TREND ALERT: SpaFinder Releases State of Spa Travel Stats

Some of the most popular requests I receive as editor of American Spa are those for stats and surveys related to our industry. So, I'm happy to pass along my most recent finding—SpaFinder's fifth-annual State of Spa Travel survey. Released this week, the report from a survey of travel agents shows that travel to hotel, resort, and destination spas rebounded in 2010 and that spa travel is registering significantly bigger gains in 2011. And, for the first time in the survey's history, agents ranked "increased client interest in spa travel specifically for wellness and health" as the number-one emerging trend, with “social spa-ing” (group travel to spas) rated as the second biggest trend, and people traveling solo ranking third. And, surprisingly, despite the gradual economic and travel market recovery, 55% of agents reported that “stay” spas have been more aggressive with deals in 2011 compared to 2010, while another 37% report that the deals are holding firm.

Here are some other key findings:

A Resilient 2010, An Even Better 2011
Forty-six percent of agents reported an increase in their spa travel bookings for full-year 2010, while 34% reported they remained about the same in 2010 compared with 2009. (One in five reported declines last year.) But a significantly more robust 69% of agents predict growth for spa travel in 2011, while another 26% expect bookings to remain about the same in 2011 over 2010. So, 95% report that spa travel bookings will either grow or hold firm this year.

Hottest Trend – Health & Wellness Spa Travel
Travel agents ranked "increased interest in spa travel specifically for wellness & health," i.e., clients seeking spas to better themselves through weight loss, fitness or stress-reduction programs/offerings, as the #1 fastest-growing spa travel trend. Additionally, 79% of agents report clients are more interested in spa vacations with a strong health/wellness component in 2011 over 2010, while another 18% report the trend remains just as strong. This is up significantly from the 52% of agents that reported that health/wellness-focused spa travel was on the rise in 2009. Rounding out the top 5 trends: 2) “social spa-ing,” or friends/groups hitting spas together; 3) people traveling solo to spa destinations; 4) spa travel for younger people (under 40); and 5) increased interest in international spa destinations.

Even More Aggressive Deals in 2011
Despite more bullish reports for travel generally, 55% of agents reported that hotel/resort/destination spas are actually offering more aggressive deals, attractive pricing and value-add packages in 2011 over 2010 – with only 8% seeing any declines in the deals this year.

Price-per-Night Firms at Higher End
At the same time there seems to be some distinct price firming at the higher end of the market. For instance, in both 2009 and 2010, 75% of spa travel booked fell under $299/night, but that dropped to 62% this year. And, while in 2010, only 10% of bookings topped $350/night, this year that jumped to 21%. For 2011, the most commonly booked price-per-night is $250-$299, but 38% of bookings now fall in the $300+ range (up from 29% in 2010).

Baby Boomers Still Rule the “Spa Pool”
Baby Boomers (aged 46-65) remain the age demographic most likely to book spa travel, accounting for 68% of bookings in 2011. But the younger “Gen X” demographic is also a critical client base: Thirty-one percent of bookings this year are coming from those aged 36-45.

Spa Access Remains #1 Traveler Consideration
Agents ranked which offerings/amenities at destinations are most critical to their clients, and spa facilities retained the #1 position for the fifth straight year. The 2011 rankings: 1) spa facilities/access; 2) proximity to beach; 3) sightseeing; 4) nature-based activities, like hiking, etc.; 5) shopping; 6) golf facilities; and 7) skiing access.

“Spas’ ongoing, greatly expanded focus on health, wellness and prevention, rather than mere pampering—combined with their ongoing attractive pricing—have been the two keys to this travel category’s resiliency over these last tough years,” says Susie Ellis, president, SpaFinder, Inc. “And the #1 trend in 2011, what is called ‘wellness tourism,’ shows that a new vacation concept is gaining traction: People are stressed and burned out, and they increasingly want to use their precious vacations to jumpstart healthy lifestyle changes, so they can return from trips feeling revitalized, rather than worse than when they left.”

What do you think about this recent report? Do you agree or disagree with the travel agent trends?

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