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13 Nov, 2011

Spirituality To Be Asia’s Best Wellness Tourism Asset – Research Report

Imtiaz Muqbil at the WTM 2011 in London

LONDON: Spiritual & Holistic products and services are set to be the most important assets and demand components of the health and wellness sector in the Far East and South East Asia by 2020, according to a research report distributed at the World Travel Market 2011 here last week.

Published by Wellness Tourism Worldwide (WTW), a newly formed alliance of wellness and tourism related businesses, organizations and institutions, the research also forecasts that private health insurance will play a more important role in providing policies that cover wellness travel. Entitled “The 4WR: Wellness for Whom, Where and What? Wellness Travel 2020,” the report was prepared by Xellum Ltd. (Hungary) with the support from Global Spa and Wellness (USA) and the cooperation of Hungarian National Tourism Plc.

A free copy of the full report can be downloaded here.

It was an attempt to better segment the various emerging products and services globally and break them down into areas of specialisation by geographical region. It also seeks to identify the biggest opportunities in wellness tourism over the next 10 years by drawing up input from from 140 experts representing stakeholders from wellness, tourism, spa and healthcare industries in over 50 countries.

The bottom-line objective is to help developers, managers and policy makers build on or develop individual competitive advantages and avoid costly common mistakes. Research shows the wellness industry will increase due to the aging population, an increase in chronic disease conditions resulting in disability and overburdened, fragmented healthcare systems in addition to consumer  interest in integrative health/complementary medicine and increased globalisation.

The report says that although wellness tourism is, and expected to remain, one of the fastest growing forms of international and domestic tourism, there is one major risk: the globalisation of standardised and uniform products and services.

Today, the report says that the most popular wellness tourism services are: Beauty treatments (89% of the respondents named it as popular or very popular); Sport & fitness services (89%), Leisure and recreational spas (85%), and Spa & wellness resorts (83%, respectively). Yoga and meditation (60%) are also very well established and popular.

However, the report found that each individual region also had key products and services that were considered important assets for tourism. For example:

•    In Africa, the natural environment and traditional spirituality received relatively high importance.

•    In South-East Asia, spirituality achieved the highest importance and the highest absolute rating among all the regions, while medical treatments and services as well as alternative treatments were also important. In the Far East, spirituality and complementary and alternative methods were rated as important assets.

•    In Australia, New Zealand and the South-Pacific, the natural environment and traditional and alternative treatments are important assets, whereas medical services/treatments have the lowest ratings.

•    In Europe, Nature and the environment are important in every region, particularly in Southern Europe. Natural healing assets are significant in Western and Central-Eastern Europe. Both non-invasive medical treatments (e.g. rehabilitation) and surgical services are important in every sub-region (except Southern Europe).

•    In the Middle-East, natural healing as well as traditional services seem to be important, as are medical services.

•    In North America both invasive and non-invasive medical services are considered to be the most important assets. Alternative treatments and the natural environment also enjoyed high ratings, and spiritual treatments appeared to be more important than in Europe.

•    In Central and South America, the natural environment, the traditional and complementary treatments were important, and medical assets got low ratings in both regions (those results highlight the significant differences in terms of the availability of medical services for tourism purposes and for local needs).

Says the report, “The currently most important assets are very different from region to region, which could serve as sound foundation for international wellness tourism, if they were utilized in a competitive fashion since international wellness travellers typically look for special qualities and local experiences.”

It says that “Spiritual and holistic tourism services focus on the spiritual quest of the individual leading to transcendence or enlightenment. This may or may not have a religious affiliation, but it is often likely to include rituals, ceremonies, and traditions that are derived from different religions.”

Comparing current data with future trends, the supply of wellness tourism services will change significantly in the coming 10 years. According to the report, traditional, lifestyle defining approaches (e.g. yoga) will become widely accepted in wellness tourism services in North America and Northern Europe.

Wellness hotels and resort spas are already are and forecasted to remain the most popular wellness tourism product in several important continents and regions by 2020 including Africa, South America, Central America, Australia and New Zealand.

In the Far East, holistic and spiritual approaches/services will still be the most important services, with a strong wellness base. South-East Asia will still be the main centre for holistic and spiritual tourism.

In Central and Eastern Europe, therapeutic services and treatments are mainly based on the availability of natural assets (e.g. thermal waters) and will stay/or become the most important.

Products that will be available globally and will lose their differentiating qualities by 2020 include beauty treatments, massage of any kind, sauna of any kind, day-spas, and some spiritual practices (e.g. yoga or meditation).

Four segments of consumer preferences chosen for preference analysis include men, singles, GenY and families. Wellness tourism preferences were analysed against 10 tourism products (i.e. leisure and recreational facilities, therapeutic services, medical services, wellness hotels/spa resorts, wellness/lifestyle based services, holistic services, spiritual services, adventure spas, eco spas, and wellness/spa cruises).

The following results were reported:

•     Singles will prefer wellness and lifestyle-based services as well as leisure and recreational spas.

•     Families will show a continued interest in leisure and recreational services, but wellness hotels and spas will also be popular.

•     Generation Y (young people) will show growing demand for adventure spas and eco-spas.

•     The popularity of wellness and lifestyle based services, as well as adventure spas will grow among men.

The report says there is a clear interest in the market to see new services and products that can differ from standardized services. The wellness tourism industry needs to better inform the market about the available assets and products, since many new products are not known and concepts are not yet generally accepted.

Dwelling on the question of  “Who Should Pay?”, the report says: “Country practices and approaches to paying for wellness-oriented travel differ greatly. According to the report, private health insurance is expected to play a more important role in providing policies that cover wellness travel.

“Interestingly, respondents participating in the survey revealed that in the field of medical tourism, the state should be playing a more significant role. “There is a significant lack of information about how either private or state bodies can or should get involved in the financing of wellness tourism (e.g. in the form of holiday vouchers in Europe).

“Considering the financing of the health tourism industry, the most important player is the state health insurance in the area of medical tourism, and private health insurance has a dominant role in the wellness sector.

“Support by companies seems to be relevant in medical tourism, however there is a lack of information in this field, as well as in the area of holiday vouchers,” the report said.