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7 transformative wellness holidays for 2018 

Check out the latest trends shaping the $760 billion global wellness tourism industry.  

The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) has shared some of the aspects of "transformative" wellness travel discussed at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai this year. 

1.    Destinations creating immersive, story-based, epic wellness journeys

The trend: moving beyond the piecemeal (and sometimes unengaging) approach of classes, treatments and itineraries to a necklace of integrated wellness experiences that cast the traveller-pilgrim in an emotional, multichapter wellness journey or theatrical saga of transformation. 

Example: Six Senses building the first multiproperty wellness circuits from a hospitality brand, like Six Senses Bhutan (opening 2018), where people journey across five lodges, immersed in five pillars of Bhutan's "Gross National Happiness Index".

2.    More performance, music and art mixed with wellness

To spark the brain and emotion, more art, performance, music and literature is being served up with wellness. Examples: at China's stunning new Amanyangun resort, the vision is equal parts culture and wellness, where calligraphy, painting and Kunqu Opera performances take place in the ancient scholars' studio. At the now-being-redesigned Peninsula Hot Springs (AU), people will be able to watch concerts, plays and talks while floating in a vast hot springs amphitheater.

3.    From generic to genetic: Hyperpersonalized wellness based on your DNA and biomarkers

Thanks to a wave of ever-better DNA, personal biomarker, intestinal microbiome and epigenetic testing (targeting genes that can be turned on or off with lifestyle changes), more medical-wellness destinations are deploying new deep-view testing to create specific-only-to-you health, diet, fitness and even skincare roadmaps. This transformative information can be acted on at home via telemedicine.

Example: California's famed Cal-a-Vie spa uses the new, super-comprehensive Wellness FX platform that tests cardiovascular, metabolic, hormonal and nutritional health, then combines that knowledge with consultations and online habit tracking, to create a precision wellness plan based on each person's biology.

4.    Brain hacks and optimization

If wellness destinations have long focused on physical fitness, the coming surge is brain health and optimization – whether serving up eatable and drinkable brain-boosting nootropics or using cutting-edge brain neuromodulation technologies to create that better, less stressed, more focused brain. 

Example: Spain's SHA Wellness Clinic just launched a Brain Photo Modulation program (using transcranial stimulation technology) to improve guests' cognitive function and memory and reduce anxiety and depression.

5.    Extreme mind-over-matter training

Transformative travel is about conquering challenges, even scary ones, and a key trend is wellness travel that goes far beyond lazing on a beach or gently practicing yoga. Wellness warriors are seeking everything from survivor-style fitness challenges to training at the elite athlete level to extreme mind-over-matter workshops to achieve things they never thought possible. 

Examples: BodyHoliday in St. Lucia's WellFit retreats where you train with Olympians and NFL champions or "Ice Man" Wim Hof's destination retreats where the fearless learn a meditation and breathwork program to brave extreme ice and master their immune and autonomic nervous systems. (Extreme ice/cold experiences are generally hot.)

6.    Happiness travel

There's a new science of happiness, like the annual World Happiness Report, that analyzes which nations are the happiest and why. And this new body of happiness research provides key lessons for wellness travel: drive more social connection (loneliness is unhealthy) and more tech disconnection (smartphones have created a depression and anxiety epidemic). With an unhappiness epidemic, suddenly, no-WiFi wellness destinations focused on contemplation, community and deep nature are the most sought after. More happiness (or joy for joy's sake) programming will rise: from eating for happiness, with menus packed with serotonin-boasting foods; more "happy fitness," or exercise that returns us to childlike play.

More governments (from Bhutan to the UAE to Costa Rica) are putting citizen's happiness at the heart of government policy and they will realize that a happy country is a strong tourism brand – as there's insatiable consumer interest in the unique wellness philosophies of the happiest nations: from the Danish concept of "hygge" (coziness and contentment) to Sweden's "lagom" (a life lived in moderation) to Japan's "ikigai" (finding true purpose in life).

7.    Empowering all-women wellness travel 

In this fourth wave of feminism, more destinations and tour companies are focusing on all-women adventures and retreats that are part women's empowerment and part wellness. There's a boom in more challenging all-women's adventure travel, from companies like AdventureWomen, WHOA, Intrepid and Exodus. More "painmoons": emotional healing retreats for women who have suffered loss or grief, like Borgo Ignazia's (Italy) Tarant Program.

Bold new concepts like Finland's SuperShe Island, a membership-based remote island destination where only women roam, immersed in meditation, yoga, sauna, farm-to-table cooking… and female bonding. Mainstream hotels like W are programming around gender equality, with "What She Said" events that mix empowering female speakers with fitness/wellness.

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