John Daly: How the tourism of wellness promises to be a business tonic

On a weekend when Ireland and the world normally adorns itself in a proud and enthusiastic St Patrick’s Day personality, it is peculiar to instead encounter empty streets and social restrictions.
John Daly: How the tourism of wellness promises to be a business tonic

On a weekend when Ireland and the world normally adorns itself in a proud and enthusiastic St Patrick’s Day personality, it is peculiar to instead encounter empty streets and social restrictions.

Hundreds of adventure racers from around Ireland took part in Gaelforce West on Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in June last year; the adventure sports sector in Ireland has successfully carved out a growing niche for thousands of participants. 	 Picture: Martin Kalvaster
Hundreds of adventure racers from around Ireland took part in Gaelforce West on Croagh Patrick in County Mayo in June last year; the adventure sports sector in Ireland has successfully carved out a growing niche for thousands of participants. Picture: Martin Kalvaster

Yet, regardless of how protracted the Covid-19 precautions become, the tourist industry will still look to better times later in the year when things have, hopefully, returned to business as usual.

It is the nature of the tourist trade to morph and change to meet the demands of changed circumstances — an agility the Irish industry has demonstrated continually over the past 50 years.

I count my own holiday plans as part of this transformation, having just booked a 10-day cycling vacation around Connemara and the Great Western Greenway in Mayo next September.

How times have changed — it’s seems like only yesterday I’d have outlined a debauched trawl of bars and nightclubs along the Costa del Sol.

Wellness, mindfulness and sustainability are fast becoming bywords in the international tourist trade, as our holiday habits change for a different world.

According to a recent report from travel association ABTA, 40% of vacationers revealed that the sustainability credentials of their travel provider are an important factor when booking a holiday — up from 24% in 2014.

Responsible tourism has gone mainstream in recent years, particularly as a growing public consciousness highlights the impact of visitors on local communities and the environment.

Research shows consumers are increasingly conscious of the positive influence they can have through their holiday booking choices, and are becoming more mindful of the actions they take.

Wellness tourism is now worth an estimated €600bn globally, growing twice as fast as general tourism.

In response, travel companies are increasingly catering to the demand for wellness holidays, offering new programmes which seek to alleviate stress by focusing on mindfulness and nutrition, allied with physical and mental wellbeing.

By 2022 it is predicted that 1.2 billion wellness trips will be taken globally each year.

Physical fitness is an important draw for holidaymakers who want to focus on wellness, with two-thirds of people planning activities such as yoga, pilates and nature hikes.

Victoria Bacon, ABTA’s director of brand and business development, notes how travel companies are increasingly catering to people who want to focus on their wellbeing when away — either incorporating it into their holiday or taking a dedicated wellness trip.

“From adventure to youth to cruise brands, we have a wide range of members who can ensure holidaymakers get exactly what they want from their trip, such as offering accommodation that has specific facilities or comprehensive wellbeing programmes,” she sys.

Anne Dimon, president of Wellness Tourism Association, says that as more consumers are making healthier decisions in their day-to-day lives, they want to take these new practices and habits with them when they travel.

“Because of our newfound emphasis on ‘self-care’, millennials to boomers are looking to take their wellness lifestyles with them when they travel for business or pleasure. Additionally, in smaller but growing numbers, consumers are looking to use their vacation or holiday time to plan quick or extended getaways with a specific wellness-focus in mind,” Ms Dimon says.

While the global adventure travel market is estimated at €80bn, the sector’s value to the Irish economy is valued at €850m, and growing.

And it is no longer aimed at only the very fit, said the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s director Russell Walters.

“Ten years ago, adventure travel was defined as risky, exciting and might have focused on real hardcore, energetic activities. Today, there’s been a maturing of the market, which, in and of itself, helps to broaden the appeal and broaden the growth of the market,” he says.

In recent years, the adventure sports sector in Ireland has successfully carved out a growing niche for thousands of participants keen to test their stamina in a variety of endurance events tailored to all ages and fitness levels. Set over courses that encompass cycling, mountain running, trail hiking and kayaking, they dot the entire country and operate on a year-round basis.

Throughout the year, fitness options of varying degrees are available at events such as the Moonlight Challenge, Emerald Enduro Series, Race2Glory, Tough Mudder and Gaelforce West, to name but a few from the constantly growing list of activity events.

One of the most demanding of these events, the Beast Adventure Race was initially a local 24-hour event set around the varied landscape of Blackwater Castle. Capturing the imaginations of endurance runners across Ireland and the EU, it continued to grow year on year, eventually joining the Adventure Racing European Series.

As its website boldly states: “Now the Beast has grown too big to contain and has broken free. Free to roam the entire island of Ireland as it seeks the best locations and best challenges to push our competitors too their limits. Who knows where the Beast will take us next.”

Similarly, the Tough Mudder is set over courses engineered so that teamwork isn’t just encouraged — it’s required to overcome best-in-class obstacles and adrenaline-packed challenges.

Set over two days at Loughcrew, Co Meath, it attracted 5,000 participants in 2019 to navigate their way through mud infused obstacles such as the Mudderhorn, the Block Ness Monster and the Devils Beard in a teamwork endeavour.

“We tackled all the obstacles as a team, helping our colleagues over and under, through water baths and mud pits, encouraging them on while also trying not to laugh at the epic fails of others attempting them,” says Stephen Keating of Pallas Foods.

Tourism has surely come a long way from its outdated image of lying on a sunbed for two weeks along the Costa del Sol.

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