When Erin Reilly wanted to make her best friend’s bachelorette trip to Asheville a perfect experience, she looked for a unique way to tour the city. Asheville Wellness Tours offered the best way to experience the holistic side of Asheville, mixed with history and local shopping, she says.
“I thought it would be a great way to explore downtown Asheville and experience different wellness techniques and most of all relax with a group of friends,” says Reilly. “This tour is different from other Asheville tours because you get a hands-on experience while exploring what makes Asheville so unique — its history dedicated to wellness and personal care. Instead of just going on a bus tour that takes you around town, we were able to actually taste honey, smell essential oils and listen to music.”
As wellness travel specialists for the Asheville area, local yoga instructor Kim Drye and tour guide Nicole Will help tourists navigate the wellness experiences Asheville has to offer. Drye created Asheville Wellness Tours after friends and acquaintances asked for her recommendations of yoga classes, herb store, massage, acupuncture, accommodations and breweries. Will provided the expertise of nearly 20 years in the tourism industry — a quarter of them crafting yoga retreats in Ecuador.
Drye and Will offer a curated experience of bachelorette weekends, special events in town or two-hour walking tours that highlight Asheville businesses promoting wellness.
“The town of Asheville started growing during the age of tuberculosis, when visitors would come for the clean mountain air, temperate climate and healthy lifestyle,” says Will, who offers snippets of history, architectural insights and interesting stories throughout the walking tour. “This wellness aspect remained an element of our community since the growth of Asheville began. For us, it’s a way to allow visitors to experience our city through that lens.”
Wellness tourism as a niche market has been growing, says Will, noting that the experience of an outdoor mecca or “foodie” group is a fun way to explore Asheville, especially when a wellness perspective is added.
The Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau reports that, on average, 29,800 people visit Buncombe County each day and spend $5.2 million. The main reason given for an overnight leisure trip is visiting friends and family. The second most frequent reason is touring, which increased from 22 percent to 25 percent between 2015 and 2016.
Since Drye and Will began the business this past year, 90 percent of Asheville Wellness Tours participants are overnight visitors, with two to eight people per tour and two to four tours per week. The busy season, Drye notes, is primarily April to November.
The top-two activities on an overnight trip to Asheville, as reported by the bureau, are shopping and landmark or historic site visitation. Asheville Wellness Tours hits the nail on the head.
The walking tour merges shopping, touring and viewing historical landmarks, all within two hours. It includes visits to local businesses that have an educational wellness component, such as the Herbiary, where staff offer a demonstration and presentation about how to discern the purity and uses of essential oils (and participants to get a sample to take home). At the Bee Charmer, participants hear a talk about the benefits of honey, such as using wildflower honey for allergies, and they get a sampling of the different types of honey sold in the store.
Other tour stops include tea sampling at Dobra Tea, juice sampling at Green Sage, organic lotion and soap education at C & Co., and kombucha tasting at the Buchi Bar. Tours end with a short and accessible yoga practice in Pack Square led by the tour guides, who are also local yoga instructors. Add-on options include a visit to the Asheville Salt Cave, massage or acupuncture with a local practitioner, or sound healing at Skinny Beats.
“The goal is to connect visitors to the wellness community we have here. We have been carefully networking … for skilled and experienced practitioners to offer their services for those who come to town looking for wellness experiences but not sure where to start,” says Drye, who also curates tailored experiences.
“We are developing alliances within the community,” she explains, noting that the businesses visited on the tours are happy with the arrangement.
Asheville Wellness Tours also offer special events, including Yoga on the Mountain, a combination hiking and yoga adventure, and Sip & Stretch, a yoga class followed by a ginger beer at local brewery Ginger’s Revenge. “We consider the service we offer to be a complement to Asheville’s reputation as a food/beer scene and outdoor playground,” says Drye.
“Something that happened organically is the bachelorette parties,” says Will. “[Participants] are wanting an alternative to the boozy party scene of Vegas. … These groups want to do the PubCycle and eat good food, but they want something more.” Will and Drye offer a weekend that is customized to the group’s interest — including group tarot reading, essential oil anointing ceremonies and massages at an Airbnb.
“I would recommend this tour to anyone interested in the history of Asheville, but especially to anyone interested in meditation, yoga or any other activity where you focus on the well-being of body and soul,” says Reilly. “My favorite part of the tour was definitely the honey tasting and our tour guide Nicole’s wonderful recommendations for places to eat and visit in the city.”
“Most participants are wanting to experience downtown or get a glimpse of the city through the wellness perspective,” says Drye. “We personally have a love for the town deeply rooted in community. We want to spread the concept of wellness in general as an awareness practice and … a personal journey. There are many ways to create a sense of well-being in your own life, and these are just some of the ways.”