Wellness Tourism in the United States

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The U.S. is by far the largest wellness tourism market today, with $167.1 billion in combined international and domestic expenditures—roughly four times greater than the #2 nation, Germany, at $42.2 billion.

The U.S. also ranks #1 (by large margins) for total wellness tourism trips taken, at 141.4 million, followed by Germany at 49.3 million and Japan at 34.4 million. The U.S. (known for a populace with very low rates of passport ownership) also ranks #2 for outbound wellness travelers, at 8 million trips, trailing (much smaller) Germany at 19.4 million.

The U.S. is the top destination for inbound international wellness tourism travel, with 7.1 million international, inbound trips, with Europe and high-income Asian countries serving as key inbound source markets.

According to the study, for Americans and Canadians, the most accessible and attractive wellness tourism options are short, domestic trips, weekend trips, and “city breaks” (e.g., spa weekends, weekend yoga retreats, etc.). Weeklong trips to destination spas and long-haul overseas trips purely for wellness are largely limited to a small, predominantly wealthy segment of travelers.

And the United States will see the largest growth in wellness trips (adding 46.1 million more trips by 2017) but a slower 5.8% annual growth rate than the global average of 9.9%, and well below the double-digit growth rates for so many developing nations. Future growth in demand for wellness services—and travel for wellness—in the U.S. may be impacted by healthcare legislation and the extent to which insurers will pay for preventive and wellness‐related services. The Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect in 2014, requires U.S. insurers to cover (at no cost) a long list of preventive services; however, the impact of this change in terms of Americans traveling for such purposes remains to be seen.

Other Niche Tourism Categories

Niche tourism or special interest tourism can be divided into several broad categories one of which is wellness tourism. The following represent other top niche tourism segments and their economic impact:

  • Cultural      Tourism: $800 billion to $1.1 trillion
  • Culinary      Tourism: $350 billion to $550 billion
  • Eco      / Sustainable Tourism: $325 billion to $480 billion
  • Sports      Tourism: $250 billion to $375 billion

Research Scope and Methodology: The analysis and data represented in The Global Wellness Tourism Economy report are based on extensive primary and secondary research conducted by SRI International from January to August 2013. Research included a review of recent literature and reports on wellness, wellness tourism, and the tourism industry in general, along with telephone interviews with spa, wellness and tourism stakeholders around the world.

*Figures include both international/inbound wellness tourism arrivals and domestic wellness tourism trips, as well both primary purpose and secondary purpose wellness tourism, and represent the overall increase from 2012 to 2017. Countries shown in this table were chosen by SRI based upon a combination of the country’s overall increase in the # of arrivals / trips and the growth rate. Estimates by SRI International, based on general travel and tourism growth projections from Euromonitor.

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