My recent presentation at the Idaho Tourism Conference was covered by Eye on Sun Valley (see link below story). While the reporter got my name and title wrong, and altered the last quote, I leave the story largely unedited for your reading pleasure.
Imagine having your doctor write a prescription for you to take a walk in the woods! That could be the future of tourism in Sun Valley.
Sun Valley and the Gem State are uniquely positioned to capitalize on wellness tourism, which is “huge” worldwide and the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry, according to a wellness travel reporter for Skift.
|Photo by Laura Powell
"What you have here is a must for the wellness traveler,” Laurel Powell told those attending the annual Idaho Conference on Recreation and Tourism held this past week at Sun Valley Resort. “You have quiet and opportunity for interaction with nature in a day when most Americans live in urban areas without much access to nature. What you have is unparalleled, particularly in the Lower 48.”
Outdoor recreation is a $427.2 billion business, and it’s growing more than twice as fast as the overall economy, increasing 16 percent versus the 7.5 percent that the overall economy grew between 2012 and 2017. Nature-based recreation is growing even faster—up to 44 percent for some states. Idaho is one of the states experiencing some of the largest growth in nature-based recreation.
Even spas that have traditionally incorporated everything inside are now offering outdoor activities and bringing in elements from the outdoors inside with lobby fountains and natural colors in their design.
“We think of wellness travel as spas and massages, but it’s becoming more than that,” Powell said. “Everyone’s disconnected so they’re looking to boost their psychological well-being.”
How cool would yoga or meditation, she asked, under the stars in Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve be? Sun Valley and other Idaho towns could easily become centers for forest bathing, a practice developed in Japan that involves meditative guided walks through the woods engaging all the senses from sight to smell.
|Forest bathing is known as “shinrin-yoku,” which means “taking in the forest.”
Photo by Karen Bossick
Trees and plants emit aromas called phytoncides designed to protect them from harmful insects, animals and microbes. Those and other smells are believed to help lower blood pressure, while boosting the immune system, improving sleep, lowering anxiety and reducing pain in forest bathers. It can be done in winter, as well as summer, spring and fall, Powell said. Add-ons like fly-fishing outings could offer forest bathers reason to stay longer.
|Photo by Laura Powell
Some countries are also attracting people with kneipping, which involves walking along water trails or through puddles to stimulate blood flow and strengthen the immune system. “As far as I know, no one is offering this yet in the United States—it’s very unique,” said Powell.
Some places, such as Newfoundland and Finland, are selling isolation.
“Boise is supposed to be the most isolated urban area in the United States. That’s not a bad thing—being isolated and in the middle of nowhere is increasingly becoming a big draw,” Powell said. “People in Los Angeles and urban centers where they’re so rushed are craving that.”
Some tourism campaigns are even selling the sounds of silence. A 400-year-old monastery in Quebec City, for instance, hosts a week-long silence retreat where attendees join one another in a silent breakfast and happy hour is held in the chapel.
Honing in on Hot Springs
Hot springs were once a big draw for the Wood River Valley when Guyer Hot Springs and a few hot springs near Hailey were going full bore. Traveling to hot springs for wellness is making a comeback.
The inaugural hot springs conference was held last year and a hot springs association was organized last month, Powell said.
Hot springs are being augmented with restaurants and opportunities for artists to show and sell their art to elevate the experience. Tiny homes and Airstream trailers are offering alternative accommodations in places with no hotels. The experience can be enhanced with such things as bike tours to the hot springs, Powell said.
Colorado has established a 720-mile Historic Hot Springs Loop that takes geothermal bathers through Ouray, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Pagosa Springs, Buena Vista and Salida.
“The No. 1 search on the Colorado tourist website in recent years has been hot springs,” Powell said. “People won’t go in the middle of nowhere for one hot spring, but put them together and, all of a sudden, towns that never got visitors are seeing tourism.”
Even urban areas are trying to position themselves as wellness destinations, according to Powell. Beverly Hills, California, for instance, recently kicked off a new “City of Wellth” initiative to showcase its wellness options. (LP—This was not part of the talk, but taken from an article I wrote for Skift two years ago).
The campaign kicked off with meditation and other events led by wellness guru Deepak Chopra. It includes weekly public Walks with the Mayor and more restaurant choices for vegans, vegetarians, paleo dieters and locavores.
“It helps to tie local foods into community wellness programs,” Powell said. “It doesn’t feel very authentic when you go on a wellness vacation and all you see are Burger Kings.”