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Luxury wellness vacations are tourism's hottest new trend

In the post-pandemic world, everyone from film stars to artists, corporate leaders to younger travellers, are booking wellness holidays seeking detox, personal growth or holistic cures. And retreats and hotels are stepping in offering everything from gourmet wellness meals to shaman healing and guided meditations

Published: Jun 16, 2023 10:38:26 AM IST
Updated: Jun 16, 2023 04:43:41 PM IST

Luxury wellness vacations are tourism's hottest new trendSix Senses Vana, set in a 21 acre Sal forest reserve, is a hidden gem centred around Ayurvedic living Image: Courtesy Six Senses Vana

It’s a luminous night in Dehradun, the lights of Mussoorie glitter from far above. Closer by, meditative notes of a flute recital celebrating the full moon fill the air, as we sit down to a gourmet—but mindful—meal by the pool.
Dainty origami cranes decorate the table, an ikebana arrangement stands at the side, there’s kintsugi crockery (where broken plates and bowls are mended with fine gold) and on the menu is makizushi with veggies grown in a garden onsite, fresh spinach ohitashi, fish teriyaki using local Himalayan catch, as well as an antioxidant-rich matcha pudding. It’s food that may have come from a top restaurant in Delhi or Mumbai. But hasn’t. Here, at Six Senses Vana, it is part of my wellness diet.

The retreat, in the heart of the Himalayas, approximates ascetic Indian forest ashrams of yore—albeit in a super luxe way. Yogic and ayurvedic therapies, detox, both physical and digital (no phone or screen allowed outside individual rooms), Sowa Rigpa (the ancient Tibetan medicinal system), meditation (including a musical ‘raag therapy’) are all available to consumers who’ve checked out of their harried city lives and checked into this break.

There’s energy cleansing via acupuncture or reflexology, a device tracks your sleep, there’s the latest ‘bio hack’, equipment to refresh tired calf muscles, and then there’s clean, sustainable gastronomy, no processed foods, rather ingredients that are organic, wholesome, and apt to balance the doshas (ayurvedic humours) should you like.
Ever since entrepreneur Veer Singh, son of Max Group founder Analjit Singh, with interests in organic farming, music, design and Buddhism, founded this sanctuary in 2014, Vana has been a hidden gem for all sorts of wellness seekers: From glamorous film stars to sought-after artists, corporate leaders and intrepid solo travellers like yours truly. Melinda Gates is said to have visited, as did artist Jatin Das, who during a burst of creativity, left behind some half-finished canvasses. There are high-fliers from the Middle East, or Germany, and Russia—all of whom have come repeatedly via word of mouth for the retreat never advertised itself.
Now, with a recent alliance with global wellness hospitality major Six Senses last autumn, Vana is readying to grow its audience. It’s the right moment seemingly, as post-pandemic wellness tourism by younger, high spending Indians takes off, and CEOs, creative entrepreneurs, professionals are all checking in.
“We believe the pandemic gave everyone a chance to reset both professional and personal goals. We do see a trend of young professionals including CEOs expressing the need and willingness for wellness-oriented time off,” says general manager Jaspreet Singh, “Some have even travelled in groups of four to six of senior leadership teams working two to three hours in a day, while the balance time is spent on their individual wellness journeys,” he adds.

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Vana is not alone in seeing this trend. In the post pandemic world, luxury wellness vacations are tourism’s hottest new trend. Even in Indian metros, go to any social event, and the conversation is likely to touch upon various wellness vacays—not just at Vana but also at a clutch of other highly-rated, relatively newer retreats that combine a “serious” approach to wellness, and are set amid stunning nature, with luxury hospitality. Destinations like SwaSwara in Gokarna, an hour’s drive from Goa, Prakriti Shakti in the scenic Panchalimedu hills of Kerala, and Atmantan in Mulshi near Pune are all sought after by affluent Indians who are lately taking one wellness holiday annually, where their physical, mental and spiritual health is prioritised.
“Wellness vacays do seem to be the new ‘let’s go busted in Thailand’,” quips Mini Mathur, actor and TV host, “but I welcome the trend because instead of focussing on excess, these focus on health and peace.” Mathur, along with her husband, film director Kabir Khan, likes to go on these breaks because “I am a big believer in jumpstarts… it is a break to focus on your body’s rhythms, and you get back feeling recharged and motivated,” she says.

Luxury wellness vacations are tourism's hottest new trendVana has more than 1700 global, low cal recipes made from organic vegetables grown on site, eschewing processed ingredients Image: Courtesy Six Senses Vana

More than green juice

While India has been a top destination for medical tourism, including (affordable) ayurvedic getaways, these traditionally attracted more international travellers and more women in their 50s and 60s. Post pandemic, these patterns are shifting. There is a dramatic surge in younger domestic travellers, both men and women, seeking detox, or holistic cures for everything from gut afflictions to anger, anxiety, and poor sleep. Many are also seeking personal growth, having had moments of existentialist crisis during the pandemic and its aftermath.
A 2023 travel forecast by the online agency Booking.com said that 70 per cent of Indian travellers were “seeking to recenter the mind, while 59 per cent are keen on a health hiatus to focus on physical and mental health”. This ties in with the larger global trend of an explosion in wellness travel, post 2020. The Global Wellness Institute has valued wellness tourism at USD 817 billion in 2022 and estimates that it will exceed USD 7 trillion by 2025. Meanwhile, a 2021 American Express consumer survey found a whopping 76 per cent respondents intending to travel to improve their well-being. 

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Hotels in global capitals are responding to this aspiration by upping wellness offerings in unconventional ways. Shaman healing, breathwork and guided meditations are now part of many upscale hotel offerings. At the Aman New York that recently unveiled a three-night ‘Journey to peace’ programme, guided meditation by monks is accompanied by an exploration of five topics including healing anger and letting go of attachments!
Detox is sought after, but now “younger professionals and CEOs truly understand what it means—digital detox, focussing on quality sleep and adrenal health. So much more than just a green juice and losing a few pounds that make their way back to your waist when you get back home”, says Mark Sands, vice president wellness, Six Senses.

Luxury wellness vacations are tourism's hottest new trendWater therapies like watsu, musical ragas, breath work and energy cleanses are sought out by millennials seeking physical, mental and spiritual reset Image: Courtesy Six Senses Vana

Spirituality and Community

Spirituality and a quest to look inwards are equally driving millennials on these new vacays. Restaurateur Ashish Kapur, 41, who recently went to a retreat in Mount Abu says, “People are searching for happiness, they are realising that the exotic holiday, car, or girlfriend that you flaunt on social media does not lead to it. Earlier, people would begin to ask these questions later in life, but now with so much virtual living, the quest is earlier. The pandemic also threw up loss for many top professionals and entrepreneurs, many companies laid off staff and people tasted failure that no one teaches you to cope with. These retreats teach one to pause and reflect on what is truly important to one.”
A sense of community and bonding with a “tribe with higher vibe” is also what seems to be attracting many to curated getaways. Globally, curated events around personal transformation are now a phenomenon—much like CEOs running marathons or Gen X turks patronising motorsports in the past.
For younger millennials and Gen Z, it’s a different type of community—forgiveness circles on the beaches and jungles of Mexico, immersive immunity boosting holidays with friends and partners, or even ‘conferences’ in scenic locales with inspirational speakers and wellness experts that provide networking on the side. Lifeplugin events in India are gaining a big following, held at hotels in scenic destinations with various wellness experts, coaches and peer interaction leading to ostensibly transformed lives, as a clutch of testimonials on their site tell you.

Luxury wellness vacations are tourism's hottest new trendLuxury wellness retreats like Prakriti Shakti and SwaSwara are attracting younger Indian professionals post pandemic Image: Courtesy CGH Earth


Wellness diets go gourmet

With food and healthy eating prominent like never before, wellness retreats are building in gourmet food experiences into their programmes—while championing sustainability and local tastes. “Earlier, only women would get together to go for these wellness retreats because they complained their husbands did not want regulated diets or objected to lack of distilled alcohol like whisky,” points out Bangalore-based Sumitra Senapaty of the travel group Women on Wanderlust (Wow) aimed at solo women travellers. “Top wellness resorts in the past focussed on international travellers also and not an Indian crowd that wanted room service or beer in the pool,” she says.
Post pandemic, with interest in healthier food at a high, many of these blocks have fallen by the curb. At Vana, chef Naveen, who cooked my Japanese meal, is a Macrobiotics (a plant-based way of eating) researcher who trained in Japanese at Delhi’s Sakura, one of the first Indian restaurants in India to bring classical Japanese dishes to the table two decades ago. Corporate chef Rajesh Sharma meanwhile is an old hospitality veteran, who worked with chefs like Manish Mehrotra, but then took a break to study ayurvedic food that divides each body and ingredients according to doshas and gunas, and is based in seasonality. “We have a bank of almost 1,700 healthy recipes each between 125-175 calories for starters, 225-325 for mains and 100-150 for desserts. In fact, we may have the largest research into low-cal desserts with almost 300 recipes,” he says.
At Prakriti Shakti in Kerala, where the focus is on Naturopathy and raw food diets are prescribed, serious research and investment has been made to plate up even elaborate meals made entirely with raw ingredients. There are techniques and machines to treat vegetables and fruits in ways to extract maximum flavour while retaining nutrients. “While I was there, we had an entire onam sadya made with entirely raw ingredients but it just didn’t seem like it,” says Rakhee Lalvani, former marketing head for Taj hotels in India.

“The most common retreats people enrol for are either detox or to address specific ailments. But younger people are far more open to new diets. Being more health-oriented they try out different diets and are even exposed to raw food, which is very popular and advocated in today’s world,” says Mridula Jose, vice president marketing, CGH Earth that runs Prakriti Shakti.
Whatever be your reason to seek it out, a wellness vacay is pretty much en vogue this summer.

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