who adopt an all-round wellness philosophy whether at home or on holiday.

But how many are heading to the coast for their wellbeing fix? Despite the fact that 59% would instinctively prefer a coastal setting for a dedicated wellness break (versus 37% rural and 4% urban), currently only 8% of all UK coastal trips are dedicated wellness breaks.

With the average median spend of dedicated wellness visitors more than twice that of standard or ‘hedonistic’ trip median spend, and wellness breaks just as likely to be taken in the shoulder season as in high season, the opportunity for coastal visitor economies is hugely significant.

The NCTA is working with Bournemouth University to help businesses harness this opportunity. The Destination FEELGOOD project, funded by the ESRC (Economic & Social Research Council), is working with a network of visitor-facing businesses across Bournemouth and Dorset to inspire innovation in healthy lifestyle products and services for visitors, boosting business performance in the process. Click here to find out more

By Alex Moss