What is wellness tourism?

What is wellness tourism and why is it so popular?

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(Last updated on: 02/03/2022)

Wellness tourism is growing in traction around the world, but what is wellness tourism and why is it becoming so popular? Read on to find out…

What is wellness tourism?

What is wellness tourism?

Wellness tourism is all about travel that is focused on maintaining or improving someone’s wellbeing. This may be physical or mental – there are different types of wellness. Activities may be spiritual, physical or psychological, but they will all promote health in some way.

The growth of wellness tourism

Wellness tourism is growing exponentially. From 2015 to 2017 the wellness tourism market grew from $563bn to $639bn, which is around 6.5% annually. This is double the growth of tourism overall, according to GWI. GWI predicts that this market will soon reach a huge $919bn; this will represent around 18% of all tourism globally.

Wellness tourists can be split into two categories: primary and secondary. You can read more about this in the ‘types of wellness tourism’ section below. Statistically, primary wellness tourists spend 178% more than your average tourist does, domestically – and 53% more internationally!

There are a number of reasons why wellness tourism is growing so fast. Firstly, there is the general move away from the typical sun, sea and sand package holiday model that has been the focus of travel for many people throughout the years, towards more alternative types of tourism. Alongside this, there is an increased awareness and importance that has been placed upon wellbeing in general throughout society- people are more health conscious than they have ever been before and this is reflected in tourists’ holiday choices.

Why is wellness tourism important?

Wellness tourism is going from strength to strength, but why is it important? The number one reason, of course, is that it improves people’s wellbeing. Whether this is by teaching them to eat healthily, or giving them space to heal from a particular trauma, there are many reasons as to why someone would go on a wellness-focused holiday. By offering space for self-improvement, we end up with a healthier population overall. People who are less stressed, fitter, more knowledgeable about their nutrition… this is very important for society.

Wellness tourism is also helping to preserve cultural traditions in certain parts of the world. It also means natives can introduce these practises to others. This ensures that people are always learning about, and taking an interest in, different cultures. As mentioned above, there is a lot of money in wellness tourism. This means it can boost the local economies of areas where it takes place – even down to corner shops or taxi firms in the area.

What is wellness tourism?

And linked to this is the fact that wellness tourism generates employment. Yoga retreats need yoga teachers, and fancy spas need masseuses! The jobs involved in wellness tourism are often highly skilled and very particular jobs. With retreats opening up in more remote places, it makes the area more attractive to young professionals. This in turn can boost the economy even further!

Types of wellness tourism

As mentioned, there are two types of wellness tourism. These are primary and secondary. Primary wellness tourism is when someone’s whole trip is focused on wellness; it is their sole reason for travel, and the major component of their trip. Every aspect of their holiday is tailored to wellness. Secondary wellness tourism is when general tourists incorporate some aspect of wellness (think- a massage on the beach during an all-inclusive Mexican vacation) into their holiday.

Is medical tourism an example of wellness tourism?

There are some overlaps between medical tourism and wellness tourism. Whilst some (e.g. the Global Wellness Institute) argue that medical tourism and wellness tourism are two different forms of tourism, others suggest that actually wellness tourism is an example of a macro form of niche tourism and medical is a micro niche within it. This is supported by a literature analysis undertaken by Smith and Kelly in 2006, whereby the emphasised the various dimensions of wellness tourism, one of which is the medical tourism industry.

The dimensions of wellness tourism

As I mentioned above, there wellness tourism is often seen as being a macro niche- in other words, it is a big form of niche tourism that then has smaller niches within it. There have been a number of studies into these different niche tourism types, justifying them as forms of wellness tourism. The dimensions of wellness tourism are as follows:

  • Medical/cosmetic (e.g. hospital visits clinic appointments)
  • Corporeal/physical (e.g. spas, massage yoga)
  • Escapism and relaxation (e.g. beach, spa, mountains)
  • Hedonistic/experiential (e.g. festival spaces)
  • Existential and psychological (e.g. holistic centres focussed on self-development and philosophical contemplation)
  • Spiritual (e.g. pilgrimage tourism, New Age events, yoga retreats)
  • Community-oriented (e.g. voluntary tourism, charity ventures)

Wellness tourism activities

There are many activities that make up wellness tourism. I have explored some of the most popular ones below.

Spa breaks

A spa break is a typical form of wellness tourism. Whether it be one night or a couple of days, it is the perfect chance to unwind. Spas are generally peaceful places with low lighting and soft music, providing healthy snacks and comfortable places to relax. With swimming pools and hot tubs, saunas and gym areas as well as treatment rooms, spas have plenty of chances to improve your wellbeing. Whether you opt for an Indian head massage, a pregnancy massage or even a couple’s massage, there is always a wide range of treatments dedicated to feeling better in some way.

Yoga retreats

Yoga retreats are like yoga classes, but for an extended period of time. They generally take places at locations which are uber-relaxing; away from busy cities, for the most part. Many will be alcohol-free and vegan (or at least veggie), and some will ban technology. There will be daily yoga classes and other relaxation activities such as long walks, formal talks, spa treatments, meditation and loads of free time to do what relaxes *you*. Choose from weekend yoga retreats to week-long breaks; you’ll go home feeling more knowledgeable about yoga, and able to incorporate it into your daily life.

Meditation retreats

Similar to a yoga retreat, a meditation retreat is a trip – 2 nights, a week, longer – which focuses on teaching you the correct techniques for meditation, and giving you the space to practise. Alongside guided meditation there will be plenty of other wellness-focused activities. These might include foraging, spa treatments, digital detoxes, vocal workshops, panel events, peaceful walks and so on. You’ll return to your daily life feeling well-rested and confident that you’re able to meditate in your own time.

What is wellness tourism?

Writing retreats

Writing retreats are a type of ‘holiday’ where you focus on writing (obviously) alongside resting and eating well. Writer’s block is a well-known ailment, and a writing retreat can be just the trick when it comes to getting rid of it. You are away from the stress and grind of everyday life, focusing on your writing, in a new place that will hopefully offer inspiration. You’ll sleep better, hopefully, and eat well too, meaning you’ll feel better all round. Many writing retreats are run by successful writers, or at least have talks/classes led by successful writers! They’ll include workshops, pitching sessions, 1:1 coaching classes and more.

Healthy eating breaks

Sometimes known as weight loss retreats, a healthy eating break is a trip you go on to lose weight or simply learn more about the food *your* body needs. Everybody’s dietary requirements are different, based on your BMI, height, deficiencies and so on. You’ll be able to tailor a healthy eating break to suit you, and hopefully come away with a lot more knowledge about the nutrition your body is looking for. This is a great example of physical wellness tourism.

There are wellness tourism destinations across the globe. You can engage in wellness tourism domestically, or go further afield. Some top destinations, and what they have to offer, are listed below…

Wellness tourism in Iceland

Iceland is a beautiful destination and one that also has a lot of wellness tourism activities on offer. Take a dip in a geothermal pool, for example – there are plenty of hot springs to relax in, taking in the stunning scenery around you. Or you can head to the Myvatn Nature Baths in the North, where the water is very unique. It’s alkaline with a huge amount of minerals, meaning it is well-suited for bathing. The trace elements in the water are meant to have a great effect on the development of any skin problems. From infinity pools to skiing to mountain hiking, there are many wellness activities available across Iceland! This is a location suited to both primary wellness tourism, and also secondary – incorporating a Blue Lagoon dip into your road trip, for example.

Wellness tourism in Thailand

Thailand is another popular location for wellness tourism, both primary and secondary. A Thai massage is an ideal addition to any trip to the city, and perfect for helping you wind down or loosen up during a busy backpacking trip, for example. With 93% of the Thai population practising Buddhism, a peaceful religion with many links to meditation, it’s no wonder that Thailand is home to so many beautiful wellness retreats. From beaches to temples, there are locations right across the country providing the perfect base for wellness tourism.

Wellness tourism in India

India is a very spiritual country, so it goes hand in hand with wellness tourism. The government is keen to position India as a hub for Ayurveda, Yoga, Sidha, Naturopathy and so on, “together with the spiritual philosophy that has been integral to the Indian way of life.” There are various yoga and meditation retreats available in Vana (at the foot of the Himalayas), Soukya, the Keralan countryside and many other parts of the country. India is perfect for primary wellness tourism!

Wellness tourism in Hawaii

Wellness tourism in Hawaii is very prominent, and it is well suited to couples. This beautifully sunny location, a real paradise, is so romantic. The climate and therapeutic salt water combined with traditional omilomi massage and pohaku (hot stones) makes for the perfect spa location. Choose from facials done with local flowers, or coffee scrubs to rejuvenate the skin. Relax on the beach in between treatments, listening to the waves lap against the shore. Enjoy the glorious sunshine and breathtaking scenery. Wellness in Hawaii is a big deal, and ideal for primary wellness tourists.

Wellness tourism in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is another location where primary and secondary wellness tourism is common. There is so much to do in Costa Rica, and adding in a massage or world-class yoga session is the perfect way to ensure that the endless hiking, surfing and exploring doesn’t tire you out too much. But it is also somewhere with many wellness retreats. With the whole country focusing on being eco-friendly, coupled with the *stunning* scenery across the nation, it is no surprise that this slow-paced destination offers so many wellness opportunities. Retreats offer medicine walks, Qi Gong, naturopathy, reiki, coffee scrubs, digital detoxes and so much more…

Wellness tourism- further reading

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