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4 Apr, 2004

How Sole-searching can facilitate Soul-searching

Originally Published: 04 April 2004

One of the great trends of our times is the relentless pursuit of material gain, otherwise known as profits, economic growth, shareholder value, etc., etc.

The ultimate goal is maximum financial enrichment which, inspite of being specifically warned against in all the religious doctrines, has become the be-all and end-all of human existence.

Although hundreds of millions of people live in abject poverty, a small group has amassed wealth beyond all measure. In the true tradition of keeping up with the Joneses, and egged on by ‘success stories’ as defined by the media and management gurus, yet another vast layer of middle-class people is trying to gain a place in that upper exclusive club.

Businessmen know that every commercial enterprise involves a cost. However, as many are finding out, the time and effort that goes into making that commercial enterprise a success involves something far more significant than a mere ‘cost’.

It involves a price.

The price paid for the amassing of material wealth is usually a deterioration of health. Other casualties include family life and quality time.

Disruption of the body, mind, soul equilibrium in an increasingly complex and out-of-control world ups the pressure and stress factors. The subsequent price that is paid in terms of squandered health makes it questionable whether the pursuit of wealth has been worth the effort.

After all, what is the use of wealth without health?

Because the nature of the beast is to try and have the cake and eat it, too, many legions of people these days are trooping off to spas and health centres to be ‘refreshed, rejuvenated and reinvigorated’. After spending a whole day at the office trying to cut costs, it is time for some sole-searching (otherwise known as a foot massage) to try and lower the price.

This trend is becoming big-time in the so-called industrialised, developed or economically-advanced countries where millions have squandered their health in pursuit of wealth. Ageing societies, later retirement and a desire to lead more productive and active lives are all driving this trend.

According to the European Travel Monitor (ETM), in 2002, health/wellness travel accounted for 1% of all outbound trips by Europeans of four nights and longer, or a little more than four million trips. Germans alone generated around half of those trips.

Another study by the Munich Institute for Leisure Economics says that in 2003, an estimated 1.6 million Germans went for about 2.5 million health-related long-term and short-term trips.

The largest field of interest was ‘Health Care’ with 1.4 million trips, for prevention and abatement of health problems. Another 800,000 trips was for ‘Wellness’ (those seeking cures for existing medical problems). Then there is the ‘Beauty Holiday’ with 200,000 trips for those who want to become more beautiful and sexy.

Last, there is the Anti-Ageing Holiday with only about 10,000 trips, described as ‘a completely new field which is developing gradually’ and targetted at those seeking to stave off the inevitable for as long as possible.

The institute says high-income earners (those who have gained plenty of material wealth) are moving into a ‘life-managing’ mode as health insurance companies cut back on covering health care. It forecasts that the total number of all health-oriented trips and short-term trips will increase until 2010 by approximately 70%, making it the most dynamic growth market of the future.

Indeed, Spa Finder, a leading US spa marketing and publishing company says that the more the economy and stock market booms, the greater the demand there will be for spas and health treatments.

Among the Asian countries expected to gain substantial material wealth by catering to this pursuit of health are Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and India, all famous for their massage, meditation techniques and ancient therapies like Ayurveda.

Hospitals, too, are getting on the bandwagon by turning to the prevention and preservation sides of health care rather than just the medicinal and curative. As hospitals are businesses first and providers of health care next, they too have to keep their eye on profitability targets and adjust their priorities according to market demand.

In turn, spas and health resorts are heading in the other direction. Some of the famous spa towns of Europe and North America have added attractions like casinos, cultural and conference centres. They include Baden-Baden in Germany is one example, as are Vichy and Divonne-les-Bains in France, or Montecatini in Italy.

There is no shortage of business. Some clients seek a quick-fix rejuvenation via a short massage. Others take ‘short breaks’ of three to four days. Many more seek longer trips, often once or twice a year.

Not surprisingly, women outnumber men in the market, mostly in the 45-64 age group. However, more younger people and more men are entering the market, especially for the short-break segment. As the numbers grow, the average cost of health/wellness trips declines, making it more affordable by more people.

The sole-searching business booms.

However, a new problem has emerged. Some practitioners of alternative health treatments say that the increasing commercialisation of their practise has meant increasing business competition, and higher stress levels. Their pursuit of wealth is putting their own health at risk.

What a vicious cycle.

POSTSCRIPT: Practitioners of alternative health and wellness treatments from 20 countries will meet in Chiang Mai between 23-25 April for the World Congress of Holistic Medicine, the first time this global event is to be held in Thailand.

The congress will include seminars, workshops and live demonstrations on over 60 health topics ranging from anti-ageing and aromatherapy to herbal medicine, music therapy and yoga. Simultaneous translation from English to Thai and vice versa is being provided in all the sessions.

It is being organised by the Suchada Marwah Centre and the Chiang Mai-based International Academy of Natural Sciences, with the support of the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Public Health. An exhibition alongside will feature over 50 booths displaying latest health products and services.

For further information, please email Dr Rajeev Marwah: smc@mbox.roynet.co.th or call 02 2581671 or 01 3197566.