A growing middle class, evolving consumer attitudes about health and travel, and rising entrepreneurship are among the trends bolstering the global business of wellness, according to economists who’ve just quantified that business as a “mega-industry,” worth $3.4 trillion.
In a new report from the nonprofit research firm SRI International for the annual Global Spa & Wellness Summit, the wellness industry is defined as distinct from—and larger than—the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Components of the “global wellness economy” include: spas and hot springs around the world, wellness tourism (not the same thing as medical tourism; think yoga retreats, not tummy tucks), alternative medicine, gyms and health clubs, nutritional supplements, and more.
Wellness tourism is growing faster than regular tourism, says SRI consultant Ophelia Yeung, and it’s “overwhelmingly domestic.” People don’t have to go far for therapeutic spa treatments or dips in mineral springs, especially as those are popping up in more and more places. The number of spa facilities in the world (105, 591.. yeah, the research is that specific) has increased by about 7% each year since 2007, and a small but growing proportion of those are built around natural thermal or mineral springs.
As consumers become more familiar with wellness-related services, they also become more discerning, says Yeung, and favor “natural, traditional,” time-tested experiences—the kind one finds at places like Iceland’s Blue Lagoon or a resort in Beppu, Japan. There are 6,500 thermal or mineral springs that have been made into spas, and an additional 19,500 that do not count as spas because they only offer bathing opportunities, according to SRI.