I just returned from India, where I had the opportunity to attend the Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Delhi, which kicked off with a congress on the rise of Wellness Tourism. The easiest way to define wellness tourism is by differentiating it from medical tourism. Medical tourism involves people traveling to a destination in order to receive medical services they need that are either inaccessible or unaffordable in their home region. Wellness tourism describes healthy travelers seeking to enhance their health and well-being while they are traveling. If medical tourism is a reactive response to a medical condition, wellness tourism is a proactive approach to seeking wellness.
The distinction is connected to motivation. Medical tourism generally involves people who are sick and have to do something about their health. Wellness tourism describes people who are generally healthy but want to seek experiences that will enhance their health, wellbeing and quality of life. “Have to” vs. “want to.”
The Wellness Tourism Congress was focused on the growth and potential of Wellness tourism, featuring research from SRI International that estimates Wellness Tourism to be a $439 billion dollar industry with a potential growth rate of 9% a year (compared to 6% for other travel.)
I take these numbers with a grain of salt because of the broad definition the researchers used. 85% of this revenue comes from “secondary purpose wellness travelers” or those who are pursuing wellness activities while traveling even though this isn’t the primary purpose of their trip. And the revenue includes non-wellness expenditures from their trips.
But at 14% of expenditures, $61B for the “primary purpose wellness travelers,” or those who are travelling for the express purpose of pursuing wellness activities, still represents a big number. The report also shows that primary purpose wellness travelers spend significantly more money: $2066 per trip compared to only $680 for a secondary purpose traveler. And as Ophelia Yeung from SRI points out, “it’s important to realize that the primary and secondary purpose wellness travelers are often the same person” taking different trips at different times for different reasons.
So why is Wellness Tourism primed for so much growth? Trendwatcher and economist Thierry Malleret from the Monthly Barometer identified several big trends that explain why wellness is an important and growing investment:
- Unfavorable Demographics: aging boomers in the US and the high ratio of males to females in China is making wellness more of a challenge in key markets.
- Geopolitical Rebalancing: following Bhutan’s example of a government based on “Gross National Happiness” (I’ll have more on this in the next couple weeks) many countries have been looking at wellbeing measures as important indicators of the success of a nation.
- Economics: the rising costs of health care suggest that governments will increasingly incentivize or even mandate wellness.
- Complexity: In an increasingly complex world, our cognitive functioning is constantly being exhausted. We need services and activities that can strengthen and replenish our minds as well as our bodies.
- Transparency: In today’s world, where personal information is widely available and it is harder to hide, wellness and beauty continue to command a premium in the global market place.
Thanks to a variety of converging trends, wellness seems to be a very good investment indeed.
Peter Greenberg, the Travel Editor for CBS News agrees. He played an active role throughout the entire 3 day summit and said that Wellness Tourism encapsulates three human values that “transcend all demographics”: health, economy and travel.
Susie Ellis, the chairman and organizer of the conference, said she was surprised to see so much agreement among the experts at the congress. “I thought we would have to spend a lot of time just defining what wellness tourism is,” said Susie, “but everyone just gets it.”
So the future looks bright for wellness, and specifically for wellness tourism. Perhaps Thierry Malleret said it best when he announced, “this industry [spa and wellness] is very lucky, because you find yourselves in exactly the right place at exactly the right time”
by Jeremy McCarthy
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