It’s been a sociable and revelatory few weeks. I was very privileged to be invited to the newly opened Woburn Forest Center Parcs in Bedfordshire last week, to see the magnificent new Aqua Sana Spa, now the flagship venue of the group. This 7000m2 masterpiece boasts more than two dozen hot and cold, dry and wet experiences that offer an array of health and wellness benefits that also relax and indulge. Industry veteran, Don Camilleri (Development Director for Center Parcs) who is the visionary behind the Aqua Sana brand, described creating ‘journeys within journeys’ for the newest innovation. That little catch phrase couldn’t have been a more accurate summation of what you experience. Their ‘World of Spa’ seduces as much as it inspires and makes access to such a high level facility both affordable and accessible.
In discussing the stats around the creation of this new, brand matriarch – one stood out to me of particular note. 50% of the guests using Aqua Sana across the Center Parcs group are first time spa users. That is a compelling statistic and one that is significantly, and positively, contributing to the growth in the UK domestic wellness tourism segment. The Aqua Sana product is anchored to pampering and relaxation and Center Parcs stick steadfastly to that message. One might say that Center Parcs epitomizes domestic wellness tourism in the UK – from forest bathing and activities galore to spa relaxation, natural serenity and fabulous food. This experiential combination inspires a draw to optimal life balance that holds little boundary to age, gender or mobility.
At this year’s WTM, the first Wellness Tourism Programme will take place from Tuesday 6th to Thursday 8th November and feature panels that will discuss how wellness tourism is defined, the differences between medical and wellness tourism and how wellness tourism is being integrated into destinations, countries and business’ market positioning.
Education in this segment is key. As I write, I’m travelling back from the Madeira Islands where a wellness tourism education series was initiated this week, by the Madeira Promotion Bureau. The series will inform and demonstrate the opportunities and advantages being seen within the wellness tourism sector and their relevance to the Madeira market. This sort of pro activity showcases a forward thinking awareness and recognition for the reality of both the changing needs of the consumer and the decline in public health. It is impressive. And given the stunning natural beauty, healing sands and waters, also, wholly appropriate.
In a similar vein, last week saw the airing of the ‘Champneys’ documentary showing the wins and challenges of taking an iconic British ‘health spa’ brand through refurbishment whilst simultaneously trying to improve standards.
What I notice most, is the regional and global differences of what resonates with consumers. Many of the guests interviewed in the Champneys documentary were, similarly to the Center Parcs consumer, more ‘indulgence and pampering’ focused whilst, in addition, there were those checking in for more specific therapeutic reasons. In much of Europe, the activities might be the same but the related culture is more health and prevention focused. But bearing in mind, the first time user stats for Aqua Sana (at Center Parcs) alongside climbing first time gym memberships (PURE gyms report 30% of memberships as first time users) and the surge in more healthy eateries, juicing and ‘food as medicine’ concepts, the UK’s acceleration towards a more ‘European’ wellness consciousness, is well underway.