Stressed Britons opt for 'well-being' breaks

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Indy Lifestyle Online

From yoga retreats in Thailand to seaweed wraps in Torquay, Britons are alleviating the stress of the 21st century by going on "well-being" holidays to bolster body and mind.

Research shows more people are taking breaks at home and abroad to seek relaxation, beauty treatments or cosmetic surgery, while fewer opt for the traditional beach holiday.

Increasingly popular vacation activities include weight-loss treatments, detox diets, mineral and thermal skin treatments and massage and cosmetic surgery such as breast enlargement.

In a report published today, Mintel estimates that £135m was spent on health and wellness holidays last year and forecasts spending will double by 2011. Stressed people are seeking a change from traditional "fly-and-flop" breaks, and becoming more adventurous, said Richard Cope, a market analyst.

"Once upon a time most holidaymakers were happy to return home with a suntan and a bottle of the local hooch," he said. "In the future they will be bringing back a greater sense of well-being, a major life-shift, a new look and maybe even some new body parts."

Healthy eating, nutrition, exercise, beauty, relaxation and pampering are becoming more important to people and many want to incorporate those elements into holidays, the research found.

A poll revealed that 32 per cent of people - 16 million adults - had enjoyed spas or saunas while on holiday in the past year. Some 23 per cent, 10 million, had a massage. "Medical tourism" is the most popular activity in the health and wellness holiday sector. Faced with expensive treatment on their local high street or Harley Street, people are travelling to eastern Europe for cheap dental work or to places such as Singapore, where cosmetic surgery can be half the cost it is in Britain. Medical tourism is worth £60m a year.

Breaks within the UK are worth £50m. Overseas breaks, which tend to be longer and more therapeutic, are worth £25m. "This sector is a thriving industry as a growing number of well-off baby boomers take their health needs into their own hands and pursue the elixir of eternal youth," Mr Cope commented.

Mintel pointed out that while specialist operators have experienced annual sales growth of 20 per cent, the mass market has been "slow to develop" wellness breaks, with only one of the big four operators publishing a spa supplement.

One small operator in London, Wellbeing Escapes, said the industry had moved on from the days of health farms, which were "not a pleasant experience".

The managing director, Stella Photi, said her business catered for many single people wishing to jet off for a week of relaxation. "We come across a lot of customers who have incredibly hectic lifestyles and who may have a family but feel they want to have some time for themselves, some time for pampering. And I don't think people feel guilty about that," she said.

A spokesperson for the Association of British Travel Agents said the move towards health breaks was part of a wider trend for more varied holidays. "People are ... going off and doing all kinds of things, whether that's trekking or conservation work; generally being a lot more active than going to the beach," she said.

"Holidaymakers have become more demanding about destination and what they do on their holidays."

Destination detox

* Beauty: Experts across the world make a living from smoothing the skins of holidaymakers. For £1,480, a seven-night Tunisian detox will rejuvenate with massage and facial treatments in a "beauty centre" comprising six cabins.

* Slimming: Health farms such as Champneys offer the chance to shed the pounds, financial and physical, in a stately home. Abroad, you can fly to Spain for seven days at a "weight-loss academy" for £1,750.

* Therapy: Most British hotelsofferthree-day "spa weekends" for as little as £120. In Asia, Britons can perfect yoga positions or experience the Ayurveda system. A seven-night detox in a Himalayan mountain retreat costs £2,045.

* Surgery: Fixing crooked teeth in eastern Europe costs a fraction of the NHS price. Cosmetic surgery is cheaper too. A face-lift in Poland costs £1,950 compared with £6,750 in the UK.

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