It may appear that the term ’wellness’ or wellness tourism/travel is some sort of a new thing. It most certainly is not. People have been travelling for better being for centuries. They probably did not label their visits as wellness travel but going to the seaside, visiting mountains, dipping in hot springs, etc. all have been motivated by the interest of getting and/or feeling better. The contemporary understanding of wellness travel is very well described by the UN World Tourism Organisation & European Travel Commission stating:
Forms of tourism which aim to improve and balance all of the main domains of human life including physical, mental, emotional, occupational, intellectual and spiritual. The primary motivation for wellness travellers is to engage in preventative, proactive, lifestyle-enhancing activities such as fitness, healthy eating, relaxation, rejuvenating and healing treatments. (UNWTO & ETC (2018): Exploring Health Tourism)
‘A state of being or a feeling which is achieved by connections with family or community, with an emphasis upon making the best of life by self-contentment and less stress’.
It is very much advised to apply the wellbeing concept for any destination and business when they look at how to develop wellness travel. It provides way more depth and links to other industries and activities.
Wellness can be considered the current commercial translation and adaptation of the older wellbeing concept.
I do not believe that COVID-19 would change wellness as a motivation. Rather, COVID-19 pandemic made the very reason why one may want to take part in wellness travel more prevalent, meaningful and attractive. We need to look at this situation as a great opportunity for the real wellness service providers!
Health and Travel landscape
It is understood that on the health and travel landscape wellness travel may have several major forms. Medical wellness is the one where the motivation is voluntary and the treatments are elective and the supervision and guidance is provided by healthcare professionals and not only by wellness staff. So called mainstream wellness offers all the staple services and treatments, e.g. massages, facials, other body and beauty programmes. Holism and spirituality represents the other end of the spectrum. These products apply the holistic approach and focus on harmonizing the body-mind-spirit trilogy.
The trick is how a region, destination, hotel, spa or any other business may choose which main type of wellness motivation it wants to focus on both in terms of operations and marketing.
As Irving Stackpole and I outline in our book, The Marketing Handbook for Health Tourism, this is exactly the time to begin segmenting your markets for health tourists more carefully. COVID19 can mean that people show more interest in their health in general and this is when businesses and/or destination can introduce their wellness-contributing services and value propositions. Note that we cannot convert every tourist to a wellness tourist. Also note that just because a guest books a spa treatment that does not make that guest a wellness guest. There is a difference between guests who may purchase wellness-improving services and those who travel with wellness in mind. Both types have their own characteristics and expectations and it really is advised to treat them differently.
How businesses, organizations and authorities capitalize on this growing interest?
I believe that countries and destinations can identify amazing opportunities in either form. The question is how businesses, organizations and authorities capitalize on this growing interest? Do not forget that wellness both as service and also as motivation is may be defined and understood differently depending where you are and where your potential guests may come from. Guests from Europe with wellness in mind may expect a set of more established and complex service propositions than North American guests. Europeans can be interested in less mainstream, local resources-based treatments and services and they may be more interested in wellness-related storylines, rituals or ‘journeys’ that are influenced by local nature or culture. North American guests could show more interest in the mainstream, i.e. massages, body treatments offered in a spa environment. Having a treatment in a rustic, charming cabana may not be immediately attractive to a broad international audience.
Guests with holistic demand often do not even think of themselves as ‘wellness tourists’. The generic wellness term has become overused and they do not want to be part of that. Holistic and spiritual guests typically look for small scale, lifestyle entrepreneur run facilities where they can meet like-minded peers. Certain holistic practices have found their way to more upscale resorts and destination spas. Now we can evens see yoga resorts! Still, guests often value the spiritual environment more than the traditional comfort.
The secret is to be critical as well as creative with wellness services and wellness tourism.
The definition of the ideal service/segment matrix may need extensive background research, and wellbeing experience engineering.
Written by Laszlo Puczko
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