Beyond the popular Greek islands and the charming villages, the wonderful Greek food and the alternative tourism options attracting millions of visitors to Greece each year, a new trend is taking hold: wellness.

And while Greek tourism authorities continue to draw up strategies and policies to diversify the tourism product and spread arrivals throughout the year, retreat tourism is not only bringing in the cash but also promoting Greece globally through events that attract some of the world’s most prominent wellness leaders.

To further understand the importance of retreats for both tourism and promotion, To Vima English Edition caught up with Niki Smirni, the founder and mindful leader at Travelgems, one of Europe’s leading retreat planners.

Making Travel Meaningful

Wellness tourism is definitely one of the fastest growing segments in the world. Particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic and in these increasingly stressful times, all the more people are prioritizing wellbeing and seeking travel experiences that can offer authenticity, cultural immersion, recreation, health benefits, and human interaction.

According to the non-profit Global Wellness Institute (GWI), the wellness tourism industry is set to grow by about 21% by 2025. As for the trend? Market insiders expect people to take more wellness-focused trips and spend lots more on wellness treatments.

Indicatively, in 2022 wellness tourists spent 175% more per trip than the average domestic tourist. At the same time, a recent study carried out by travel and tourism intelligence provider Mabrian found a newly emerging shift from traditional relaxation activities to “active wellness”.

At the same time, according to luxury experts Virtuoso, of those booking wellness-centered trips, almost half are willing to pay $5,000 to $10,000 per trip.

Translated into dollars, the wellness tourism market is set to grow from $651 billion in 2022 to $1.4 trillion in 2027. And GWI says the number of wellness trips globally are expected to reach 1.63 trillion by 2027 up from 819 million in 2022.

“Wellness travel represents a profound shift in the way we approach self-exploration. It’s about cultivating a deeper understanding of oneself and the world,” says Smirni, adding that people are now realizing that the most precious thing they can give themselves is time.

“People realize that when they are fully present, they are kinder with themselves and with loved ones. Wellness retreats are the best way to pursue this,” she says.

To create this “presence”, Travelgems retreats are designed around three concepts: education and learning as defined by Greek philosopher Socrates; evolution; and integration or incorporating lessons learned into everyday life.

“In simple words, people come to a retreat to learn new things, evolve through interaction with the people they meet and to immerse into local culture and nature. Returning home, they try to integrate their newfound knowledge and fully embrace the rhythm of the daily grind,” Smirni tells To Vima English Edition.

Greece Taking Centerstage for Wellness Offerings

Leading the way in terms of demand for wellness trips is the US market, Mexico, and Europe.

It is also the leading destination for inbound international wellness tourism with some 7.1 million international inbound trips. Overall, the wellness tourism segment in North America is set to reach an estimated value of $1,784.05 billion by 2032.

So how is Greece getting a piece of the pie?

“Synergies between renowned leaders and Greek partners have been instrumental in shaping retreat tourism in Greece, placing the country centerstage when it comes to offering holistic experiences that nourish the body, mind, and soul,” explains Smirni.

One of the projects she takes great pride in is bringing one of the world’s most influential spiritual teachers and a pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, Deepak Chopra, to Greece.
Last year, Chopra, one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people, led a retreat at W Costa Navarino and this year he is back in Athens to run a longevity retreat organized by Travelgems at Cape Sounio on the Athenian Riviera.

Additionally, adds Smirni, NYTimes best-selling authors like Madeline Miller and Natalie Haynes or famous fitness experts such as Elise Joan are promoting Greece as a wellness destination through retreats.
“This is the ultimate promotion, and we feel proud to be a part of it,” she adds.

Deepak Chopra, one of the world’s most influential spiritual teachers and a pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, in Greece last year leading a wellbeing retreat at W Costa Navarino in the Peloponnese.
Credit: Travelgems

Greece More Than a Destination; A Holistic Experience

“Wellness tourism is all about balance,” says Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) President Angela Gerekou, who goes on to use the Ancient Greek term “Ef Zin” to describe what travelers today are looking for.

The concept – which is the Greek philosophy of “a life well-lived” – goes beyond wellness, she tells To Vima English Edition; it embodies all the aspects of wellbeing that people are now hoping to find through travel: physical, mental and spiritual growth. “And Greece can satisfy all three,” she says.

For Smirni, Greece’s winning attribute is its “luminosity”.

Gerekou and Smirni agree that in addition to its unique landscapes, history, culture, hospitality, and the famous Greek diet, Greece also has a legacy of wellness traditions to draw inspiration from.

“But more than that,” Smirni tells To Vima English Edition, “it’s the energy that actively contributes to the healing journey. In essence, Greece is not just a destination; it’s a holistic experience; one that nourishes the body and rejuvenates the spirit.”

Credit: Travelgems

Greece Next Wellbeing Travel Spot?

“Definitely yes,” says Gerekou, adding that the growing interest is evident in the number of international hotel groups investing in Greece as more local hoteliers incorporate such experiences into their offerings.

At the same time, Smirni underlines the importance of attention to detail and prioritizing quality over quantity. “Greece should remain steadfast in its commitment to quality over quantity. It is very important to preserve the integrity of the country’s offerings, to protect our history, nature, and our people. That is the only way we will continue to captivate and enchant travelers from around the world,” she says.

“This is the way we need to promote Greece’s wellness retreats. Price will never be our winning point, having to compete with other, larger, markets in this such as Asia,” she adds.

Greece Wellness Retreats Here to Stay

No doubt about it, post-COVID, all the more people especially younger generations, are choosing wellness and self-care. According to the GWI 2024 trends, demand is rising for wellness holidays with kids, “recovery” retreats attracting people with busy lifestyles; mental wellness and self-care; wellness travel for men mostly Millennials and Gen Z; combining travel with health and diagnostic assessments; Ιmmersive art and wellness experiences; celebrating cultural traditions and healing – search for authentic, transformative experiences; sleep tourism and therapies; and even menopause travel.

Smirni adds that she sees travelers seeking ways to connect with others and disconnect with technology. Top trends for her include digital detox retreats with technology-free zones and sessions, destination immersion retreats which promote local culture and offerings while supporting local communities, wellness sabbaticals, community empowerment, and yoga retreats.

An updated list released by the US-based Wellness Tourism Association (WTA), a global network for DMOs, accommodation facilities, tour operators, travel advisors, wellness practitioners, and media, sets the standards that destinations should possess if they wish to tap into the new segment. Greece meets all of them.