The Wellness Tourism Industry

by | Oct 23, 2018 | Travel & Tourism

Home to Ayurveda and yoga, India has a myriad of wellness traditions and practices that have been in existence for centuries. Recent years have seen the development of sophisticated healing centres, ashrams, medical and wellness spa/resort facilities such as Ananda in the Himalayas, Vana in Dehradun, Soukya Holistic Centre and Jindal Nature Cure in Bengaluru, Athreya Ayurvedic Centre in Kerala, and the Niraamaya Retreats in Jaipur, Kohima, Goa and Kerala, to name a few. These facilities have earned global patronage, with visitors from across the world, including the famous ones, checking-in for alternate therapies and wellness treatments. For instance, Ananda has hosted Oprah Winfrey, Bill and Melinda Gates and Jerry Hall, among others in the past, while the Soukya Holistic Centre had the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles for a week a few years ago.

So, what is wellness tourism?

The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as ‘the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health’. At the most basic level, wellness tourism involves people traveling to destinations for relaxation, meditation, holistic therapies, and spa and wellness treatments, with a desire to enhance their personal wellbeing. Globally, wellness tourism has expanded from a US$563 billion industry in 2015 to US$639 billion in 2017[1].

Wellness tourists can be categorised as primary and secondary. Primary wellness tourists are those whose sole purpose of travel and choice of destination is wellness. These tourists typically visit destination spas such as the Chiva Som (Thailand), Ananda in the Himalayas (India), Vivamayr (Vienna), SHA Wellness (Spain), Lanserhof (Vienna), and the GOCO Retreats (Germany and United States), to name a few, and account for around 11% of wellness tourism trips, globally. Secondary wellness tourists seek to maintain wellness or participate in such activities while on any sort of trip. That typically includes business or leisure travellers seeking healthy accommodations, food, rejuvenation and fitness activities. Secondary wellness tourists form the majority of the travellers under this segment, undertaking nearly 89% of all wellness tourism trips worldwide and contributing 86% of expenditures in 2017 (Global Wellness Institute).

The Global Wellness Economy, which was valued at US$4.2 trillion in 2017 (5.3% of the world’s economic output), encompasses 10 sectors as shown below. Expanding quickly in both size and scale, wellness tourism, today, is growing faster than global tourism, with the former having a longer average length of stay as well as a higher spend per tourist than other forms of tourism. In 2017, international wellness tourists spent 53% higher than the average international tourist while the domestic wellness tourist paid a 178% premium over its non-wellness counterpart.

Sector Net Worth in 2017 (US$ Billion)
Wellness Tourism 639
Spa Economy 119
Personal Care, Beauty and Anti-Aging 1,083
Wellness Real Estate 134
Fitness & Mind-Body 595
Healthy Eating, Nutrition and Weight Loss 702
Preventive & Personalised Medicine and Public Health 575
Traditional & Complementary Medicine 199
Thermal/Mineral Springs 56
Workplace Wellness 48

Source: Global Wellness Economy Monitor, October 2018, Global Wellness Insitute

Where does India stand in the global wellness landscape?

2017 saw India rank 7th in the top 20 Wellness Tourism Markets, and 10th among the top 20 Spa Markets in the world, while ranking 3rd in both the top 10 Wellness Tourism Markets and top 10 Spa Markets in Asia Pacific. Indians made 56 million wellness-related trips, both domestic and international, in 2017 (a growth of 45% over 2015), which included expenditures worth US$16.3 billion. Interesting to note, India ranked 2nd in terms of leading growth markets for wellness tourism, depicting an average annual growth rate of 20.3% from 2015 to 2017, adding a little over 17 million wellness trips in the same period.  Furthermore, the spa market in India had a total of 5,990 facilities, which together generated a revenue of US$2.1 billion in 2017[2].

Wellness Tourism in India

India has a number of wellness/spa and yoga retreats. Apart from the internationally-acclaimed ones, there are lesser known (yet attractive) facilities such as Atmantan Wellness Centre in Pune, Clafouti Beach Resort, Carnoustie Ayurveda & Wellness Resort, and Kalari Kovilakom in Kerala, Moksha Himalaya Spa Resort in Shimla and the Manasa Yoga Retreat in Jammu & Kashmir that operate in a very niche space and at a higher price point than typical non-wellness resorts. Research indicates that people are more willing to embrace a healthier lifestyle now than in the past, and don’t really shy away when it comes to spending on their well-being anymore; that said, India’s wellness tourism market is currently tilted more towards foreign travellers than domestic tourists. Yoga and traditional forms of healing such as Ayurveda, Siddhi Medicine and Unani Medicine hold some degree of intrigue for international travellers, making the country one of the more sought-after destinations for such types of alternate therapies. Recognising this, the central government’s Incredible India 2.0 campaign has laid special emphasis on showcasing the country’s spiritual and wellness traditions, globally.

Nonetheless, India’s wellness market is still at a nascent stage. While vacations with such an orientation are being undertaken more frequently by Indians and foreigners alike, the nation’s hospitality industry is yet to tap into this growing segment. As a result, wellness tourism in the country is quite unorganised, with most facilities being run by doctors and instructors, who lack the marketing and distribution knowhow. Additionally, a large number of wellness retreats operate out of leisure markets, or on the outskirts of major metropolitans, as a bulk of domestic wellness tourists in India are from the corporate world, who wish to escape their fast-paced, hectic routines. They look for places or resorts to unwind, where they can feel one with nature, relax their mind and body and improve their overall health and well-being. However, the common perception held by most hotel developers and owners is that leisure destinations are less profitable than business markets, which makes them wary of this segment. This is despite the fact that in 2017/18, the top 10 average rates in the country were achieved by hotels operating out of leisure destinations!

In closing, we believe that India, the birthplace of multiple wellness practices, is worthy of being one of the top five wellness destinations in the world, a feat it is slowly inching towards. The country has several locales which are ideal for developing wellness-destination resorts, and if marketed correctly, could rival the likes of Chiva Som, Vivamayr and SHA, among other internationally-acclaimed facilities. However, increased awareness about this growing segment of tourism is critical, especially in the minds of hotel owners and developers. It is time the focus shifts towards unexplored, virgin markets in India, and the country rightfully claims its position as a go-to destination for all things wellness.

For more information, please contact sanaya@hotelivate.com

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