A new travel trend targets stressed-out workers who have difficulty unplugging from their jobs.
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CNBC Travel

A new wellness trend lets vacationers do the unthinkable — keep working

What do you get when you mix a wellness holiday with a "workcation"?

Answer: The "wellness sabbatical," an emerging trend that allocates time for sunrise yoga classes, meditation sessions and spa treatments — alongside work emails and Zoom calls.

A small but growing number of resorts are tapping into a market of wellness-minded workers who have difficulty going completely off-grid. The experience may even teach travelers how to balance work, play and well-being after the trip ends. 

Holidays that combine work and wellness

Hilton Head Health, a health and wellness resort on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, introduced a program called WorkWell in late August. It's the resort's first program that specifically includes work hours as part of the itinerary.

"There's a new concept circulating around of a 'wellness sabbatical,'" said Jessica Brantley, the resort's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "The idea is not to completely unplug from work, as that's simply not realistic in today's world."

WorkWell costs $3,800 a week and is designed for a two-week minimum stay.
Courtesy of Hilton Head Health

The program allows guests to work on weight loss and wellness goals without having to take time off the job, said Brantley.

Participants stay in private villas outfitted with high-speed internet and wireless printers. Schedules are flexible, with activities such as aqua fitness classes and motivation lectures planned around peak work hours.

Why unplugging may not be necessary

Switching off may seem impossible right now, said David Rock, CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, an organization that studies neuroscience and business leadership.

"Many employees who still have jobs tend to be in industries where the workload is higher than normal, and people are under pressure to deliver," Rock told CNBC's Global Traveler. "For many of these executives, 2020 has meant an intense increase in workload — under more pressure than ever."

WorkWell includes all meals, snacks and a $500 credit which can be used for cooking classes.
Courtesy of Hilton Head Health

Unplugged retreats are one way to combat burnout, but "an extended period of reduced workload" can also work, he said. Rock cited his own habit of limiting his work to three days a week — with four long weekends — every August.

"This reduced workload, for a whole month, can have long-term benefits in terms of greater space to think big thoughts — and be more possible than chunks of time off," he said. "If the workload is less … and partnered with physical activity like hiking, this could be beneficial and doable, for executives especially."

Decreasing, but not disconnecting

Aidan O'Sullivan, general manager of Ireland's Kilkea Castle, said the hotel's wellness sabbaticals have become more popular "in these strange times."

"We have had a number of guests that have stayed with us with the aim of completing or putting the final touches on a major project," he said. "These guests, in particular, will then follow up with a complete escape from work."

An hour's drive from Dublin, Kilkea Castle hosts executives who stay on the estate to prepare for major work events.
Courtesy of Kilkea Castle

The 12th-century fortress has a weekly package that lets guests spend three days working in the Albatross Suite, which comes with a boardroom webcam, projector and large drop-down screen. The stay includes three meals a day, sessions at the spa and thermal suite, a tennis or golf coaching session, and access to the adjacent Mullaghreelan Wood forest.

Weekly package rates are €2,450 ($2,890) for one person and €3,500 ($4,126) for two.

Sabbaticals for friends and companies

Tonya Leigh, a self-image coach, has taken a wellness sabbatical by herself and with friends.

"While I am a proponent of these sabbaticals myself, I've recently also taken these working trips away with others," she said. "The energy of being surrounded by friends when I was offline allowed me to find a new kind of productivity, and not feel so scheduled in a new space."

Velas Resorts' group takeover program, or "corpcation," is available at its Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta locations.
Courtesy of Velas Resorts

Some hotels are hoping companies get in on the act.

Velas Resorts is inviting companies to rent out two of its Mexico resorts for a "corpcation" for employees. Workers can boost productivity and creativity at morning meditation sessions and afternoon mezcal tastings with total privacy for meetings and team-building for less than $10,000 a night.

Anxiety with (or without) our devices

According to former U.S. President Barack Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, he retreated to Bali for several months to find a peaceful sanctuary "where there were no phones" to finish writing his 1995 memoir "Dreams from my Father."

This was, of course, before mobile phones were in everyone's pockets, before apps and ubiquitous internet, and before "smartphone separation anxiety" was a topic of collegiate study

Now even many adventurist travelers wouldn't leave home without their phones. Those who also need computer monitors and printing services within reach can consider Destination Kohler's "Work Well" program, which launches this November.

Destination Kohler is in eastern Wisconsin near the village of Kohler, home to the global kitchen and bath company.
Matt Addington

Program guests stay at the resort's Inn on Woodlake in rooms outfitted with workstations, meditation chairs, free weights, essential oil diffusers and salt lamps. Room deliveries punctuate the workday: gourmet coffee baskets and breakfast in the mornings, and "clean craft cocktails" from the on-site superfood juicery at happy hour.  

Christine Loose, vice president of lodging and wellness for Kohler, told CNBC she expects the new package to appeal to a younger audience looking to balance work and well-being.

"Throughout the summer months, we saw an increase in both midweek stays and the number of guests with their laptops and journals," she said.

Guests can take unlimited yoga classes — there are more than 74 a week — and spend time hiking, fishing, canoeing or playing golf. There are four courses at the resort, each of them named one of America's Top 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses by "Golf Digest" last year. 

Rates start at $346 per night.