Hard as it may be to believe, Delhi-based Manish Goel’s idea of a relaxing holiday is getting up at 4 am, twisting like a pretzel on a yoga mat, and eating simple vegetarian fare. At least once a year, he takes a week off from his busy schedule as founder and CEO of a California-based green process solutions company, to attend a yoga retreat.
“I have 12-hour workdays. Sometimes the only breaks I take are to eat and sleep,” says the 44-year-old. “Yoga helps me get my energy levels up, and the peace and quiet of the retreat works as a great destresser.” He has attended retreats in Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir and Kerala over the past three years.
Even the no-meat, no-fish and no-alcohol rules feel like a welcome break. “The food is simple but I like it,” Goel says. “It’s a change from the rich stuff I end up eating on most working days. The clean air and weight loss are added perks.”
Goel is among thousands who have made wellness one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors in India, projected to cross $18 billion by 2020. Globally, wellness tourism is a $440 billion market — more than one in seven of all tourism dollars spent — within the $3.2 trillion global tourism industry and is set to grow to $680 billion by 2017, according to an estimate by SRI International, a US-based independent research centre.
Dose of wellness
With India’s share of the wellness pie growing, the union tourism ministry has plans to ride the wave via its Medical and Wellness Tourism Promotion Board, set up in September with an initial corpus of Rs 2 crore, to promote wellness and yoga breaks.
“There’s growing interest in wellness and rejuvenation,” says Philippa Kaye, head of product development at the Delhi-based Creative travel agency. “While ayurveda retreats in Kerala are big with the Russians, the Germans, Belgian, French and Americans haven’t taken to it. They prefer spa and yoga retreats.”
Many tourists plan their travels specifically around wellness activities — spas, health resorts, yoga retreats — for those whom wellness is not the primary purpose of travel but seek these — account for 85% of all wellness trips and expenditure.
“These retreats are gaining popularity among Indians, foreigners and NRIs,” says Anurav Rane, CEO of PlanMyMedicalTrip.com. “Yoga holidays in the past year or so have caught on. We have seen a 150% rise in the wellness and yoga travel segment over the past year, and 75% of our total travellers were foreigners, 10% NRIs and 15% Indians.” Rejuvenation breaks are typically at least a week long, leading to tourists spending more time than average at one place. In the ayurveda and yoga hub of Kerala, for example, the average length of stay is 18 days, highest across states in India, up from 14.1 days a few years ago.
The cost varies widely depending on the accommodation opted for, basic weekly room and board are upwards of
Rs 70,000 per person, excluding travel. And they’re finding a growing number of takers among time-stressed and overworked urbanites.
Mumbai-based Henna Nathani, 36, an audio-visual editor, has attended four yoga and wellness retreats over the past two years. Three were with Anam Cara, a three-year-old company that organises such retreats in the scenic hills of Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh and along the beaches of Goa, Maharashtra and the Andamans.
“Conventional touristy vacations can be as hectic as routine life, making you want a vacation to recover from your break,” Nathani says. “At yoga retreats, you work on yourself and bond with loved ones. About a year ago, my husband, five-year-old son and I attended a four-day retreat on the banks of the Kabini river near Bangalore. We practised yoga, baked cupcakes and attended art therapy sessions. By the end, I felt we had bonded in a way that we couldn’t have amid the mayhem of city life.”
For American Susan Kee Thulin, the love affair with yoga began on her first trip to India, for a retreat in Kerala in 2005. She is now a yoga teacher in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and takes regular breaks from her busy life to reconnect with herself and nature.
“Travelling and connecting with like-minded people helps one come back refreshed and more connected to oneself,” says Thulin, who has been on retreats in Bali, Malaysia, Kerala and Kashmir.
India offers the widest range of yoga retreats and breaks, says Hari Nair, founder of travel information portal HolidayIQ.
“Travel has become an imperative part of revitalising and healing, and more Indians are seeking vacations as a way to improve health and happiness,” adds Daniel D’souza, head of sales for India and NRI markets at SOTC Travel.