Meditation Retreats

Local businesses tap into burgeoning travel category

A yoga session is held at the Chateau du Sureau in Oakhurst – another example of wellness tourism. This travel category is projected to reach $ 1.2 trillion by 2027. Photo by Visit Yosemite.

published April 27, 2021 – 2:51 p.m.
Written by Ravyn Cullor

With access to national parks, wine, and fresh food, the San Joaquin Valley could be a hotspot for travelers looking to slow down, cool off, and devote themselves to spa tourism.

The wellness tourism market is very different from the medical tourism market, said Samuel Lankford, chairman of the Fresno State Department of Recreation. While medical tourism attracts patients who travel for treatment and hospital stays, wellness tourism relates to stress relief, mindfulness, and proper eating and exercise.

The global wellness tourism market in 2020 was $ 735.8 billion. according to Statistabut is expected to reach $ 1.2 trillion by 2027.

All regions of the United States have something to offer spa tourists, Lankford said, but different areas are harnessing travelers’ motivation. For example, Hawaii’s wellness tourism industry tends to offer meditation and yoga, and Arizona focuses on those who enjoy the desert.

“There may be a market in the valley, but we really are the gateway to the natural resources and mountains,” said Lankford. “For our wineries there are opportunities for this tourism with some unique accommodations, food and drink, as well as programs for yoga, cooking, organic farming, etc.”

While the North American market, which consists of the USA and Canada, lagged behind Europe and the Asia-Pacific region in terms of total wellness trips, it resulted in an amount of 241.7 billion US dollars in 2017. according to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI).

Visitors to the area have increasingly sought wellness activities and experiences in the valley, said Brooke Smith, public relations director for Visit Yosemite Madera County.

According to GWI, 18 US states promoted spa tourism in 2018, more than twice as much as in 2013, and mainly focused in the west on access to natural hot springs and spas. More current industry data will be available in November.

The definition of wellness varies from visitor to visitor, Smith said, which enables Visit Yosemite to direct tourists to a variety of businesses and resources, including walks, spas, wineries, guided tours, and meditation retreats.

Susan Madden, meditation teacher and owner of the Oakhurst-based Mindful Café, has had fun meditation retreats since 2016 and was expanded into guided “forest bathing” in September 2020. Forest bathing, based on the Japanese Shinrin-Yoku practice, is a meditation practice Madden said it focuses on the qualities of being in nature.

While people can do it on their own, Madden said that a guided session is often more fulfilling.

“I think people are really looking for ways to get away from it all,” Madden said. “I’m offering something really unique and it’s something that gets a lot of word of mouth because I can explain it, but you don’t really understand it until you experience it.”

As Madden began offering forest bathing as an extension of her mediation practice, she saw demand for activities that provide a range of mental and physical benefits, obtained through both meditation and the outdoors.

In contrast to hiking, Madden said that bathing in the forest isn’t particularly physical, which is why families and people with physical disabilities book their guided meditations as well.

The Wonder Valley Ranch Resort and Conference Center near Sanger, which is open for conferences, weddings, parties, and other events, has also found a place in the local wellness tourism market by providing space for meditation retreats, said Event Sales Manager Barbara Dillon.

While the facility doesn’t conduct the retreats itself, the size, location, and natural appeal of the property make them ideally positioned to host wellness retreats with a range of activities from speaking conventions to yoga and paddle boarding retreats, Dillon said.

Wonder Valley is capable of hosting 15 to 20 wellness retreats a year, Dillon said. She said it was valuable to Wonder Valley both to venture further into the wellness market and to have such openly positive events happening on their property.

Research into tourism is limited, but Fresno State’s Lankford believes COVID-19 has likely improved the wellness tourism market. The engagement in wellness tourism is a strong diversification area for travel in the Central Valley, he said.

“Businesses and government agencies need to get involved in programs that help people stay a few days longer when they travel,” Lankford said. “(Valley companies could) find ways to extend visits with strong programs that focus on healthy eating, healthy living, cooking, organic horticulture, etc.”

Smith said with restaurants opening and restrictions lifted, she has a happy prospect of engaging in wellness tourism this summer.

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