With 202.7 million wellness tourisms trips taken annually, European travellers make up the biggest (39%) part of the global wellness tourism market. Although Asia is the preferred destination for most European wellness travellers, the ‘in-house’ market in Europe has taken a big leap in recent years too. Since the regional number of trips is expected to grow with 7.3% annually through 2017, the European wellness travel market offers ample opportunities for the yoga industry.
Next to the number of trips taken, Europeans will soon enough perhaps lead the global wellness tourism market in terms of expenditures: in 2014, they accounted for 39% of worldwide spendings, ranking just behind North America (41%).
Healthy, trendy and spiritual: the widely popular yoga industry currently is the 4th fastest growing industry in the United States, and its popularity keeps on climbing. Yoga retreats fall under the bigger definition of wellness tourism. With an estimated number of 300 million people practicing yoga worldwide, the United Nations have even endorsed June 21st as International Yoga Day. But what exactly is so appealing about yoga, and what caused this immense growth?
“By proclaiming 21 June as the International Day of Yoga, the General Assembly has recognized the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations.”
The history of Modern Yoga
The name Yoga is derived from Sanskrit, literally meaning ‘divine union.’ The exact definition of yoga can take on many forms, since there currently are more than 50 forms of yoga that are practiced by people around the world. The International Yoga Federation describes yoga as being ‘a psycho-physical spiritual science, art and philosophy of life.’ While the more than 50 forms of present-day yoga are predominantly practiced either at home or in mass group classes in gyms and retreat centers, traditional yoga greatly involved a strong bond between the student and the teacher. Since the 19th century, Indian practices, and with this yoga, have been spreading throughout the West. While Henry Thoreau allegedly was the first yogi in America, the movement did not start to massively grow until the 1970s, when fitness and exercise started to become more popular.
Reasons for Practicing Yoga
The health benefits of yoga are frequently mentioned as being the main reasons for practicing at least some form of yoga, according to Retreat Relax Release, with many physicians and other healthcare providers actively advising yoga to their patients. With 8 in 10 Americans feeling stressed about work, the spiritual factor that yoga brings is one of the key factors to its success in today’s busy society. Decreased stress is just one of the benefits of yoga that contributes to a healthier lifestyle: other studies have reported yoga to help with depression, back pain, diabetes, the menopause, and many other pains and problems people frequently experience today. Yoga is even said to contribute to the healing of trauma’s and mental disorders. When asking yogis about their personal reasons for practicing yoga, improving physical flexibility as well as weight loss are often mentioned as top reasons for engaging in the lifestyle.
One of the main factors contributing to the immense popularity of yoga is the spreading of the lifestyle through existing yogis. Yoga is a lifestyle and can be a form of religion to many people, and yogis are passionate about the subject, Today, the ever-growing popularity of a healthy lifestyle (this in itself caused by various aspects of present-day life and modern society) greatly contributes to the popularity of yoga. Many celebrities such as Madonna and Jennifer Aniston are avid yoga enthusiasts, and actively advocate its benefits on social media. This online exposure is also frequently seen among the ‘ordinary’ people, with yoga teachers and students spreading the lifestyle online. The profile of the average yoga enthusiast also greatly contributes to the immense growth of the industry. With 44% of people who practice yoga in the United States earning more than $ 75,000 per year, the average yogi has money to spend. Other general characteristics that contribute to the willingness and ability to invest in yoga are include that a majority of people practicing yoga in the United States are at least college-educated (78%) and female (82%). This partially explains the enormous increase in sales for brands such as Lululemon (yoga pants) and Youphoria. Yogis in the United States currently spend an average of $ 500 per year on yoga: next to classes, the biggest amount of this goes to clothing, books, dvds, as well as healthier food.
The immense growth of the yoga business has brought about emergences of new business models. With the average yogi having a fair amount of money to spend in a globalizing world, yoga does not only become a part of many people’s daily lives, but also of their weekends and holidays. Festivals such as Wanderlust, where one can practice yoga as well as party and dance, and yoga retreat centers, both locally as well as in exotic locations, have become a popular destination for many yogis. Currently, wellness tourism represents a portion of 14% of global tourism, and is expected to grow to 16% by 2017.
Wellness retreats specifically targeted at yogis can be found in many price categories and in many corners of the world, from Costa Rica to Nicaragua and from Thailand to Cambodia. Almost without exception, they are founded by people who are yoga-enthusiasts themselves. For the busy person, many retreats offer programs that cover just a weekend, or even a couple of hours. These small commitments boost attendance and help spread the word of yoga as a convenient and stress-free way of engaging in spiritual activity. While retreat programs thus differ in terms of group size, length of stay and additional activities offered, the idea behind them largely is the same. By enabling like-minded people to experience personal growth, to establish connections and to experience a sometimes life-changing time of unplugging and recharging, the business of yoga retreats continues to grow more popular.
In terms of the number of domestic wellness tourism trips taken, it is interesting to see how the largest European countries (in terms of the total number of trips taken) are on par with the total number of trips taken in the United States.
With the wellness tourism sector increasingly growing, it is interesting to note the expenditures per capita for both European countries as well as for the United States. With a total population of 81 million in 2012, German nationals accounted for over 42 billion dollars on wellness tourism expenditures. The United States, on the other hand, has spent $167 billion on this kind of tourism in the same year, against a population of 313 million people. While the per capita spendings of these countries do not show a large difference for 2012, it will be interesting to see whether the Germans, and with them consumers from other European countries, will soon outnumber the United States in terms of expenditures on wellness tourism per capita. With the number of wellness tourism trips within Europe on the rise, this seems to be only a matter of time.
This news piece was prepared by Brenda Stigter, who is a 26-year old aspiring writer and entrepreneur, who recently graduated from an international law programme. As a native Dutch speaker who currently lives in Toronto, Canada, she enjoys exploring different cultures and backgrounds.