Featured Hotels Destinations Move Work Events Videos

Work-related stress sees health and wellbeing holidays boom

An increase in awareness of work-related stress is encouraging tourists to consider more closely the prospect of wellness tourism

Mounting workplace pressures have made employees more aware of the need to book holidays that allow them to unwind
Mounting workplace pressures have made employees more aware of the need to book holidays that allow them to unwind 

“The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work”: this is how the Health and Safety Executive defines work-related stress, which, according to studies, affects near enough every individual at some point or another in their life. Chances are, therefore, that you’ve suffered the effects of work-related stress, whether manifested in mental, physical or emotional form. And in a climate where workers are being asked to manage increasingly heavy loads and juggle greater numbers of tasks than ever before, people are beginning to pay much closer attention to their health and wellbeing.

The largest survey of its kind, carried out by Harris Interactive last year, found that 80 percent of American workers could identify at least one thing that causes stress in the workplace, with the most-cited causes being low pay, long commutes and unreasonable workloads. “More companies are hiring, but workers are still weary and stressed out from years of a troubled economy that has brought about longer hours, layoffs and budget cuts”, says John Swartz, Regional Director of Career Services at Everest College. “Americans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but anxiety among employees is rooted into our working lives, and it is important to understand new and better ways of coping with the pressure.”

The growth of wellness tourism has been fuelled by a growing number of well-minded consumers whose wish it is to incorporate healthy habits and activities into
their holiday

Sadly, the scale of the problem is an inescapable consequence of the economic downturn, and while the effects are detrimental for both workplace productivity and morale, the situation has given rise to benefits in unexpected places. Discussion on the subject of workplace stress means that there is far greater awareness about the issues caused, as well as what measures – from the routine to the obscure – can be taken to address the problem.

Wellness tourism
Those in the wellness tourism industry have spoken at length about the role of workplace stress in bringing leading business names to consider spa and wellness destinations as a welcome retreat away from the office. The Global Spa and Wellness Economy Monitor report, put together by the Global Wellness Institute in September 2014, shows that the wellness economy came to $3.4trn in 2013 and will grow considerably more in the years ahead. Speaking more specifically on wellness tourism, the sector is among the fastest growing in the industry, with revenues up 12.7 percent and growth 74 percent greater than global tourism in 2013.

“The wellness economy has been growing rapidly in recent years because of converging global currents that defy temporary disruptions: population aging, widespread economic prosperity in emerging economies, the rise of lifestyle diseases associated with sedentary and stressful modern living, and the failure of the conventional healthcare paradigm to help people prevent illness”, according to the report. “As more and more consumers take preventive measures to maintain good mind-body health, prevent diseases, and to age well as they live longer, the demand for wellness industry products and services will only increase.”

Culture of wellness
Defined as “travel associated with the pursuit of one’s personal well-being”, the growth of wellness tourism has been fuelled by a growing number of well-minded consumers whose wish it is to incorporate healthy habits and activities into their holiday. Nowhere else is this more apparent than among high earners, whose jobs are typically some of the most stressful, and for whom a holiday can cause more disruptions than it can benefits. Often the longest-lasting effects of a holiday come by way of jet lag, irregular meals and lack of exercise, and in a world where time off is precious, executives can ill afford to return in worse shape than when they left.

With over 50 countries accommodating for the segment to date, the focus in the years ahead will fall on building and maintaining services and facilities – if only to keep pace with the rate at which the industry is growing.

The growth of wellness tourism, therefore, is inextricably linked to the rise of corporate travel, as well-travelled high flyers seek a retreat away from the all too familiar suit and tie stopover. The Global Business Travel Association said in 2014 that it expected spending on global business travel to climb seven percent year-on-year, owing primarily to the growing stature of the Asian market in particular. And, having ended the previous year in better condition than many predicted, business travel continues to show exciting promise for the future. In a world where business trips are becoming increasingly common, wellness tourism provides an ideal counterpoint to the stresses associated with corporate travel. The growth of wellness tourism in many ways mirrors the focus on corporate responsibility in the business world, so it’s little surprise that both the wellness and business travel categories are thriving in kind.

Emerging trends
However, those travelling to improve their physical and emotional wellbeing are far from excluded to business travellers, and the Global Spa and Wellness Economy Monitor report separates tourists into two distinct categories: primary and secondary wellness travellers. Whereas primary wellness travellers – those who dedicate an entire trip to wellness – are on the up, at 87 percent of all wellness tourism trips, the secondary category still appears to be one to watch. The added fact that wellness travellers tend to be wealthier than the average tourist also means that those in the travel and tourism industry are today fighting for a share of what is quickly becoming a lucrative market.

Looking at the rate at which the industry is expanding and the typical profile of a wellness tourist, it’s fair to say that there has been a discernible shift in consumer attitudes. Millions more holidaymakers are now beginning to consider health and wellbeing when choosing a location, though this culture of responsibility is not necessarily contained to tourism – it can clearly be seen in the corporate world, where such a focus on societal responsibility has resulted in consumers piling pressure on companies to reduce carbon emissions and contribute to the communities in which they operate.

Five locations to visit:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is thought by SRI International to be the fastest growing region for wellness tourism, having posted growth in the region of 186 percent through 2007 to 2013 – something due largely to growth in South Africa, Kenya and Mauritius. A reported $3.2bn was spent on wellness tourism activities in 2013, up 57 percent on the previous year, and the region played host to an impressive 4.2 million related trips, representing a yearly increase of 90 percent.


The US is the first, and still the largest, destination in the world for wellness tourism, and millions of trips are made every year to the nation’s many attractions, despite the explosion of the Middle East and Africa onto the world stage. A longstanding focus on developing key areas of the wellness tourism industry should be seen as proof for less than mature countries that the market can be a valuable resource in mitigating health problems and driving economic growth.


India has long been renowned for its wellness tourism opportunities and was last year the fastest growing destination in the category the world over. Whereas the US market grew by approximately six percent in 2013, India’s equivalent rate ran well into double-digit territory, at 22 percent. With many of the country’s major sites centring on mindfulness, meditation and relaxation, India is a sanctuary for those seeking a refuge away from work-related stress and unhealthy habits.


Figures cited at the Global Spa and Wellness Summit showed that no other region matched up to Europe in terms of wellness tourism trips made in 2013. In that year, six of the leading 10 destinations are on the European continent, and – with 49.3 million trips made and $42.2bn spent – Germany sat at the head of the pack. Experts claim, however, that the lion’s share of Europe’s future growth will be fuelled by Eastern Europe.


Thailand is frequently recognised for its quality and affordability when it comes to wellness tourism, and the country enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a market leader. The focus on wellness is so widespread that spa facilities can be found in near enough every mid-price and upward hotel, and many are renowned for both good value and service. With countless facilities to pick from, the number of wellness tourists choosing Thailand is forecast to increase further still in the years ahead.

Current issue