- Many people in the US are looking closer to home for vacations this year to avoid lengthy travel during the pandemic.
- Resorts and hotels are cashing in on guests’ restlessness from being stuck at home and desire for a safe escape by launching socially distanced and wellness-related amenities.
- Guests at Amangiri, a celebrity-favorite resort in Canyon Point, Utah, can buy out a private pavilion, spend the afternoon on a hike or horseback ride, and relax with spa services like massages and crystal sound baths.
- Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles, California offers daylong retreats where locals can enjoy smoothies by the pool, and destress with yoga and mindfulness classes.
- While many of these resorts do impose restrictions like mask-wearing, they say guests don’t complain, and seem happy to be somewhere new where they can still feel safe.
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While wellness tourism has been on the rise in the US for the last several years, it’s hit its stride this year as the country navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. While other facets of the tourism industry struggle to move forward, some resorts are seeing substantially higher booking rates compared to last year, with the most critical factors for success being driveability, wellness-centric amenities, and the perceived safety provided by remote destinations.
Sundara Inn & Spa in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin found itself in this sweet spot.
With a few programming changes, it’s become a go-to for travelers in search of relaxation, time in nature, and “pandemic pampering.”
General manager John Morris says the resort has never been busier as it attracts drive-market travelers from cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Madison.
“Every day I’m running into someone that was going to fly to Alaska or Arizona or Europe, and they decided to come here instead,” Morris told Business Insider. “That’s what we’re experiencing. Our overnight occupancy has been running at 95% to 100% since May 28. We’re typically busy in the summers, but it’s now at least 10 to 15 occupancy points higher.”
The hotel’s secluded location within an 80-acre pine forest has expansive space for social distancing, which has allowed the hotel to forgo any capacity limitations, and features outdoor amenities like its 2.2-mile hiking trail, 18-hole championship golf course, and private villas.
CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa, which is an hour north of Phoenix in Carefree, Arizona, has also welcomed an increased number of guests.
Many visitors are seeking out the resort’s established wellness-focused programming, which it was already specialized in prior to the pandemic.
“Our spa is almost full every day,” said Amanda Grant, chief wellness officer of CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa. “Our classes, particularly our outdoor classes, are showing participation rates even higher than when we closed. Also, we have people booking private healing experiences at a rate three times higher than where we were before we closed. There’s an energy of readiness that we certainly are feeling.”
The resort has always attracted visitors with its high-end, wellness-inspired amenities including health-conscious restaurants, a state-of-the-art gym, and forward-thinking spa services like aqua therapy.
Now, even while it’s limiting its capacity to just 80 rooms, the resort is seeing an increased demand in new age healing treatments that are rapidly shifting into the mainstream, such as chakra balancing, guided meditations, and sound healing under the stars, with one on one experiences starting at $125.
CIVANA and other resorts are also leveraging the popularity of outdoor activities, which are generally regarded as safer in the COVID-19 era. They’ve added additional patio dining options, outdoor fitness classes like resort-led hikes, and even poolside spa services.
Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley, California is another luxury destination moving activities outdoors to bring guests peace of mind during the pandemic.
With all rooms accessible by a private outdoor entrance and a newly online-only check-in process the hotel has been able to provide distance for its guests without limiting capacity, and has even seen occupancy rates at above 90%.
Additionally, the resort is gaining positive feedback from its visitors for its outdoor massages and facials taking place in new, secluded outdoor spaces with services starting at $175 for 50 minutes.
“Our guests were searching for an escape from all of the intensity and to be able to just let go — if only for 50 or 80 minutes,” said Gina Bolton, director of spa and retail operations at Bernardus Lodge & Spa. “Our spa therapists felt the calling to care for people, knowing that they are capable of strengthening the spirit. When we reopened our doors, we could not ignore the palpable sigh of relief from our guests. We were reassuring them — that things can still be simple, that people can still be connected and that their own self-care is still important.”
Celebrity-touted Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah is also seeing the popularity of private and outdoor experiences.
The resort is limiting its capacity and offering its luxurious Camp Sarika private pavilions for group and family buy-outs starting at $45,000 per night, allowing for the feeling of a secluded escape t— which is in high demand for celebrations.
The resort offers guided activities like hiking, horseback riding, hot air baloon rides, and helicopter flights over the Utah desert. The spa specializes in restorative beauty treatments, massages, and crystal sound baths.
“Guests are now traveling to make up for lost time; to celebrate missed milestones and to regain time spent separated from friends and loved ones,” said general manager Julien Surget. “From families that were kept apart during shelter-in-place orders to groups of friends that are travelling in their ‘pods,’ reconnecting with others is now very important to our guests.”
Salishan Coastal Lodge in Gleneden Beach, Oregon is catering to remote workers with an extended-stay package.
They offer a discounted “Work From Learn From” package that starts at $159 a night with Wi-Fi accessible workspaces, and a 30-day extended stay option for those who aren’t quite ready to go home.
“With many individuals and families now working and learning remotely, we are seeing an increase in visitors who are seeking longer-term stays at Salishan Coastal Lodge,” said cofounder and CEO of SCP Hospitality Ken Cruse. “Visitors are drawn to the lodge’s natural setting on the spectacular Oregon Coast where they feel safe and socially distant.”
The approach seems to be working, with the hotel reporting that its bookings are up 85% compared to last fall and nightly occupancy rates up 15%, even with Salishan Coastal Lodge limiting hotel capacity to 100 people.
And while some hotels are finding success in offering longer stays, others are attracting visitors with the opposite approach, creating “day-cation” packages that allow locals to enjoy vacation-like amenities such as pool access and spa services without the commitment or risk that comes with booking a room.
The Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles, California recently launched new Pilates, yoga, sound baths, and mindfulness classes for hotel guests and nearby LA residents.
It’s also offering daylong retreats that include on-brand perks such as discounted valet parking, a reserved poolside lounge chair, Wi-Fi, and a complimentary smoothie starting at just $35.
“With the convention center closed and little to no international travel this year, our guest make-up has dramatically changed,” said Hotel Figueroa managing director Connie Wang. “More than ever, we have become a sanctuary for locals looking to escape for the weekend to recharge. Our current guests come to relax and practice wellness in a safe, socially-distanced environment. Listening to our Southern Californian guests in particular, we also realized not everybody wants to opt for a full overnight stay.”
And while health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind amidst the unprecedented global pandemic, pathogens and risk of infection are largely absent from the minds of guests who are seeking escape through these wellness sanctuaries.
As resorts diligently implement safety measures — from mask policies and purifying HEPA air filters to temperature checks and high-tech sanitation practices — their visitors can enjoy their stays with peace of mind.
“I’ve been very surprised by how little conversation there needs to really be about it (COVID-19 policies),” said Grant. “They feel comfortable. If they’re going to come back in the world again, they feel CIVANA is a safe place to do it.”