The travel industry is an early innovator in creating value for customers. They were also one of the first to enter the Transformational Economy.
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I must travel a lot as an international keynote speaker. Going from country to country, hotel to hotel, I always pay attention to the same things: Will I sleep comfortably? Can I keep my standard biorhythm? How is my day loaded? Would it be possible to work out, or at least to walk around? Do I have to hurry? When can I have a resting point in my day? Is there a sauna or a gym nearby and so forth… I don't want travelling to be disrupting my life. I want to avoid exhausting myself. But ideally, I even want to be able to take care of myself and enjoy the moment. Maybe you know that feeling as well?
This newsletter is about these questions: or, in other words, the aspirations to manage your health when travelling. It’s also about how the travel industry has understood this early on, leading the way for other sectors to be inspired about.
When thinking of the most innovative sectors, the travel industry may not immediately come to mind. But the travel industry has always been one of the early adopters. Many may not have noticed it because we mainly tend to link innovation with implementing new technological solutions. But while it is an avid user of technological innovations, I believe the travel industry is innovative for the way it provides value for its customers.
People have always attached great importance to travelling. When we travel for pleasure, we often take a much-needed break from work once or twice a year. When we travel for work, we wish not to encounter (any more) difficulties. In both cases, we critically evaluate the value we receive for our investments. That's why the travel industry has always been an early adopter of new ways of creating value. Take holidays, for example. Travel was merely about getting out of the house 70 years ago. People rented another place; a house, or a caravan where they could spend some time. But in the 1960s, the industry realized people wanted more. Travel companies like Club Med invented all-in-formulas. The focus switched from renting a place to stay to receiving endless services during your stay. It created more value. In the 1990s, another shift occurred as people were keen on experiencing new things. Holidays were increasingly focused on whiskey-tasting tours in the Scottish countryside, horseback riding in the Ardèche or hiking in Iceland. Such experiences provided more value than endless cocktail drinking alongside a pool.
The travel industry was one of the first to create more customer value by shifting from product to service to customer experience. And we've seen other industries following suit some years after. In the past decade, we've seen the travel industry innovate value creation again, focusing on customer transformations. It's no longer about a tremendous or enjoyable experience. Instead, tourists look for experiences that make them feel better, healthier or happier. More and more people climb Kilimanjaro, meet and stay with indigenous people, clean beaches, or simply go back to nature. The purpose of travel is to come back home and feel transformed. It's the ultimate sensation people strive for because it makes them feel the best possible version of themselves. Here again, other industries follow the tone set by the travel industry. Just like all companies today are focused on experiences, it's safe to say that all of them will make a shift towards customer transformations as well. This is what the transformational economy is all about.
Three main transformations
This transformative travel trend is manifested by an increased focus on the three major transformations: sustainable travel that is 'free of guilt', tours focused on getting to know diversity, and trips focused on health & self-care. The latter is an ever-growing phenomenon and yet another proof of the Healthusiasm movement.
The link between travel and health & self-care might not be surprising. For many, both are essential in our lives. Health & happiness is a top priority in our lives, and so is being able to travel. It does make perfect sense to add some health & wellness to a trip (i.e. wellness travel) or even to add some travel to managing your health (i.e. medical tourism). In this newsletter, I'll cover both of these segments of Transformative Travel.
1. Wellness travel
Travelling to improve one's health is not new. Already 5000 years ago, people travelled to specific places in India to practise Yoga and Ayurvedic medicine. Also, in Ancient Rome, people visited particular destinations to relax or even heal themselves. There were hot springs in Mesopotamia and iron-rich mineral springs in Switzerland that travellers frequented.
In the previous millennium, with the arrival of all-in holidays, travel stood for excess. You would drink and eat more. Sometimes parties or laziness took over any habit we may have built in our regular lives. Today, however, personal health & well-being is a top priority, even when travelling. People now want to improve their health on the road, not deteriorate it. We want to continue our healthy lifestyles, and wellness routines while away from home or build new ones to take home with us. Wellness travel makes up approximately 20% of Travel expenditures. But the market is bound to grow by 300% between 2020 and 2025 and attain a value of 1.3 trillion euros as it appeals to all ages, sexes or social classes (not just the wealthy). Research by American Express (Sept, 2021) showed that 68% of travellers will plan trips to improve their mental well-being. And more than half of US travellers believe that travel should be a healing experience (Expedia, 2021).
Primary wellness travellers
When discussing Wellness Travel, one might immediately think about those who primarily travel to focus on wellness-centred experiences or destinations, like dedicated retreats or health-focused activities. But the Global Wellness Institute calculated that this group only makes up 14% of Wellness Travel today. It is of course the segment with some exciting and extensive trends, from dedicated retreats to wellness labs and wellness sabbaticals.
There exist a retreat for any flavour of life. A yoga retreat might not be unknown to you. But have you heard of retreats where all activities, nutrition and sleep are based on your DNA or gut health? Maybe you want to combine the calmness of yoga with dancing in clubs in Ibiza? Perhaps you are looking for spirituality, silence, digital detox, religion, divorce recovery, immunity, burnout, sobriety, tantra or fertility. Well, there is a retreat for that. Kokululu in Hawaii is a retreat for life after a serious diagnosis such as chronic illness, pain or cancer. Zulal in Qatar is designed to improve sleep quality through better nutrition, physical activity, and spa treatments. To take care of your menopause, you can spend time in Foxhill Manor in Worcestershire.
Some hotels or resorts standardly integrate such programs into their activities, buildings and even the entire organization of your stay. The Hilton in Beverly Hills provides a biohacking human upgrade facility next to their pool. It’s presented as health heaven that offers over 15 customized high-tech experiences to power you up, trim you down, rejuvenate your appearance, and amplify your brain power. Playa Viva in Mexico provides every visitor with a holistic health coach who designs your personalized well-being programme. Other hotels, like the Peninsula Hotels in New York, have a digital wellness portal as part of their Life Lived Best initiative. The portal serves as a health concierge with whom you interact about every step of your wellness journey.
A recent trend for primary wellness travellers is the Wellness sabbatical (or working vacations). This type of wellness travel aims to strike a balance between the pursuit of wellness and the need to work. It usually lasts nearly a month, neatly plays into the recent burnout spike and benefits from the possibility of working from ‘home’. Amble offers one-month destination sabbaticals in national parks across the US. Gather is a month-long program for those who want to work remotely in Israel while experiencing the communal Kibbutz lifestyle. Kamalaya, located in Thailand, schedules treatments, healing and personal growth therapies according to your working schedule. The tech giant Salesforce even built a work-and-wellness centre in California for its 70.000 employees.
Secondary wellness travellers
Beyond those mega health-focused initiatives, we see that wellness activities are increasingly being incorporated into otherwise standard business or leisure trips as well. Due to the increased emphasis on health, people are looking for ways to continue taking better care of themselves when they travel. This makes up 86% of the Wellness travel expenditures and goes way beyond salads and neck rubs. Airlines, hotels, restaurants and other parts of the travel industry include specific health-focused solutions in their standard offering.
Travelling can be very exhausting or stressful. Airlines have taken note and are now presenting health solutions before or during flights. Fuji Airways provides on-ground healthy diners so that passengers do not have to skip a meal when they prefer to sleep on the plane. Etihad Airways calls their cabin crew Wellness Ambassadors. They are devoted to providing comfort and relief. Meditation company Headspace collaborates with ten airlines to bring in-flight exercises to help passengers relax, get some sleep, and learn a new skill for life. Qantas is now even building “well-being zones” into their future aircrafts, complete with on-screen fitness content, healthy snacks, and a hydration station.
Also, hotels have jumped on the bandwagon of presenting health solutions to their guests. Marriott hotels in New York have ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos available in their rooms as part of the hotel’s Bedtime Stories program. This drug-free mental massage helps their guests to sleep better. They also provide an app, TakeCare Level30, to motivate people to come together and compete in exercises aimed at improving health and happiness. At The Standard in London, guests exchange their mobile phones for a Polaroid camera during their stay. They can also order an ice batch on the balcony, while IV drips and Peleton bikes can be foreseen in their rooms.
2. Medical tourism
Of course, it’s pleasant and rewarding to add some health & self-care to your travel. But how amazing could it be to add some travel to your medical treatment? Medical tourism has long been considered as “travelling to access affordable healthcare in another country”. But this definition is long overdue. The main reason for medical travel is the search for the most advanced technology (40%) or better-quality care for necessary procedures (32%), according to a study conducted by McKinsey and Company already 15 years ago. Lower cost of care was only mentioned in 15% of the cases.
In recent years, medical tourism has become significantly more professional and is increasingly recognized as a valuable healthcare option. Countries like Canada or cities like Dusseldorf boost their image and economy with a focus on medical tourism. While prestigious medical centres, including Harvard, Boston University, the Cleveland Clinic, and Johns Hopkins, are increasingly looking to establish hospitals - or partnerships with hospitals - in other countries. There are currently over 930 hospitals and medical departments globally accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI), indicating that foreign hospitals guarantee identical (or better) hygiene, safety and reputation as those at home.
A growing number of professional organizations also support this growth in medical tourism. The Medical Tourism Index is, for example, a neutral assessment by Medicaltourism.com to indicate the attractiveness of countries for medical travel. They extensively describe why and how a country or city is an excellent destination for medical tourism. The International Medical Travel Journal, then again, celebrates outstanding achievements with its Medical Travel Awards. Hospitals are then recognized as “destination of the year”, “cancer centre of the year”, or even “best customer experience. This feels more like travel than healthcare, but I can’t argue against this.
Travel agencies, from start-ups to governmental organizations, also play an increasing role in medical tourism. Singapore recently established the International Patient Service Centers (IPSCs) that act as medical travel agencies and mediate between international patients and Singaporean healthcare providers. Meditourz is a start-up that brings patients from a particular country to foreign hospitals. This collaboration is based on an exclusive agreement with the different hospitals. Healthtrip, on the other hand, earns a commission from the hospitals on every patient they bring in. In comparison, Qunomedical is an online platform that enables patients to find and compare quotes for various medical procedures from accredited clinics worldwide.
Medical tourism is growing at a fast pace. But it looks impossible to estimate the current size of this market. Numbers that indicate the market value for medical tourism seem to vary from 11 billion (Fortune Business) to 439 billion (NewtonX), suggesting that it is hard to measure once it leaves a national healthcare system. Nevertheless, this trend will not stop anytime soon as it will build further on the trend of Wellness Travel as well. People want to travel to undergo the best possible medical treatment or surgery. But having a better overall experience, including the chance to relax and recover in a great environment, becomes ever essential. Who doesn’t want to undergo surgery in the morning and be on an idyllic Adriatic island to recover in the afternoon?