Reviewing this trend prediction for 2010 makes me smile. That’s because I think we were right on; in fact, this trend exceeded our expectations! That has some very important implications for the future of our spa industry.
Go ahead and reread what we wrote about Wellness Tourism a year ago and then at the end I will share with you the ”ah ha” that happened for me between the time we wrote the prediction and today.
7) Wellness Tourism Trend
We’re familiar with people seeking spas for wellness—and also with “medical tourism,” crossing borders for medical procedures (often plastic surgery, dentistry, knee replacements, etc.). Well, make room for “wellness tourism,” a term now being used to describe traveling across borders for preventive services, diagnostics, spa and well-being vacations, even the wow’s of DNA testing, stem-cell banking, and the like. The concept not only dramatically broadens the appeal of the medical tourism model (which has suffered from its narrow association with plastic surgery), it’s increasingly poised to become the way we define our time away from home and work in the future.
“Wellness tourism” is part of an evolving terminology that’s not merely verbal industry nitpicking, as governments, insurance companies, medical establishments, as well as consumers, wrangle with the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and the need for people to take greater responsibility for their own health. The focus of “wellness tourism” is squarely on prevention and helping people make lifestyle changes. The opportunities are immense, as governments all over the world begin to look at this arena as a way to attract tourism dollars as well as lower health care costs. After all, this trend is at the intersection of two of the largest industries in the world: tourism and health care. Now that’s a wow!
Examples include stem-cell banking at a facility like Medical City Hospital l in the Philippines, to executive physicals at a Lanserhof in Austria or at Kurotel in Brazil. Traveling across borders to destination spas such as Champney’s in the UK, Rancho La Puerta in Mexico or Chiva-Som in Thailand for a life/health turnaround (and being immersed in exercise, nutrition, stress-reduction therapies, etc.) are, of course, examples of core, established “wellness tourism.”
Many global consumers opt for these journeys because another country/region offers significantly lower costs or greater procedure/treatment availability. But the upswing is also part of a wider trend toward “mindful,” not “mindless,” travel. Given the economic and moral climate, people are increasingly embracing travel with a higher benefit to either themselves (and their bodies) or others, whether that’s wellness tourism or “voluntourism” (travel with a philanthropic component), environmentally aware (eco) travel, or educationally or culturally immersive travel.
The additional insight that has evolved since we predicted this trend last year is the importance of positioning spas under the umbrella of ‘Wellness Tourism’ as opposed to ‘Medical Tourism.’ Until the term wellness came along, traveling for your health didn’t really have a label and therefore wasn’t something that a government would invest money in. But all that has changed – and quickly too!
I am in the middle of a project gathering data from 20 different countries regarding their use of the terms tourism, health, wellness, spa, thermal, medical, etc. One of the things I am studying is how they are organized and how their relationships with their Ministry of Health, Ministry of Tourism or Ministry of Economic Development are organized. While each government seems to have a unique structure, what surprised me the most is that a large percentage of the countries reported that they are ‘in discussion’ regarding a reorganization and that Wellness Tourism is something on their radar and something they are likely to invest in. That is good news for spas.
In addition, it is clear to me now that Medical Tourism and Wellness Tourism should be two seperate concepts. Medical Tourism (people traveling for medical procedures) should sit under the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Tourism. This is where hospitals and clinics would fall and where the many rules and regulations involved make perfect sense. Wellness Tourism on the other hand is the arena in which spas should be positioned and this should be seperate from Medical Tourism. Freed from the tightly regulated medical arena, Wellness Tourism can adopt a more entrepreneurial approach. In the end, consumers have a variety of models to choose from that will improve their health and well-being allowing both Wellness Tourism and Medical Tourism to flourish. Occasionally there may be opportunities to work side by side. Supporting and recommending each other is also possible, however this will avoid the often ill-fated effort to integrate these two very different cultures.
So what’s our grade for this spa trend prediction? Well, I am going to give us an A+ here because not only did we see this trend far in advance, but we have also had a chance to shape the trend around the world for the good of our industry and consumers. I think that deserves a pat on the back!
My twitter address: @susieellis