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Wellness tourism

Ride the wellness wave and make your spa a place guests will travel to

It’s a combination of spa, vacation, and bootcamp in the British Columbia wilderness, but the location is more than eye candy; it’s the setting and the modus operandi for Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat & Health Spa.

This is a new breed of spa, especially in Canada, which strives for the perfect balance of luxury, adventure, and fitness for those looking to supercharge their health and wellness and enjoy a great vacation at the same time.

“There’s been a trend in the vacation world that baby boomers, specifically, are choosing a wellness, health, or recreational vacation over the traditional cruise or mai-tai-on-the-beach vacation,” says Kirkland Shave, Program Director.

Mountain Trek is remote. Located near Nelson, BC, it’s an eight-hour drive from either Calgary or Vancouver, or a one-hour flight, but guests are rewarded with lake views, mountain trails, and a natural setting in which to destress.

“It’s a highly conscious, recreational lifestyle-focused health centre, you could say, as a community. We have our own Chinese medicine school, massage school, art school,” says Shave. “It’s a very unique area in the world, really.”

Call it what you will – destination spa or wellness tourism – the idea of travelling to a spa for an extended stay is catching on in Canada.

The numbers

According to a 2011 report by the Global Spa Summit, Wellness Tourism and Medical Tourism: Where do spas fit?, wellness tourism is new to Canada and didn’t exist at all as recently as a decade ago. Another Global Spa and Wellness Summit report pegs the global wellness tourism market at $2 trillion. The spa sector’s share of that is estimated at $60 billion, playing a leading role with sports, fitness, and outdoor recreation offerings increasingly packaged with spa, wellness, and retreat-based offerings to attract tourists.

This is true for Mountain Trek which offers one- and two-week hiking-based programs which also include yoga, massage, and nutritious food. The program is intimate, with room for 14. Shave says 30 to 40 per cent of clients are returning guests, some of whom come for a “reboot” after they’ve had the original experience.

“It helps them go home and make some lifestyle adjustments but because the lifestyle for most corporate, urban people around the world is so intense in terms of sitting, and sedentarism and such long work hours and commute hours, eventually they have to come back to get refreshed and get another lifestyle tip to go home and implement,” he says.

Monica Lumley-Piercey, spa manager at Grail Springs in Bancroft, Ontario, agrees and says spa-goers today are on a mission to detoxify their bodies. They need spas, lifestyle coaches, and spiritual guidance to do it, she adds.

“When a client shows up at Grail Springs, when they’re going to be here for five to seven days, I’m one of the first people they’ll meet with and I’ll do a chakra/aura reading on them and an assessment,” she says. “I can read their chakra and see where there’s any energy blockages. We can strategize and look at what they have planned for the week and I give them tips as far as treatments.”

Hildie Sausik is a clothing designer from Toronto who believes in the Grail Springs program. She was a guest at the spa in 2012 and says, “It was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. It was life changing.”

She stayed at Grail Springs for one week, detoxed, and stayed on a regime for about two months after returning home. “I’m going to come back here every year,” she said this summer at Lady Faire, the spa’s annual five-day conference where she was a vendor. “It’s a place to come to just to rejuvenate and get yourself centred.”

The remote locations and niche markets these spas serve means marketing needs to be creative and the differentiator well-defined. Shave creatively utilizes the web to spread the word about his resort. “Being that we’re in a very far away location, we’re very small, we’re deep in the mountains, we’re a huge, difficult obstacle for people to get to… [guests] find us through social media, Google search, association membership, and we’re legitimized on Trip Advisor.”

It takes focus, says Shave, adding his marketing team is relentless, competing amongst thousands of choices for guests to spend their vacation and health dollars. The solution? Search engine optimization, a simple but powerful tool. “You can be anywhere in the world now and people will find you if you’re doing your marketing through the web correctly,” he says. “You Google ‘fat farm, fitness retreat, yoga retreat, health spa, hiking retreat, hiking vacation,’ all of these different terms, and we’ll be in the top three to five in the world. That’s how a little, tiny spa retreat in the mountains of British Columbia can attract people from New York, Dubai, Houston, or Montreal.”

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