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Fitness industry's 'wave of growth' fueling wellness tourism in Charleston

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Sarah Frick, The Works for Holy City Detox

Sarah Frick, founder of the downtown fitness studio The Works, partnered with the Zero George for its new "Holy City Detox" package. More Charleston-area hotels and resorts are providing packages for travelers seeking wellness experiences. Provided/Zero George Inn

Wellness tourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry, and Charleston-area hotels and resorts are getting in on what some experts think will usurp food as the best hook to attract new bookings.

At the Wentworth Mansion, an "adventure and wellness" package includes a guided kayak or paddleboard tour, a three-course dinner for two and a one-hour yoga session on the mansion's lawn. 

Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms recently started offering a spa package that comes with a 50-minute massage incorporating CBD products. 

And at the Zero George on the peninsula, a wellness package that was rolled out last month combines fitness classes and food and, in an unusual turn, includes a meal delivery service that guests receive after they've returned home from their trip.

The popularity of wellness tourism has been growing at a rapid rate. Worldwide, the category went from a roughly $563 billion market in 2015 to $639 billion in 2017, according to the Global Wellness Institute. That's about a 6.5 percent annual increase in the same time that tourism overall grew by about 3 percent annually. 

Wellness travel is expected to continue expanding at an even faster rate, about 7.5 percent a year, to grow into a $919 billion business by 2022. 

In its most recent report on industry-wide trends, the travel media company Skift dubbed wellness the “new hook in travel marketing.” Whereas food has been the main buzz generator in the travel world during recent years, wellness may take over that role, the report said.

“Food is still a draw, of course, but it better satisfy a wellness craving,” the report said.

Curry Uflacker, marketing director for Easton Porter Group, a hospitality firm that includes the Zero George in Charleston, said the inspiration for the property's new "Holy City Detox" package came from a seminar she attended about the "happiness halo," a concept from the creative firm Lippincott.

According to the concept, happiness "is as much about how we look forward to and look back on an event as it is about the event itself." Successful brands, then, can be associated in consumers' minds with feelings of anticipation and positive memories. 

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That's where the idea for the meal delivery came into play. The home-delivered meals are a way of extending the vacation "afterglow" that travelers experience after a trip, Uflacker said. 

The three-day meal plan is provided by Sakara, an all-organic, plant-based meal delivery service. For users buying meals separate of a special package, a three-day program with breakfast, lunch and dinner each day starts at $239. 

The full "Holy City Detox" starts at $1,089 for a two-night stay and also includes dinner and wine for two at the inn's bar and restaurant and a copy of a cookbook written by Jessica Murnane, a local author and podcast host who writes about wellness and healthy eating.

The fitness component of Zero George's new wellness package is a partnership with The Works, a "sweat studio" on the first floor of the high-end apartment building The Guild in downtown Charleston. 

The boutique gym, which also has a location in Mount Pleasant, combines yoga, meditation and other forms of exercise in its classes. 

Uflacker said she thinks hotel packages that combine fitness and food will become increasingly popular at Charleston-area lodgings as the city's fitness offerings expand. 

"The fitness community is having the next wave of growth in Charleston," Uflacker said. "Travel, fitness, wellness — they're all related." 

The Beach Club, the 92-room boutique hotel at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina in Mount Pleasant also partners with local fitness experts for its wellness program. The Mount Pleasant studio Barre Code has hosted classes at the hotel, and a representative of the organization Girls on the Run has led jogs for guests across the Ravenel Bridge

Beach yoga, "athleisure" pop-up shops selling workout gear and free screenings of nature films have also been part of the hotel's program. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and aerospace. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter and co-hosts the weekly news podcast Understand SC.

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